Energy saving countdown

Now that it gets dark at almost 1 p.m., it seems like everyone's using more energy. Heating, lighting, complaining: All use a lot of fuel.

I've been doing my fair share of all three. Riding your bike against bullets of rain, with the air cold as death and the streets dark as a tomb, entitles you to a little energy use. After a ride like that, you have to do a little complaining just to make sure you're still alive.

The more near-death bike rides I did last weekend, the worse it got. But, then, in the unlikeliest of places — at Monday's School Board meeting — I was inspired to conserve.

Gary Sisk, the district's maintenance director, told the board about how he's been trying to reduce energy usage in the district's buildings.

"To save energy, you've gotta shut things off or shorten the run time," he told the board. "That's as simple as it gets."

I love straight-shooters such as Sisk. He's not leaking his personal energy out all over the place. As someone who has watched a lot of public meetings, I can't tell you how rare this is.

Sisk said he's been asking teachers to turn off computers and lights in their classrooms when they're not being used — especially at the end of the day.

It's a simple fix that's working to lower the district's energy use, he said.

It's a simple fix that we should all be doing at work and home. Before you leave the office, why not shut down your computer? Before you leave home, why not power-down your electronics? And how about turning off the lights you're not using?

That's as simple as it gets.

Sisk's advice about switching off lights reminded me of a routine my father had when my brothers and I were growing up. It drove us all crazy, but he loved it so much, we never protested — much.

Long before people began to talk of carbon footprints, my dad already was trying to shrink my family's. This was not only for environmental reasons — but also for financial ones. Every light switched off was extra money in the bank.

He'd start the routine just before dinner. With a weird spark in his eyes, he'd go from room to room, counting the number of lights he had to switch off. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five," he'd yell throughout the house. He wanted everyone to know how many there had been that night.

I don't remember there ever being more than about five. My parents were public school teachers. Our house was no mansion. Still, five was a lot to my dad. "Five lights, you guys," he'd say. "I can't believe it."

We couldn't believe how obsessive he was about the lights and the counting.

But, now that I'm very old and very wise, I'm beginning to get it. Conservation shouldn't just be about rainforests and spotted owls. It should also mean shutting off lights in our bedrooms and bathrooms when we're eating dinner in the kitchen.

Also — maybe it's just because I'm my father's daughter, but — there's something very satisfying about switching off a light, or two, or five. No?

About two months ago, I received a press release from the Ashland library about devices locals can check out to measure how much energy their electronics and appliances are using.

"Did you know that 75 percent of the electricity used in the average home to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off?" the release states.

I didn't know that, but I want to know more. I called the library and asked to check out one of the Kill A Watt monitors. "I'll put you on the waiting list," the librarian said.

Last time I checked, about a week ago, there were still 74 people ahead of me.

I'm glad to see the list so long. I hope the people who check out a Kill A Watt actually kill some serious wattage in their home.

I hope the wattage killing makes Sisk proud. Because, if there's one thing the man hates, it's not following through. "Basically, my whole philosophy on life can be summed up this way: If a job's worth doin', it's worth doin' right," he told the board.

So, when you shut down your computer and switch off your lights, do it right. Maybe try counting. It's very satisfying.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or For past columns see

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