I've been on a tear of late to eliminate or minimize standby loads. This arises from data revealing that during spring and fall, when HVAC use is minimal, standby loads comprise 25%, 5 kwh / day of our home's total usage.

5 kwh / day exceeds the total usage of our entire kitchen - fridge, chest freezer, range, dishwasher, etc.

At national average electric rates of $0.11 / kwh, each Watt of standby usage works out to a buck a year, so the sneaky little loads add up fast.

An early victory came in the form of learning that the starting battery trickle charger on our standby genny consumes 30-35 Watts. A $40, 10 Watt PV panel from Amazon has allowed me to kill that load while still maintaining the genny's cranking battery.

We have 3 garage door openers, specifically Overhead Door Phantoms. They are quiet and have been relatively trouble-free. Imagine my shock at learning each uses 14.5 Watts while sitting and doing nothing.

Doing the math, the three (aptly named) Phantoms have cost us $200 in standby power since we built the house in early 2008.

Thoughts, anyone?

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We have to work on society's values changing if we are going to avoid careening into the abyss.  Energy efficiency give us breathing room - but only if we have seen the light and decided to change our ways.


Frankly I am not encouraged that it can happen in time (for many organisms that have gone extinct, it is already too late); on the other hand, I can't help but work for a good cause anyway - it is some comfort to try.  Besides, we are mostly making life difficult for the most complex organisms (such as ourselves) - we will not extinguish all life on earth and, if necessary, evolution will start all over again.

Part of the backlash from the right is the reality that this is all happening (their backlash comes from a place of nostalgia, fear and  ignorance) so, in a way, the backlash is progress: the issue is finally being confronted, albeit not constructively or intelligently.

Here is where Winston Churchill's assessment of Americans seems so accuate: "you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing - AFTER they've tried everything else."

We've simply got to grow up in the US and realize that our lives have been much too easy. 

Shhhh.... We'd better keep this subversive conversation down, or we're going to ruffle some feathers.

Who knew a mere 14.5 Watts would trigger such cerebral horsepower?

When we're witnessing the planet literally burning up, it seems absurd to be worrying about the efficiency of a totally unnecessary mechanical device.

The better question to consider is: do we need this at all.

America's great agrarian philosopher, Wendell Berry, noted with melancholy that a word that has gone completely out of our vocabulary is forbearance (doing without).

That a powered garage door opener is "totally unecessary" is opinion, not fact.

However, the underlying argument that a powered garage door opener is bad for the environment deserves objective examination:

The alternative, stopping the car, alighting from it and manually operating the door at least twice daily carries with it considerable environmental penalty, to wit, increased engine idling time. This is particularly onerous in the morning, since the efficiency and emissions profile of an idling cold engine are at their absolute worst - the engine's computer adds extra fuel to prevent stalling (remember manual choke handles?). In addition, the cat (Catalytic Converter) is nowhere near "lit off" (hot enough to perform its job burning off uncombusted fuel)

There is a reason emissions tests are performed only on warm engines that have been running several minutes.

Other alternatives include parking outside, but that incurs increased wear and tear on finish and interior, as well as longer warmups in winter and much harder working AC in summer, both hard on the environment. One could also shut down and restart the engine, but that is hard on the engine and electrical system as well as the environment. Anything that hastens the day a car may no longer feasibly be kept in service is positively disastrous for the environment, given the embodied energy and materials in a new car.

I suppose one could call into question the whole suburban lifestyle of needing to drive everywhere, but let me nip that off with the note that we live where the schools are safe, secure, and sane, an amenity urban cores nearly universally fail to provide.

The direction this thread has taken begs general comment as well. The Enviro / EE tent is truly big, but I'd prefer a seat near the fire.

By his tenor R^2 seems to favor us all shivering naked in the dark, but his avatar shows him fully clothed...a paradox needing resolution, I think.

Funny how other people's considered judgements are always "opinion" while one's own are always "objective examination".

In the considered opinion of this commenter, your "objective examination" is more rationalization than fact.

The "considerable environmental penalty" (emphasis added) is almost completely fictitious. A very minor environmental penalty might have been arguable back in the days of carbureted engines and mechanical spark distributors, but is virtually insignificant with today's computer-controlled engines (I was once a fully-certified Master Mechanic).

But the most absurd comment is that, without modern conveniences, we would be "shivering in the dark". In fact, because I live in a wood-heated house, I am warm and comfortable during power outages while people with modern central heating are "shivering in the dark" and unable to call their power company because all their phones are cordless.

"Drill Baby Drill"

That ought to keep the mainstream happy for a while...

Isn't that the motto of the American Dental Association?

I regret I failed to completely substantiate the environmental impacts of alternative garage entry strategies such as:

Operating a garage door opener motor 45 seconds daily causes the release of 12.73 Carbon Cooties, whereas idling a cold 4 cylinder car engine releases 17.23 Carbon Cooties and idling a warm car engine releases 6.16 Carbon Cooties...but I admit, I don't have that data.

My goal was also to identify that no one chosen alternative operates in a vacuum; that all alternatives have both costs and benefits, and ESPECIALLY that sweeping generalizations such as garage door operators are totally unnecessary (emphasis added...touche) are incorrect and unhelpful.

While hugging a particular tree, let's not lose sight of the forest...

In addition let's list three groups of drivers for whom powered garage door operators are quite far from totally unnecessary:


1) Elderly people no longer able to manually operate a garage door

2) Handicapped people of any age whose limitations preclude manually operating a garage door

3) People living in neighborhoods whose violent crime rate is such that controlling a garage door from within a closed vehicle offsets clear and present danger, particularly after dark.

Oh and by the way I'm very glad to hear of R^2's devotion to wood heat..since wood heat has zero, zip, nada negative environmental impact:

1) No particulate emissions

2) No Carbon Monoxide

3) No carcinogens or pollutants from incomplete combustion.

(or not...)

I regret having stumbled upon a backwater of the internet completely devoid of humor.

While I must bill clients for all manner of products, systems, and services, I'm pleased to continue to provide snark and irony at no charge!

I'm so happy to hear that you think the collapse of the global environment is a matter for humor, and that fine tuning a garage door opener is a suitable response to the greatest crisis that humanity has faced in its evolutionary history.

That the elderly and handicapped managed for generations before automatic garage door openers were invented, of course, in no way undermines your continued rationalizations for their necessity.

And I have to say that I'm in the best of company on using wood heat, as both Martin Holladay of GreenBuildingAdvisor.com and Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen.com, Environmental Building News and GreenSpec recently wrote blogs about the environmental advantages of burning wood and the decades that each of them have used it.

By George, I think we have reached agreement!

I'll keep chipping away at my standby and other loads, particularly my 3 garage door openers and sundry other insidious loads as warranted. I'll post my findings so others may learn and implement.

You'll keep preaching the end of the world as we know it!

My total energy bill last month for a 3400 SF home, 5 occupants, 50 windows, well and septic pumps, as well as water supply to two other dwellings, was $76, so I think I'm on the right track.

As we "speak" I'm sitting by a warm wood fire, combating an early cold snap here in north Florida. Wood was a secondary source of heat while I grew up in Mass. and a primary source of heat while I lived in Penna. from 1988-1995.

I'm quite familiar with and regularly participate at GBA, GreenBuildingTalk, GeoExchange, HVACTalk.

What I'm getting at is to ask you why expend great personal capital condemning one particular, very minor energy consuming appliance at the risk of alienating its dedicated users? Why not adopt a model wherein you undertake to meet a client's needs while dramatically reducing their energy costs?

Hey Curt and Robert:


Let's not go overboard here.

Curt: garage door openers are relative luxuries and the world did survive without them before but, Robert, they are hardly the worst environmental insult that most of us engage in.

I also heat with wood, albeit in a super efficient (80.6% if my memory is correct) 1993 Vermont Casting Defiant Encore wood stove.  When it is hot and I have adjusted it properly, it is extremely clean (0.6 grams of soot per hour, or so the specs tell me). 

But I know it is not always operating that well and I can sometimes smell the smoke outside.  Either way, I am not contributing to global warming so does that make the extra air pollution acceptable?  I'm not sure but I have opted to burn wood.

I also have a 1993 Honda VX that just passed 283K miles today and still gets its' rated MPG when I drive carefully (55 MPG highway).  My old car pollutes a bit more than a new one (a little bit of NOX especially due to lean burn technology) - but I am not consuming resources to manufacture a new car every several years.

My electricity comes from early '90's PV panels that I installed on Jan 1, 2010.  They make no pollution now but they did when they were constructed.

Does this make my impact less than the average America?  I daresay yes but I am a lot less virtuous than some people I know - who live without a car and are a lot less connected to the creature comforts of society than I am.

Robert: I don't know what your lifestyle is -  maybe you also don't own a car, all your electricity comes from renewables, you recycle, you re-purpose everything but you are certainly not perfect.  I daresay your time on the computer is burning a fair amount of electricity - and even if it were made by renewables, that electricity could be powering something else if you weren't on the computer so much.

I agree with you that the planet has hardly begun to react to the insults we have placed on it and I believe there is a lot of human suffering ahead - and that, as intelligent creatures, we had a choice if we had wanted to not have it be this way.  My own lifestyle - and I daresay yours - is not sustainable - though I (and hopefully all of us on this site) am open to the idea of improving it.

All I can think of is the quote from the Bible: "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone."

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