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Energy-Saving Items Suddenly Popular
Stores struggle to keep shelves stocked
Chronicle Staff Writers
Sunday, February 11, 2001 ©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco -- Pamela Drake takes energy conservation seriously, whipping up her morning cappuccino with a hand-powered milk frother and commuting to her UC Berkeley job on a blue Zappy scooter.
But yesterday, her shopping quest was shared by more than just environmental enthusiasts. The bounty: energy-saving items.
Throughout the Bay Area, customers were cleaning out hardware stores' displays of fluorescent bulbs, water-heater blankets, window insulating kits and other energy-saving -- and cost-saving -- accoutrements.
Some, like Drake, said they were most concerned with conservation, while others admitted they were driven by rising electric bills.
Clerk Gary Klang stood before a paltry selection of fluorescent bulbs at Cole Hardware in San Francisco.
"I've restocked these shelves three times in the past three weeks," he said. "I can't keep them on the shelf."
And fluorescent bulbs are not cheap: A 60-watter generally goes for $11, while four of its incandescent partners pack a $2 box.
In the next aisle, the store's last two $89 radiator-style space heaters anchored a display.
Klang's not counting on getting any more. He gestured to a collection of smaller, less energy-efficient models that flanked the so-called radiants.
"This stuff we had to buy because we couldn't get the radiants," Klang said.
For a week, Cole was out of blankets for hot-water heaters. Lightbulbs were just the first item on the list for Cole shoppers Lauren Whittmore, 34, and Genanne Walsh, 31, who own a home in the Castro.
"We're going to the door store to look for a new front door, and then we're going to Sears for a front-loading clothes washer," Whittmore said.
The plan is to better insulate their home, she said, and use less water, which is needed by electricity-generating hydro plants.
"This is the first weekend we've been really organized about this," Whittmore said. "This is our first shopping expedition."
Rusty Davenport, 55, an environmental consultant in Latin America, was in the market for fluorescent bulbs and a blanket for his water heater. He said he has already insulated his home's doors.
Davenport said he has been meaning for years to buy a blanket for his hot- water heater, but he's not confident it will save him much money.
"It's a reminder" of the crisis, he said, adding with a laugh: "The guilt level has increased."
In Daly City, Cornelia and Bob Raisner, who live in San Francisco's Parkside district, cleaned out Home Depot's rack of 100-watt fluorescent bulbs. "I was here Wednesday and they didn't have them, so I had to come back," Cornelia Raisner said.
A $120 jump in the couple's Pacific Gas and Electric bill sparked their switch from halogen, they said.
Even the giant of hardware stores is having trouble keeping the bulbs in stock, said assistant store manager Lionel Stevens. Luckily for Home Depot, the chain can transfer merchandise from states that aren't experiencing an energy crisis.
While the state's power woes are emptying shoppers' pockets, they're plumping the profits for hardware stores.
Pastime Ace Hardware in El Cerrito used to sell about $1,500 a month in fluorescent bulbs. In the first six weeks of this year, Ace's cash registers rang up $16,000 in bulb sales.
"People want water-heater blankets, programmable thermometers and furnace filters," said manager Jeffrey Pryde.
It didn't take a crisis for Drake to stop at Real Goods, a Berkeley store of solar- and wind-powered gizmos for people "living off the grid" with such items as composting toilets and natural fiber clothing.
But the energy crisis has her thinking about how much she relies on the creature comforts she indulges in at home. "I used to have all my lights on timers, and they'd go on all the time," she said.
Now she uses candles to see at night and wears a tiny book-reading light on a string around her neck so she doesn't have to go around flipping on the lights.
In the book aisle of Real Goods, Tom Lewis of Point Richmond had a long- term solution to the power crisis. Move.
He flipped through books for ideas for his plan to build a home from used tires and mud on a plot of open space he bought near Albuquerque, N.M. He's going to use solar and wind power to keep the lights and the heat on, and purify rainwater for cooking and showering.
"You get to the point where you get tired of the rat race in the city," he said. "I won't have to worry about the energy crisis, but I'll have to worry about whether it rains or not."
E-mail the writers at email@example.com. and firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A19
-- Swissrose (email@example.com), February 12, 2001
There is no telling how much energy could be saved if we used solar hot water heaters in southern Arizona. However, I see maybe 1 per thousand homes (very rare). We heat our water with natural gas mostly and a lot of electric.
-- Guy Daley (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 13, 2001.