Bruce Harley, 44, was ahead of his time 34 years ago when his fifth-grade science fair project on solar energy only earned an honorable mention. Now, most of us have come to appreciate and recognize the importance of energy conservation and finding alternative energy sources.
Fortunately, the lack of recognition for his science fair project did not deter Harley from majoring in electrical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, pursuing a career in the field - and now publishing a new book on cutting energy costs.
Released just a few weeks ago by Taunton Press, "Cut Your Energy Bills NOW," subtitled "150 Smart Ways to Save Money and Make Your Home More Comfortable and Green," offers tips on how to conserve energy and lower your energy expenses.
The book is Harley's second; his first, "Insulate and Weatherize," was published in 2002. Writing comes naturally to Harley, whose father had been an engineer and a technical writer. Harley followed in his father's footsteps with his first job, where he took on the task of rewriting the instruction manuals.
"I have just always enjoyed writing, and I grew up with an interest in that kind of technical writing," Harley said.
Harley was able to continue on this path when he took the job of technical director with the Conservation Services Group, where he is involved in developing programs and training sessions in a variety of areas related to energy efficiency. Harley also has authored several magazine articles on the subject over the past several years.
'Do the research'
In "Cut Your Energy Bills NOW," issues of energy conservation are addressed in a broader way that covers a range of energy uses from lighting and appliances to insulation.
The book is well written and easy to read. Harley has a gift for being able to explain complicated concepts in a way that is easy to understand by people who may not have a background in science. However, it also provides enough depth of information to be of interest to people who do.
The book offers advice on both large-scale projects, such as insulation or the installation of solar power, as well as smaller projects, such as replacing household appliances.
"Reduce the use," Harley urged. "That is the biggest and most important thing a homeowner can do when it comes to saving money on energy."
Taking a pragmatic approach, he pointed out that some alternative energy projects may not be cost-effective at this point, and thus the best way to go green is to focus on energy efficiency. Whatever source of energy is used, the best thing people can do as a rule is to lower the amount of energy that is used. In a house, this includes adding insulation and eliminating air leaks.
"Most air leaks are not through windows or doors, they are from hidden leaks in attics and basements," Harley said. Eliminating air leaks and insulating can be costly projects, but they are what will result in the biggest savings over time.
However, there are many ways that energy bills can be lowered in small everyday ways even for people who are renting apartments who do not want to put money into a building they do not own. Harley strongly recommends using appliances with the Energy Star label. By going to energystar.gov, people can compare and get the statistics for specific models of appliances within each category.
"It is worth the time to do the research, and it will pay off," Harley said.
It is also important to buy things such as necessary replacement appliances, heating systems or hot water heaters before they actually break down. That way you have time to do the research you need to do to get the most energy-efficient models. And, you can shop around for the best price. Otherwise, you may wind up in an emergency situation where you get whatever is available because you need to get something fast.
Some of the ways we can cut energy bills in an everyday kind of way are things people overlook. In most houses, unless you have electric heat, running the refrigerator accounts for most of the electric bill.
"If you have a refrigerator that is more than 10 to 15 years old, you should really start looking for a replacement," Harley said. "In fact, if it is more than 15 years old, you should just recycle it out because they use so much more energy than today's models."
In "Cut Your Energy Bills NOW," Harley also offers advice on how to maintain refrigerators, water heaters and other appliances to keep them running efficiently. He also gives advice on energy efficient lighting and projects such as weather-stripping windows.
He not only explains what can be done to lower energy bills, he explains the why and how of the way it works. He also takes into account the cost of the initial expenditure over the life of the products or projects. There are also simple, easy-to-follow directions on how to do things like weather-stripping the older double hung windows many of us still have.
The information in this book can help people set priorities regarding energy saving projects and expenses.
"The easiest thing some homeowners can do, with the most potential to save a significant amount of money, is if they have a furnace fan that is running all the time," Harley said. "Set the furnace fan to run on auto rather than continuously, and you will see a noticeable drop in the electric bill without sacrificing comfort to get it."
Harley practices what he preaches. After being born and raised in a suburb of Boston, Harley was introduced to the Berkshires through a friend in 1990. His interests in hiking and backpacking drew him back to the area. He now lives in Stamford, Vt., with his wife, Mieke, and his daughter, Kenja, in a house that is heated with solar and wood and is entirely "off the grid" by using solar power for other energy uses.
"Cut Your Energy Bills NOW" is available at Hardware, the Mass MoCA gift shop, Wild Oats and major bookstores. For more information about the Conservation Services Group, visit csgrp.com. Harley will be signing his book on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. at the North Adams Public Library.