How to stop being slaves to PG and E |

How to stop being slaves to PG and E

I read with keen interest the article on the Jan. 17 front page of The Union, “PG&E customers facing higher bills,” relating to a current higher than-normal natural gas cost and the effect this might have on PG&E customers. PG&E buys power from suppliers who use natural gas to produce the electricity we consume. As natural gas prices rise, so will our electrical rates.

This has nothing to do with the current financial state of PG&E. PG&E is bankrupt. Does anyone think PG&E will pull itself out of bankruptcy without raising rates? PG&E will become solvent again employing one very proven method: raising rates.

The article in The Union mentions that customers with excessively high natural gas bills can contact the customer service department of PG&E and set up payment plans. What a thought – a revolving credit plan to pay your utility bills. How much more are you willing to take? There are solutions, but we must start demanding more from the people we buy houses from. The simple and ageless technologies are available now, but we must learn what to look for.

Three simple words define exactly what you need to look for in a house when contemplating a purchase: insulation, orientation and architecture. These three words, when properly applied to a new home, for little or no cost above what you normally spend on a home, can make a 50 percent difference on how big your utility bill is going to be. Buy a house with the proper insulation, orientation and architecture and your PG&E bill will be one-half what your neighbors are paying. It’s not rocket science. It’s just taking advantage of knowing where the sun is throughout the seasons and designing the subdivision and housing with that simple understanding.

Does it mean “stepping outside the box”? Absolutely. Does it mean your house has to look strange, different or weird? Nothing could be further from the truth. What it does mean is we must start demanding that our city planners, architects, designers and developers start over with a clean piece of paper. We need to make them understand that the first emphasis in laying out the streets in a new subdivision (or on your own five-acre parcel, for that matter) should be an emphasis on streets that run east-west, such that homes on lots will face north-south.

With a north-south facing lot, an architect or designer has much to work with. They can emphasize south-facing windows with building overhangs that allow much desired winter sun to invade your home while at the same time blocking the relentless, high-in-the-sky summer sun from entering and making the air conditioner run all the time. Simple concepts, but very effective in not only impacting your utility bill in a big way, but also creating a much more comfortable space to live in.

This is how we can make affordable housing – or “work force housing” as it is often referred to in this county – truly affordable. It’s one thing to design and build a low-cost house that has an initial low price tag. It’s another thing to design that same house to not only have a low price tag but also cost the homeowner little for utilities.

Architects early on in the design process are hiring engineers that understand the concepts, creating neighborhoods that reflect the concepts I have mentioned. The problem is it simply is not being done enough. Not enough people understand what can be done and not enough city planners are being pushed to create such neighborhoods. The result: We continue to be slaves to PG&E. Time to say enough is enough.

Recently much has been in the media about the impact of SUVs on our foreign oil dependency and the supposed funding of terrorism. I suspect the world’s oil suppliers are much more interested in our housing and how much energy we consume trying to heat and cool them than how much gas an SUV takes to drive down the road. If we want to make a huge dent in our dependency on foreign oil, build our homes with north-south orientations, provide adequate overhangs on the south exposures and insulate them well. You’ll be amazed at the difference. That’s fighting terrorism right from home.

We need to start completely rethinking how our neighborhoods should be designed and built in the very near future, so we’ll have something to pass on to our children, besides an energy-bankrupt country.

Mark A. Machado of the Lake Wildwood area is a licensed general contractor as well as a professional engineer. The average PG&E electric bill for their 2,200-square-foot house is around $20 per month.

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