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The Hidden Costs of Hidden Pumps

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Author
Dan Holohan
Published
July 16, 2009
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If you're watching the news you probably realize that, these days, Americans are becoming more conscious of green things, as well as rising fuel prices. I think that's good – both for the planet, and for the heating business. Let's face it; there's an awful lot of old equipment out there that's wasting energy, and the average consumer is starting to wonder what to do about it, or at least he or she is wondering about the stuff they can see.

And this is where you come in. It turns out that you have to tell folks what to do nowadays. If you don't, they're not going to know.

This dawned on me after I read the results of a survey that Grundfos, the pump manufacturer, had conducted in the UK, Germany, and France during the later part of 2007. Folks in Europe are probably more energy conscious than those in the U.S. because, in Europe, the environmental laws have much sharper teeth than the laws in the United States. Over there, the chimney sweep pays a visit to your home each year, and if your equipment isn't up to spec, he gives you two choices: you either have the equipment replaced, and right now, or you get out of his way as he drags the old equipment from your home.

Inspiring, don't you think?

Oh, and if you live in the UK and your old boiler fails, you must replace it with a condensing boiler. You no longer have a choice when it comes to this. And it doesn't matter if you're burning oil or gas; that new boiler must condense.

So there.

In the survey they commissioned, Grundfos had Survey Sampling International chat with 3,300 homeowners throughout the UK, Germany, and France, countries where just about everyone has hydronic heat. The survey people learned that most homeowners would love to cut their energy bills and help reduce CO2 emissions. Hey, who wouldn’t'?

But they also learned that people don't have a clue about the energy consumption of most of the appliances in their homes. They're eager to save energy, and the planet, but they're clueless as to how to go about it.

Do you hear Mr. Opportunity? He's knocking.

I don't think there's much difference between Europeans and Americans when it comes to wanting to save energy and money nowadays. It's cool to be green, and it's good to save a buck. In Europe, the survey found that a large majority of the respondents (81% in the United Kingdom, 87% in France and 90% in Germany) want to contribute actively to the reduction of energy consumption and, therefore, to an improvement of the environment, in general.

Don't you think Americans feel the same way? I do. I've been watching the news.

The survey also showed that 61% of the British homeowners, and about 40% of those in Germany and France, are aware of the labeling system used today in Europe. This system rates electrical devices on a scale from "A" to "G" (with A being the most energy friendly). It's a system that's similar to what Energy Star does here in the U.S. with their Energy Guide Labels. It gives you a way to compare products, to see which is the most efficient. The European system, however, covers more electrical equipment than does Energy Star. I suspect that more and more people are going to be paying closer attention to both labeling systems in the days to come.

Survey Sampling International learned that most of the people they surveyed are trying to reduce power consumption, but they're doing it mainly by turning things off. They'll shut off a computer, for instance, rather than leave it on stand-by. This is by choice, but this year, I learned there are some places in Europe where you don't have a choice. I stayed at a hotel in Denmark, and I had to stick my room key into a slot just inside the door before I could operate anything electrical in the room. And when I left the room, I had to take the key with me, and that shut everything off. No choice.

Europeans are changing their habits, some by choice, and some by necessity.

But at the same time, the survey people learned that only 39% of UK residents are inclined to purchase A-labeled, energy-efficient products when they're shopping, even though this is the most energy-friendly equipment. It seems that people are more than willing to change their old habits, but they're still not buying the most-efficient equipment. And the reason is confusion. Most homeowners have no idea which devices consume the most electricity, even though, in the typical European home, the circulator accounts for 15% of the total energy consumed. In the survey, people mentioned light bulbs, refrigerators, clothes dryers, and washing machines as the largest energy hogs in their homes, but hardly anyone talked about the circulator. And this is coming from a part of the world where just about everyone has a hydronic heating system, and nearly all of those circulators are operating continuously.

Do you know why they're not thinking about the circulators? Over there, most of the circulators are hiding in cupboards, or inside wall-hung boilers. They're using plenty of energy, but they're hiding while doing so. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now think about the circulators that are hiding all over the U.S., and how many of those circulators are older than your parents?

Folks over here (and over there) will probably replace all their light bulbs, the fridge, the washer, and the dryer before they start thinking about all those old circulators down in the basement – the ones that are hiding in the dark.

The folks at Grundfos say that the energy-efficient circulators they sold throughout Europe in 2005 and 2006 combined to save more than 916,000 kilowatt hours. That's equal to the total energy consumption of 200,000 European houses. They also say that if the 120 million circulators currently installed in Europe (doesn’t that number make your head spin?) were replaced by A-labeled pumps, the savings would be about 44 billion kilowatts per year, or the equivalent of five nuclear power plant.

There are far fewer circulators in the U.S., of course, but I suspect most of them are a lot older than the ones you'll find in Europe. And when consumers are looking for ways to save energy, it seems to me that this is another good place to look.

But they're not going to know unless you tell them.