Energy Diet

My Artificially Low Footprint

This week, I earned a big fat goose egg for our biggest task, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

All of us were to tally our statistics for annual use of electricity, gas and water. (This task was not made very clear in the diet — we meant gasoline, but many of us understandably assumed “gas” meant “natural gas,” which oops, come to think of it, we want to measure as well. Note to self for next time we do this!) Like Lindsay, my living situation prevented me from getting much of value to write about here.

My electricity, heat, water and natural gas use are included in the rent for my one-bedroom apartment in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. For air conditioning, I pay a surcharge of $65 per month from May through September for two window-unit air conditioners. So, from a billing perspective, my usage is nearly zero across the board.

This type of scenario, while convenient for me, can’t be good for the environment. Without any monthly bills or financial accountability, what incentive do the people in my building have to watch their energy use?

My building’s management company refused to send me any stats for our whole building, which was probably wise of them, because I imagine they aren’t very good. However, the manager of my building took pity on me and gave me her personal electric bills for the last two months (January and December), which showed an average use of about 11.5 kWh per day, which is relatively low for an American, but still tells me nothing about my own use.

I already know that the residents of my building have one huge source of waste: our radiators, which have been at the center of a battle this winter. All last month, our radiators were working so well that several of us chose to shut them off, rather than live in a Sahara-like climate.

This unintentionally rebellious behavior caused the radiators to clank abominably, which our manager blamed on those of us who were blocking the flow of steam by keeping our pipes closed (I actually learned from our home heating quiz that the real reason for the clanking is water that pools in the pipes when the floors in older buildings get warped and tilt the radiators, thus trapping water — water that will only form if you shut off your radiator and let the thing cool).

We got several missives pleading with us to keep our radiator valves open. I told the building manager that it was sometimes impossible to sleep in my bedroom when the heat was on, even if I kept my window open. She suggested that I run the air conditioner. The air conditioner. What was I going to do? I’m about to start an energy diet, and I’m being told to run my air conditioner in WINTER?

Fortunately, someone finally figured out how to keep our building warm without heating it to 90 degrees, we all seem to have opened our valves, and the building is now clank-free, with a reasonable operating temperature. But this episode provides a snapshot of how much waste is in the hands of landlords all over the world. If you have inefficient buildings, you have inefficient tenants.


  1. clipton
    February 1, 2011, 12:51 pm

    Such is the situation of apartment life. You are at the mercy of the super or building manager. The suggestion to run your AC in the winter is a sign the building manager does not have a grasp of building science.

  2. Christina
    February 2, 2011, 11:44 am

    That’s true. It does not have a grasp of any science!