Back in the late 90’s during my first environmental studies class, Frank Schiavo became my hero. His teachings were clear and effective: we all had had the power through our choices to make a positive difference while we live on this planet.

After ten years, I had the opportunity to meet up with Frank again and visit his home. Although he has retired from teaching at San Jose State, he remains active in the environmental community by offering home consultations and tours of his our energy efficient home.

Here’s a brief excerpt from his most recent article (3/13/09) found in San Jose Mercury News (click here to read the entire article)

Surprise — the biggest energy user in your house is in your garage.

If you drive a gas-powered car it typically uses more energy in BTUs (or energy units) per month — any month— than your monthly PG&E energy use in BTUs. So you can realize significant energy savings simply by changing your personal behavior when it comes to your car:

  • Combine your trips for shopping and errands into a single loop instead of many singles;
  • Use VTA buses, light rail, and or/Caltrain for work commutes and other trips;
  • Carpool, bike, or walk if public transportation won’t work for you.

    To make other changes at home, it helps to know where your energy — and energy dollars — are going: Heating and cooling account for 44 percent of energy consumed annually; lighting and appliances account for 33 percent; Water heating is 14 percent; and the refrigerator is 9 percent.

    To be smart about energy savings, start with the most cost-effective methods and work your way down a list to more expensive ones.

    Heating and cooling tips:

  • Set thermostat to 67 degrees
  • Dress warmly in cold weather
  • Install a programmable thermostat for your furnace
  • Change filters at the start of winter and again three months later
  • Weather-strip doors and windows
  • Install a high-efficiency furnace (80 to 90-plus percent efficiency); and insulate the house (R30 attic, R19 in walls and under floors — R in insulation refers to thermal resistance when heat travels through it).
  • Install thermal curtains
  • Replace single-pane windows with double-panes
  • Add a passive sun room along the south-facing walls of your home

    Other ideas for keeping your home comfortable:

  • Open south- and west-facing window curtains during winter days for warming; close them at night.
  • Close south- and west-facing windows and window curtains during summer days
  • Open all windows on summer nights for cooling
  • If you have an air-conditioner outside, build a small shed over it to shade it; it will operate more efficiently and save you money.
  • Plant deciduous trees near south- and west-facing windows; they will provide shade in the summer and warmth from sunlight in the winter.
  • Paint your roof white with an elastomeric paint. This “cool roof”‘ will cool your attic and house in the summer.

    Other ways to change your lifestyle:

  • Grow a garden and buy organic foods. You save energy, water, gasoline and won’t be consuming pesticides.
  • Compost food scraps and leaves.
  • Refuse to buy foods that are packaged in stuff that can’t be re-used or recycled.
  • Prepare your own meals — stop driving to fast-food place and eliminate fast food from your diet.
  • Turn off the TV more. It will reduce how frequently you hear about stuff you should buy, but really don’t need.

Frank Schiavo is an environmental home consultant. Although he passed away in the beginning of 2010, we honor his memory and will keep the spirit of his philosophies alive.