Going on an Energy Diet

You can try to save energy without starving yourself ... but you do need to stick with a regimen.

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Saving energy isn’t fun like watching a movie in high-def or hearing music outside on the patio. It isn’t sexy like having a sleek new pair of speakers in the living room or a super-smart remote to operate your entire A/V rack. Frankly, it can be a real turn off. Especially when it means depriving yourself of all those fun, sexy, cool technologies. But do you really have to give all that up?

Lots of custom electronics professionals think it’s possible to save energy without sacrificing much at all. One of the best analogies comes from Evan Struhl of Cutting Edge Systems, a custom electronics design and installation firm in Westford, Mass. “Saving energy is like being on a diet,” he explains. “If you limit yourself too much, you’ll never stick with it.”

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I like his thinking. You shouldn’t feel guilty about watching movies on a rainy afternoon or keeping your music system humming during a dinner party. It’s ridiculous to wear a parka so you can lower the thermostat 8 degrees or to cook a meal in the dark so you can save on electricity for those 20 minutes.

When you’re on an “energy diet,” it’s okay to splurge occasionally—like keeping the lights and music at full intensity while friends are over—as long as you cut back other times. These other times might be when you’re sleeping, away at work or on vacation or any time you want to “exercise” to get your energy diet back on track.

Unlike a typical diet that requires hard work and dedication to lose weight, though, Struhl’s diet requires no more effort than touching a button on a touchpanel. For each of his customers, Struhl creates a special screen-based interface that displays a number of diet plans, each represented by a button. For example, one button might be called CARBON SAVER, the one you touch to throw your diet into high gear. In this setting, you might have the thermostats set back to 65, the lights fade to a 30 percent intensity level, and all the A/V equipment power down. And when you want to splurge, an ENTERTAIN button could brighten the family room lights, warm up the house to 70 and activate your whole-house music system and big-screen TV in the rec room.

Struhl goes so far as to divide his energy diets into two categories: fuel and electricity. It’s kind of like carbs and fat grams. There will be times when you need more carbs than fat in your diet (and vice versa), just as there are times when you’ll need more fuel than electricity. Again, following Struhl’s fuel and electricity diets are easy. You just press a button … no squinting to read the labels on packaging or keeping elaborate food diaries are necessary.

If only Struhl could create a button to help me shed these last five pounds.

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