With the end of Epiphany this past week, the Christian church has entered into Lent, a period of 40 days of reflection and self-denial. With the cold winter we have had here in Rhode Island and the dramatic climate events occurring around the world with increasing and alarming frequency, there is much to be reflective about. Emmanuel Church in Newport has decided to take this Lenten period as an opportunity to encourage their parishioners and members of the community at large to take up energy savings measures as part of the “Find Your Four” program. On Sunday, March 23 at 11:15 am, immediately after the Sunday services, the rector, Rev. Dr. Anita Schell will introduce Matthew J Ray, Rhode Island State Director of the nonprofit Smart Power, and Nick Corsetti of National Grid. These representatives will present ways that each member of the community can lessen their “Carbon Footprint” (which is the amount of carbon dioxide each individual puts into the atmosphere as a by-product of their energy usage) by using energy and other resources more efficiently.

What is remarkable about energy efficiency is how easy and inexpensive many of the methods are. These approaches include:

  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent or, better yet, LED bulbs. These bulbs now cost far less than the amount of savings on energy and so really cost less than nothing. Furthermore, these bulbs create less waste heat and so in the summer less air conditioning will be needed saving even more energy.
  • Using cross-ventilation often provides fresh cool air on all but the hottest days and installing digital thermostats that lower the heat automatically at night makes our homes more comfortable at the same time energy is preserved.
  • Reducing water use is a way to save energy that many people don’t think of. The amount of energy that it takes to reprocess wastewater to the point where it is safe to drink again is enormous and one of the reasons why water costs are rising 10-15% per year in many areas.
  • Tankless heaters not only take up less room but they only heat the water when you need it so you don’t heat water in a large tank and then reheat a dozen more times as it naturally cools overtime before you actually use the hot water!
  • Windows are a great source of heat loss. If your windows are drafty and need replacing, new windows will be much more airtight and insulated glazing is now typical in cold climates. If you have old windows you wish to keep don’t despair. An inexpensive interior energy panel mounted in the winter will often provide almost as much insulation as an entirely new window!
  • Of greater effort is reinsulating an entire building, which can be done either from the inside or the outside. Over the life of the building, insulating the structure will generally yield a large return on your investment especially in the case of old structures which are particularly drafty and poorly insulated or not insulated at all. If you are undertaking any sort of renovation or new construction, investigate how you can achieve the best insulated and most airtight building you are able to create.
  • At the bottom of a long list are the exotic technologies that many people mistakenly associate solely with “sustainable” building products. Solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps are becoming more common all the time as energy costs continue their relentless climb and the effects of climate disruption become more obvious. These are all great technologies that are becoming more efficient and affordable but they are still expensive luxuries compared to the many simple straightforward recommendations listed previously.

Lent is not a bad time to give up as a luxury the wasteful and unnecessary use of precious fossil fuel that future generations may someday desperately need. Still, the world needs solutions that we can live with all year round. Fortunately, scientists, architects, and builders have been developing designs and technologies to make saving energy both relatively painless and very financially rewarding. Follow the lead of Emmanuel Church, which feels that preserving God’s creation is their religious obligation, and hopefully, we can all “Find our Four” ways to help steer our communities and our world away from dangerous and expensive futures!


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