Blogs from Cindy Frantz Tue, 03 Jan 2017 13:18:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Cooler in the Shade I don’t know if it’s hot as you’re reading this, but it is HOT while I’m writing it.  In Oberlin, the days we use the most electricity are the hot ones – everyone has their air conditioning on, and the refrigerators are working over time to keep things cool.  As the planet heats up, we are going to have more and more hot stretches to make it through.  But we can be smart about how we do it.

My family survives most of the summer without using AC – and the house never gets above 78 degrees (80 degrees is my freak-out point, and no one wants to go there!).  We have two main strategies:  The first is keeping heat out of the house in the first place.  The second is to get in as much cool air into the house at night as we possibly can, then lock it in during the day.

To keep the heat out, we have insulated and weatherized our house as thoroughly as possible.  People usually think about insulation as a blanket – something that keeps the heat in.  What it’s really doing is keeping heat from moving from place to place.  So if it’s hotter outside, it’s keeping heat out.  In July, that’s a good thing.  

So if you haven’t already, this is the time to insulate your home! Columbia Gas’s amazing Home Performance Solutions program provides a very thorough low-cost inspection, and huge rebates of up to 60% of the total cost (90% for low-income families).   They have already done dozens of homes in Oberlin; call 1-877-644-6674 to set up an appointment.  Most people don’t think about insulating at this time of year, so it will be easy for you to schedule an audit, as well as schedule work with an insulation contractor.

There are other things we do to keep the heat out in the first place.  We have swapped out all of our incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents.  Part of why incandescent bulbs are so inefficient is because a bunch of the electric energy gets turned into heat, not light.  When it’s 95 degrees outside I do not want that heat in my house. 

We also close curtains over sunny windows, and hang a light blocking shade over our big sliding glass door.  We avoid using the oven at all costs, and only run the dishwasher at night. 

As long as it cools down to the 60’s at night, we can get our house very cool overnight by opening all the windows, and using fans to draw in the night air.  Then, as soon as we get up in the morning, we close all the windows in the house, and trap the coolness inside. Using this method, we keep the house very comfortably in the 70’s without ever using air conditioning.  (It’s a different story when it stays hot at night, I confess.)

Sometimes people think that it’s a good idea to leave a top-story window open during the day, to let rising hot air escape.  This is NOT a good thing to do.  Would you leave a basement window open in winter to let cold air “escape?”  Of course not! Heat flows from warmer spaces to cooler spaces, and an open window makes that easier.  If it’s cooler inside than outside, you’re better off keeping the house closed up.

Of course, that’s especially true if you do run air conditioning.  Make it easier for your AC unit to get the job done by keeping the space around the unit free of debris and weeds.  Placing the unit in the shade helps as well.  When you buy a new unit, get the most efficient one you can.  For room air conditioners, the energy efficiency ratio (EER) rating should be above 10; for central air conditioners, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating should be above 12.

If you’d like a friendly person to talk to you about how to decrease your energy use this summer, you’re in luck:  POWER, the Oberlin-based non-profit committed to energy efficiency, is offering free energy assessments.  Trained Oberlinians can help you figure out what work is worth doing on your home, how you can benefit from existing programs, and how you can change simple behaviors to save energy and money.  Call Pat Knight at 440 789 4531 to schedule an appointment.

Cold showers?  Ice cube therapy?  How do you stay cool in the summer?  Share your tips below.

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:51:40 +0000
Driving for Efficiency Now that summer is here, many of us are heading off in our cars on vacations and day trips.  We’d all be vacationing out at the Reservoir if we didn’t have the power of gasoline to take us hundreds of miles away.  Let’s get the most out of this superfuel.

With gas often $3.50 a gallon, there’s an obvious financial benefit to using it efficiently.  And the hot summer temperatures remind us that a planet that’s 2 degrees warmer will not be a pleasant place for our children to live.  Decreasing our gas use helps decrease our dependence on foreign oil as well.  The Consumer Federation of America estimates that simply increasing our fuel efficiency by 5 miles per gallon would save about 23 billion gallons of gasoline each year, and cut oil imports by about 14 percent.

The easiest way to use less gas is to buy the most fuel efficient model that meets your needs: Make one decision, then benefit from it for as long as you own the vehicle. The average American car gets about 24 miles per gallon (mpg); but we can do better than that.  The average in Europe is nearly twice as high – more like in the 40 – 50 mpg range.  Fuel efficient cars already exist.  We just need to buy them.

But even if you’re not in the market for a new car right now, there are still things you can do to maximize fuel efficiency.   The way you drive has a big impact on how much fuel you use.  The more you slam on the accelerator or the brake, the more fuel you’re using.  Why?  Every time you press the accelerator, you’re gobbling up more gas; every time you press the brake, you are wasting the momentum that gas created. Changing how you use those two pedals can reduce your fuel consumption by as much as 35%, according to  Accelerate more slowly, and coast as much as you can before stop signs, red lights, and turns.  

Those who take this seriously call it “hypermiling.”  They can often get 55 mpg out of a car that would usually only get 35; for them, it’s like trying to beat their high score on a video game. The really hard core can do amazing things.  For example, Wayne Gerdes (who started once drove a Honda Civic hybrid from Chicago to New York on one tank of gas – which means he was getting 65 mpg.

You’ll also get better gas mileage on the highway if you maintain steady speeds by using cruise control. Cruise control minimizes the speed fluctuations caused by human error, distraction, or a really good rock song on the radio.  Finally, speeding doesn’t just increase your risk for a ticket.  It also costs more in gas.  According to the US Department of Energy, 60 mph is a magic number – speeds above that take a LOT more gas to maintain.  Every 5 mph above 60 mph is like paying another 20 cents a gallon for gas.

Another easy way to get more miles from a gallon of gas is to not burn gas when you’re not going anywhere:  don’t idle.  It only takes a few seconds of sitting still to make it worth turning off your engine, and contrary to popular belief, it is not bad for your car to turn it off.  To stretch tax dollars as far as possible, the City of Oberlin has adopted an anti-idling policy for employees driving city vehicles.  Another benefit is keeping toxic fumes and out of the air.

It turns out that whether you cool your car with air conditioning or open windows doesn’t matter all that much (although for the record, at highway speeds AC seems to be better, while at lower speeds the open window is more efficient).  Keeping your tires properly inflated helps a bit to, while also improving the handling and safety of your car. But it’s not a big bang for your buck at the air pump.

Happy travels!

What strategies do you use to drive more efficiently? Join the conversation below and let us know!

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Fri, 29 Jun 2012 20:38:06 +0000
This Old House: Efficiency meets antiquity Most of us live in a house that is less than ideal in terms of energy use.  In my family’s case, this fact was obvious to us the moment we moved in.  Our house is 103 years old, and when we bought it in 2002 it was about as inefficient as any house could be.  There was no insulation; the floor joists of the attic were open to the air, so cold air blew over the second floor all winter; and there were wide cracks in the foundation that let in a constant supply of winter air into the basement (where the heating ducts are).  Old empty heating ducts in the wall meant that cold, moldy air from the basement would get syphoned up as the air above heated and rose.  And there was an extra 1950’s refrigerator guzzling electricity in the kitchen.

Where to start?  We unplugged the extra fridge right away, and as soon as it got cold we called Oberlin’s local utility, OMLPS, for a free heat loss inspection.  The OMLPS technicians broke the news that outside air was leaking in from every direction.  Before Christmas, we had an insulation company blow cellulose into the walls, and we threw up some fiberglass batting in the attic.  We pulled out the caulk gun and bought cans of spray foam insulation, and starting plugging up cracks.  It was a start.

But what we really needed was a plan to make a continuous insulated envelope all the way around our house.  We learned (unfortunately, well after we’d crawled around in the attic for hours pushing fiberglass between the joists) that our attic insulation wasn’t doing much good because there were so many air leaks – most heat is lost through air movement, so plugging cracks can be more important than insulating.  We had also failed to stop the air from running between the floor joists; so even though the attic was insulated, there was still cold air running between it and the second floor.

We pulled out the fiberglass (ugh!), and hired a company to spray expanding foam insulation in the attic and between those floor joists.  They also sprayed it in the ceiling of the basement.  The foam expands to fill every crack, so all those air leaks were taken care of.  Plus the insulation value of the foam is equal to that of fiberglass, so one product took care of two problems at once.

And suddenly the house was warm!  The basement was much warmer, as was the floor just above it.  And the difference in the attic was incredible.  We also found that allergy symptoms decreased, since we no longer had moldy air from the basement circulating through the house.

Since then we have added a tankless water heater and insulated our hot water pipes.  We switched to a geothermal heating system when our furnace died, and our bills are even lower.  We’re still plugging cracks in the foundation with cans of spray foam.  But we’ve got most of them by now.

We are still working on our house, and there are still some challenges.  There is nothing but siding between the outside world and the beautiful pocket door in the front hall.  When the contractors tried to insulate that strip of wall, we got a lot of cellulose in the front hall!  So our thermal envelope has a big crack it, and it will require taking the siding off to fix it.  We also have yet to get around to sealing and insulating our heating ducts, despite my good intentions.

Retrofitting old houses can be challenging, but the increase in comfort, savings, and sustainability are huge.  Luckily, you don’t have learn things the hard way like we did.  This summer, POWER is offering free home energy assessments, as well as personalized help with finding contractors and taking advantage of all the great programs in the area.  POWER’s Program Director Pat Knight is happy to sign you up for an assessment (440 789 4531).

What have you done to your old house?  Post your comments below to share your lessons learned.

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Thu, 03 May 2012 16:43:44 +0000
Changing Our Energy Habits I am a creature of habit. Sticking to my routines makes things go better.  For example, when I throw a shirt in the laundry basket, I have a habit of also throwing in a hanger, so that when I’m down in the basement doing the laundry, I can hang the clean shirt up right away, and avoid a lot of ironing later.  It took a while to remember to do this, but now I do it on autopilot. When we do something on autopilot we can do it more efficiently. 

Unless the habit itself is inefficient.  Chances are we all have a lot of daily behaviors that actually don’t make a lot of sense, but we do them automatically anyway because we haven’t stopped to think about them. Why do I not automatically put things like tools and scissors away when I finish using them? They clutter up my space, and the next time I need them I waste time and energy tracking them down. Sometimes they stay lost for months, and on more than one occasion I’ve bought an unneeded replacement.  That’s not efficient.

It’s the same thing with the way we use energy. There are lots of things we can do that require almost no effort, once they are habits.  And some of our current habits make no sense.  Take idling a car, for instance. Somehow the idea has gained traction that a car should be warmed up for several minutes before it can be driven without harming the engine. Not so! In fact, the best way to warm up a car is to drive it moderately for several miles within 10 seconds of starting the engine.

Another myth is the idea that it’s bad to turn your car on and off.  Actually, when your car is going to idle for more than ten seconds, it’s more efficient to turn the engine off while you wait, restarting it when it’s time to go. Why breathe any more car fumes than we have to? 

The same thing applies to your home computer.  Turning it on and off does not shorten the computer’s life in any measurable way (given normal home use), and, actually, it’s better for your software to reboot at least once a day. Also, leaving it on could add about $200 to your yearly electric bill.

And how about water usage? How many times have you turned the hot water tap on to wash your hands, but you finish long before a drop of hot water has reached you?  Since you’re going to be washing your hands with cold water anyway, why run the hot water at all?  When you do, it puts hot water in the pipes where it will just get cold, and makes your water heater work that much harder.  I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who actually removed a sink’s hot water handle for a month so the whole household could retrain.  It worked.

Another change to save your time and money: When a light bulb goes out, be sure to replace it with a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb. The slightly higher price tag on CFL bulbs is misleading because you’ll need to buy up to ten incandescent bulbs to last as long as a single CFL will (that’s also a lot of trips to the store). Plus, the real cost of a bulb includes how much energy it uses in its short lifetime, which in dollar terms turns out to be 5 to 10 times the sale price of an incandescent bulb. CFLs use far less energy, and produce far less heat that your air conditioner must work to counteract in the summer.

Then there’s bottled water. Instead of sinking (lots of) money into a product that produces 1.5 million tons of plastic waste a year, consider buying a hip stainless steel bottle for your hydration needs. You will never have to worry about finding a vending machine again.

Adopt a good habit, drop a bad one—these changes take a bit of getting used to, but we’ll find that they make our lives easier rather than harder. As a result, you’re a more efficient person, personally, economically, and environmentally. Don’t believe me? Google will tell us in about thirty seconds. Make critical questioning and fact-checking (starting with this article!) another habit and you’ll have a very well-informed, smarter autopilot.

If you find an error in this article, or have your own suggestions for improving our autopilots, post a comment below and join the conversation.

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Thu, 05 Apr 2012 16:26:29 +0000
What’s the Best Way to “Energy Diet?” So, you are a homeowner and you want to save energy.  You know that it’s the right thing to do, and it will save you money, but the hard part is deciding what to do.  What will give the most savings and comfort for the least hassle?

The most important step you can take to preserve your planet and your paycheck is to make investments in weatherization, insulation, and heating and cooling systems as soon as possible. These will pay dividends for as long as you live in your home, without any further effort on your part. (If you’re a renter, stay tuned.  I’ll have ideas for you in my next column.)

I know these investments sound expensive and complicated, and therefore it becomes easy to put it off. But each day it doesn’t happen, you lose money and let our environment become a little more polluted.  In fact, making your home more efficient is not as complicated as it may sound.

For example, just look at the impact of insulating your house. The Ohio Department of Development reports that, on average, homes heated with natural gas cut their initial consumption by 25% after weatherization. You could clip coupons or fret about paper vs. plastic for several lifetimes before achieving the same impact of this one-time basic efficiency measure.  And, it couldn’t be any cheaper or easier to get done right now.

Oberlin’s local gas company, Columbia Gas of Ohio, is offering a Home Energy Audit program that makes it incredibly easy for you to get this stuff done and begin reaping the rewards. Columbia Gas sends an expert to give your house a sophisticated check-up. It’s worth $500, but you will be charged only $50 ($20 for income-eligible customers), which you get back in rebate when you make one of the suggested improvements. You also get a free high-performance, energy-efficient showerhead, and a programmable thermostat (if it is appropriate for your home). You even get big rebates on the actual work done on your house. Not only do you get future benefits, but you’ll save money upfront.

My neighbor signed up for the Columbia Gas program, and loved it.  She told me, “We got $3,000 worth of work done for about $800, and the system was all set up, so it wasn’t hard.”

City Manager Eric Norenberg has also used the program.  He described his experience like this:

“After reading about the Columbia Gas Home Performance Solutions program in the newspaper, my utility bill, and a door hanger, I finally called to schedule my appointment.  The program was so popular I had to wait several weeks for an audit. Once scheduled, a local professional inspected the home and gave us a written “prescription” for several insulation and weatherization improvements and a list of Columbia Gas-approved contractors.  A couple weeks later we met with a local contractor to discuss and schedule the work.  The work began within two weeks.  After instant rebates, the rebate on the inspection fee and other incentives, we only paid $283 for $1,100 worth of insulation and weatherization work for our home.  The process was very easy:  Nearly all of the documentation and forms were processed automatically, so I didn’t have to fill out complicated rebate forms.  And, our home was warmer afterwards!"

Are you thinking, Yeah I’ll get to that some time soon? Will you really? Call 1-877-644-6674 or visit to get started today. They’re taking reservations now!

And not only will you save money, but when you make your home more energy efficient you are putting community members back to work.  The economic downturn has hit the construction industry hard and you can use Columbia Gas’s program to help keep these workers employed.

Let’s review:  Cooler house in summer, warmer house in winter, lower utility bills, amazing rebates available NOW, local jobs, cleaner air…. What are you waiting for?

How do you Energy Diet?  Share your thoughts and tips below.

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Thu, 08 Mar 2012 18:22:31 +0000
What’s doing all the work? : Energy Matters in Oberlin

Why would anyone want to read a column on Energy?  Well, because energy matters.  Let me demonstrate with a few common questions about life.

Q:  What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

A:  Alarm clock?  Coffee?  A two year old?  Whatever it is, it’s one of countless examples of energy at work. We use energy for everything we do, from dressing two year olds to making coffee to sending astronauts into space.  You are turning one form of energy into another when you haul yourself out of bed, and that’s just what the coffee maker is doing as well.  Energy matters because it’s a means to an end – pretty much every end we care about.

Q:  Why can’t I do it all?

A:  Because you only have so much energy.  This is true of the whole universe. There is a finite amount of total energy in it: what we have is what we got (physicists call this the Law of Conservation).  And not all the energy that exists is in a usable form.  Energy matters because we don’t have an endless supply; we need to be choosy about how we use it.

Q:  Why does my house/desk/car/body continue to fall apart, even though I keep trying to pick things up and put them back together again?

A:  You’re not alone.  It’s the Law of Entropy in action.  Every time we change energy from one form to another (when we pick up the clutter and put it back on the shelf) we lose a little bit of usable energy in the process.  Things really are getting more run down and chaotic; it’s not just your imagination.  Energy matters because in order to minimize chaos, we need to minimize the bits and pieces of degraded energy that drift away into the corners of the universe.

Q:  What is the meaning of life? 

A:  Life is all about the flow of energy; in order to maintain life, energy must be expended to fight the law of entropy, the inevitable descent into chaos.  This is why we eat (to give our bodies energy so our hearts keep pumping and our lungs keep breathing); it’s why we go to work (so we can earn money to buy food so we can eat); it’s why we live together in families and communities (so we can gather and share resources together, and fight the law of entropy together).  Energy matters because it is what keeps us going, as organisms and as a society.

In Oberlin, energy matters for all kinds of reasons.  Both the city and the college have committed to provide and use energy in a way that is carbon neutral (when the energy is generated or used, no CO2 is put into the atmosphere).  Rising energy costs mean we need to learn how to be really efficient in how we use our energy.  And many in our community don’t have enough of it – they live under the threat of having their utilities shut off or their furnace failing in the middle of winter.  For environmental, economic, and humanitarian reasons, energy matters.

In the coming months, I will use this space to explore the difference that energy makes in our lives, and how we can use it most effectively.  I’ll talk about useful things you can do in your home as well as how energy relates to the fight against terrorism.  I also want to encourage all of you to become part of the conversation by visiting my blog at

Energy matters in Oberlin because we care about each other, our community, and our planet.  We all want Oberlin to be healthy and prosperous.  By thinking carefully about our energy, we pave the way for a future we can all get excited about.

What do you care about most?  Post a comment to record your favorite things about Oberlin, your most cherished values, and your hopes for the future.


Cindy Frantz is the Co-Chair of the Energy Planning Committee of the Oberlin Project. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly (POWER) and Associate Professor of Psychology at Oberlin College.

]]> (Cindy Frantz) Energy Matters Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:05:09 +0000