They say that confession is good for the soul. Here’s mine: I’m entering into my sixth winter in my current house, but I only got around to insulating my furnace and ductwork over the last few weeks. I hadn’t even insulated my furnace manifold—the place where all the hot air collects before being blown through the ducts to the rest of the house—which I understand is the most cost-effective place to insulate.
So much for my "green" credentials. I can’t even hold a candle to this guy.
You see, I kept putting off the insulation job, thinking that we’d replace our clunky old gas furnace and oddly-placed ductwork with a new, super-efficient system before even a modest investment in insulation would pay for itself. That was, quite clearly, nuts: by now, the money I would have saved on heating bills would have paid for a nice downpayment towards an efficient furnace.
Surprisingly—to me at least—the payback has been immediate, and not just to my peace of mind. Even if I don’t save a penny overall, the house is more comfortable now. We don’t set the thermostat any higher, but our home seems warmer, with less temperature variation between the overly-toasty rooms and the chilly ones. (And we had a lot of variation for such a modest house.)
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Two lessons for me here. First: when it comes to saving energy, do the cheap and easy stuff now. Don’t weigh the options, don’t calculate whether it will be in place long enough to justify the cost. Just do it. I kept putting off a simple, short-term fix, believing that it would be obviated by a more comprehensive solution down the road. But as a result of my delays, I wound up wasting a lot of money, and spewing a lot of climate-warming emissions into the air for no good reason.
And second: even people who think of themselves as greenies (like me) are motivated as much by price as by principles. What convinced me to finally go to the hardware store was, more than anything, the specter of a huge heating bill. Rising natural gas prices made the payback from insulating my furnace that much quicker; and, being honest with myself, it was the economic reasons, more than the environmental ones, that actually got me moving. If my own example is any guide, it seems as though self-interest will often trump ethics—which is something everyone who is working towards a more sustainable future should keep in mind.