ComEd Smart Home Showcase Essay

July 01, 2015

About a year ago I entered a ComEd contest hoping to win solar panels for my roof. I didn't win, probably in part due to the fact that I had an old roof at the time. But I just came across the essay again, and while it's not an epic feat of writing, it's certainly relevant to recycling, energy conservation, and many of the issues that I have become familiar with over the years, so I thought I'd post it:

Unfortunately, a house doesn’t come with a manual.

Twelve year ago, as a naive new homeowner, one of my first impressions was that the washer and dryer were the same models that I had grown up with in the 1980s. Another was that I didn’t know how to use the thermostat. When I moved it slightly to the left, the house got cold. To the right, the house became a sauna. Also, I wondered, what was the second trash bin in the alley for? I guessed it was recycling, but not knowing what to put in it, I was intimidated.

A $350 utility bill was the first sign that my house was not efficient. I quickly realized my habit of leaving the lights on was probably not good for my wallet. Every day after work, I toured the house to see if any light bulbs were out, and usually one was. Another finding -- the house had been sold to me with all the outer windows open, and not realizing this, I had left them that way all winter. Whoops!

Five years ago I quit my corporate job and started a computer repair business. At first I didn’t think about environmental implications, and it was just a way to make money. But I soon realized that the broken computers I bought from electronics recyclers would have been scrapped if I hadn’t found them. I was, effectively, making a living off of someone else’s trash. This was a turning point for me -- the idea that there was so much waste in the world, so much unused energy discarded, that I was making a living by simply utilizing what others had thrown away.

From that point, I started to see things differently. I searched the Internet and learned what to put in the recycling bin. I found out that my 30-year-old appliances, while well-built, were far from efficient. I replaced my bulbs with fluorescents, and since then I have almost forgotten what it’s like to change one.

Traveling abroad with this new perspective, I noticed lights turning off automatically upon exiting a room. All bulbs were fluorescents. Cars were very small, and so completely packed that people hung out the windows. Tire “re- treading” stations were everywhere. I came to the sobering realization that people were not doing these things out of some good-natured desire to save the planet, but rather out of necessity. I discovered that we are lucky -- only people so relatively wealthy could grow up being as naive about energy as I had been.

I would be a great candidate for the Smart Home Showcase precisely because I have been on this personal journey, and smart appliances and technologies constitute the perfect next step. Using energy efficiently is not always easy, or obvious, but with a combination of awareness, effort, and technology, it’s possible for everyone to improve and make a huge difference. I’d be proud to be involved in an effort toward that end, and to be an official advocate.


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