It’s December—a month where routines go to die. Holidays are important to me because they give me a break from routines and a chance to examine the things most important in my life.
This is why I travel to Eastern Oregon every year to spend Christmas with my family. They are the people I want to be with during the holidays.
While I may go about my routines the rest of the year, I find that when December comes back around, I’m always overdue to revisit the question of what my priorities are and to make adjustments that carry forward into the new year.
In the course of my work as an energy-efficiency specialist, I go into people’s homes and help find ways to save energy. I do my best to say things that are helpful. I offer solutions that are realistic.
The task of being energy efficient is complex, and I am a realist. I believe positive change is made gradually—in manageable doses.
I usually have an hour to get to know a person’s life and routines. That means I have to work fast and get down to business. I poke and prod attics and crawlspaces in houses and question people about their habits.
Then, I ask them to consider a few things, suchs as insulation, a new HVAC system and their behaviors. The temptation to foist energy-efficiency platitudes on people is one I must resist. If I don’t, I am merely a caveman, beating my fist: ”Analog thermostat bad! Smart thermostat good!”
I don’t want conservation work to paint a picture where energy is our enemy. Energy is much more our friend because we use it to live our lives.
Energy efficiency is about making informed decisions. By revealing the hidden costs associated with life’s activities, people can decide for themselves what is and isn’t worth the cost.
To put this another way, energy efficiency helps people understand their true priorities—just like holidays. The spirit of the holidays and the spirit of energy efficiency is the same spirit!
Holidays often bring relatives over to stay. HVAC bills aren’t always affected by this. A warm house is a warm house, whether there are two people inside or 10. However, extra occupants often affect hot water use. It’s a sneaky problem because most of the time, the expense of hot water flies under the radar.
For perspective, if you have a modern, low-flow showerhead and set your water heater at a reasonable temperature, a five-minute shower might cost 25 cents for heat. But tweak a few parameters and the picture looks different.
Back home, my parents have a shower in their basement with fixtures that are about 40 years old. It’s sturdy and has the flow rate of a firehose. It’s amazing and I love it. Turning this thing on is like summoning Neptune. The sound of water hitting the shower wall is about 120 decibels.
Showering in it will exfoliate your entire body with the effectiveness of a power washer. It will leave you numb, tingling and squeaky clean. There is something about this shower that triggers shower hubris in me. It makes me want more of all the things I’m already getting. It makes me want to crank that sucker up to the full hot-rock sauna temperature and cook myself like a lobster for at least 20 minutes. I penciled this out, and these soul-purifying showers, at their worst, cost about $2.50 a pop—a tenfold increase.
If I wanted to call this shower a crime against energy efficiency, it would be an easy thing to do. But I’m not waging war on showers.
My job is to take the invisible and make it visible. My message to the world is not to say, “Make do with less.” My message is, “Make your decision.”
By knowing the cost of the shower, I can decide if it’s really worth it.
And holidays teach me, every year, that once I have my priorities in order, letting go of small indulgences no longer feels like a sacrifice. It feels like a decision that I made, based on my own values.
My glam shower isn’t ruined. It is revealed. By knowing the cost, we can know our values—at least once a year—on the holidays.