Area residents are being green in the home and on the road

April 21, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • Debby Fiola put solar panels on her Rohrersville-area home to save money on electricity.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

o Pros and cons of energy conservation products

o Web sites with information about energy conservation

SMITHSBURG -- Becky Beecroft owns a first-generation Honda Civic hybrid.

She and her husband, Tom, replaced many of their appliances in their Smithsburg home with Energy Star-certified ones.

The couple also uses compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow shower heads.

Becky Beecroft said she loves her hybrid car, and was especially pleased with it when gas prices shot up a few years ago and the savings became more evident.

"Even if I don't benefit, sometimes it's just about doing the right thing for the environment," Beecroft said.

As someone who has used energy-efficient products, Beecroft knows they have downsides as well as benefits, but has no regrets about the couple's decision to be proactive about energy-efficient technology.

"I feel like, finally, we're headed in the right direction. We can't continue to live and consume the way we've been doing it in the past. We have to be responsible," said Beecroft, who teaches at Claud Kitchens Outdoor School at Fairview.


The green movement has been gaining public attention in recent years, with varying results.

The sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs has decreased since their peak in 2007, but installations of solar panels went up in 2009, according to industry sources.

Many people are motivated by a desire or social pressure to be "green," but many want to save money, said Bonnie Smith, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman.

CFL bulbs

One of the most affordable and easiest ways to make a home or business more energy efficient is to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, also known as CFLs.

Each CFL bulb in use saves, on average, 51 kilowatt hours, $5.41 and 78 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's March 2009 CFL Market Profile. That is based on an average daily use of three hours, with an electricity price of 10.6 cents per kwh and 1.54 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per kwh.

Shipments of CFL bulbs have decreased since 2007 and their future market is uncertain, according to market profile reports. One reason is the bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs, with one CFL bulb replacing at least five incandescent lamps over its lifetime, according to the 2009 market profile.

But CFLs were being used in only about 11 percent of residential sockets, and 30 percent of households weren't using any, according to the market profile.

CFL bulbs tend to be more expensive than traditional bulbs. A pack of four 60-watt incandescent bulbs at a local discount store cost $2.34, compared to a pack of three CFL bulbs for $4.92. That works out to 59 cents for the regular bulb and $1.64 for an equivalent CFL bulb.

CFL bulbs also are less convenient to dispose of because each bulb contains an average of 4 milligrams of mercury, according to, a Web site produced by the U.S. Department of Energy and EPA.

In comparison, an older style thermometer contains about 500 milligrams of mercury, the site states.

Elemental mercury, the type found in CFL bulbs, can be hazardous when breathed as a vapor, according to the EPA. Symptoms include mood swings, tremors, insomnia, headaches and neuromuscular changes.

Not wanting to toss CFL bulbs in the trash, Beecroft has been keeping them in a plastic bag in the garage until she can figure out how to safely dispose of them, she said.

Cliff Engle, deputy director of the Washington County Division of Environmental Management, said it's not illegal to throw a CFL bulb in the trash, but he prefers that people dispose of them safely because of the mercury content.

The county has an annual hazardous waste day at which CFLs can be taken to the Forty West Landfill, Engle said. Some stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, have CFL bulb recycling programs.

If someone wants to toss a CFL in the trash, Engle said the best way is to wrap the bulb in plastic and put it in a zip-closed plastic bag to help contain the material when the bulb breaks.

Energy Star

Many consumers look for the Energy Star label when replacing appliances.

Energy Star, a joint program of the EPA and Department of Energy, includes Energy Star labels for products that meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines, according to

The program came under scrutiny recently when the U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered the Energy Star certification process was vulnerable to fraud, according to a March 5 GAO report.

Investigators received Energy Star certification for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock, the report said.

The EPA and energy department have since announced changes to the program to improve verification, testing and enforcement, the EPA said in an April 14 release.

The program no longer will rely on an automated approval process, instead requiring that lab reports and results for products be submitted for EPA review and approval, the release states.

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