Monday, June 11 2007
Energy Star is a program here in the United States to promote products that are, in some way, energy efficient. Most of us have Energy-Star-rated computers, for example, though most of us have them set up so that they waste a lot of electricity anyway. I don't, as a rule, find Energy Star an especially useful label, since it was designed to be entirely binary (either a product gets it or it does not). I prefer to know the underlying numbers, about which Energy Star was designed to keep me from worrying my pretty head. As evidence of how deliberately unhelpful the Energy Star program is to those seeking to know more, look at this official Energy Star page about water coolers. Here we're informed about how much energy we're typically saving and how much CO2 emission we're typically preventing by buying an Energy-Star-rated water cooler. What we're not told, though, are a more crucial set of figures that anyone who honestly cares about the environment wants to know: how much energy is being consumed and CO2 released despite the switch to an Energy-Star-rated water cooler. If we really care about the environment and an Energy-Star-rated water cooler is still terribly wasteful, maybe we'd decide that having one was too big of a price to pay. Absolute values of energy consumption should be important to people, and they definitely will be as they try to power more of their equipment with things like solar panels and personal windmills.
Ever the most practical and straightforward of people, Canada proved to be the source of the information I sought. It turns out that an Canadian Energy-Star-rated water cooler is expected to use no more than 1.2 kilowatt hours of electricity each day just for the standby-heating of water. That's actually a fairly large amount, equivalent to leaving a 50 watt lightbulb burning all the time (it's a little less than what our Energy-Star-rated refrigerator uses). Just as a reminder, by the way, I'm not concerned with a water cooler's energy requirements to cool water. That uses about an fifth of the electricity needed to heat water, and it's a function I don't use anyway (if I want really cold water, I want it on the rocks).
The Sunbeam water cooler I got the other day does not have an Energy Star rating, and today I figured out why. I found that it was fairly easy to open it from the top after removing the five gallon water jug. Beneath this jug was a little container from which water could flow to either the water heater or the water cooler. This container was insulated with about three quarters of an inch of styrofoam, just to keep the heat from the hot water tank from heating the water in the jug. This was a tipoff to the frightful lack of insulation around the hot water reservoir. If it was well insulated, after all, there would be no concern about the destination of the heat escaping from it.
Reaching in from the top, down past the thinly-insulated central container to the metal plate below which the hot water reservoir hangs, I found it scalding hot to the touch. It would have been easy for the manufacturer to lay a bed of insulation atop this plate, but this hadn't been done. So I did it myself, using standard glass wool of the sort put between the studs of a house. When I put the water cooler back together and fired it up, I was delighted to find that there were no longer any noticeably warm places on its outer skin. There was one place where heat was still being modestly conducted to the surface, but it seemed doubtful there was anything I could do about that. The upshot of these modest additions of insulation was that the water cooler turned on much less frequently, particularly when I wasn't taking water from it.
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