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U.S. Department of Energy


Direct Current Episode 6: Energy Ghostbusters








MATT DOZIER: Hello...Hello?




DOZIER: Hello? Is anybody home?




ALLISON LANTERO: (WHISPERING) Matt, did you hear that?
DOZIER: Zoinks! I sure did, Allison. I think it’s a g- g- ghost!
LANTERO: Don’t be silly, it’s just the sound of wind whistling through this spooky haunted house!
DOZIER: Wind? That’s even scarier. Do you know how much energy this place is losing?
LANTERO: (SHUDDERS AUDIBLY) Yeah, bad insulation sends chills up my spine. The energy bill for this place must be terrifying! Why are we even in this haunted house?
DOZIER: Uhh, good question.




DOZIER: Oh yeah, it’s Energyween. You know, that holiday that we made up at because we love Halloween so much?
LANTERO: Oh, right. And because October is National Energy Action Month -- a time for all of us to think about how we use energy, and what we can do to use it more sustainably.
DOZIER: Well, whoever lives here could really use some help. But who do we call?
LANTERO: Ghostbusters!
DOZIER: Seriously?




LANTERO: Okay, not the ones you’re thinking of. I’m talking about the Energy Ghostbusters -- the experts from the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program. They help people to find ways to save energy and money at home. You could say there’s no one more qualified to save you from being haunted by your energy bills.
DOZIER: Whew. Can they do something about that creepy organ music, too?
LANTERO: There’s only one way to find out...




JOSH OLSEN: My name’s Josh Olsen I’m from the Weatherization Assistance Program, which is the Department's only deployment program for energy assistance. We go into low-income houses and we improve their energy efficiency and, uh, can I pick my Ghostbuster? Because I want to be Egon if I can.
DOZIER: Absolutely.




OLSEN: So the Weatherization Assistance Program is really the nation's oldest energy efficiency program. It was started in 1976, during the oil crisis. And the idea was we'd go into low-income families homes who were really being hit hard by the rising energy costs back in the 70s, and do whatever we could to make their homes better. So we really have a deployment program of about 800 organizations all around the country and they actually operate crews. So we're actually in homes, fixing homes with Department of Energy money. We have produced over 7 million homes since we started back in 1976, and we really take a comprehensive approach. We start at the top of the house and we look for any possible energy efficiency measure that we can do to improve the homes and improve the lives of the families. And we sort 'em, by the payback. So all of our measures save as much energy in their lifetime as the cost of it.
DOZIER: We're here to explore an energy haunted house, and you're going to help us get to the bottom of some of these spooky things that are draining homes' energy. Allison, you want to kick us off with our first spectre of energy waste?
LANTERO: Yeah, definitely. So we've heard about energy vampires. Can you tell us how to fight those?
OLSEN: Well energy vampires are in fact real. And if you ever sit in your darkened living room at night, you can see their beady little eyes looking at you from out beyond. So energy vampires are the energy that's drawn by an appliance that you're not using. Any sort of -- anything you plug in to the outlets in your house that you are not using, and it uses energy when it's turned off, is called an energy vampire. So these are your things like your cellphone chargers, those beady little spooky lights that are on those cellphone chargers, those things are sucking energy 24/7, even though you're not using em. And so something a simple, small as a cellphone charger can suck about half a watt of energy per hour, to something like your DVR, those fancy DVRs we all have that have those red flashing lights, can suck as much as 40 watts of energy, which is like, you know, having 3 good sized lightbulbs on 24/7. That is an expensive monster.
LANTERO: What's the best way to kind of get rid of those?
OLSEN: Well there's a couple of things you can do. If you don't want to spend money, just unplug it. I mean that's your first thing. Your cellphone chargers, anything that's drawing that load, you can unplug. A more sophisticated way to go about it is to put everything on a powerstrip that you can flip off. So in my home we have the standard TV and the DVR and the VCR, but it's on a little switch, right? And so we can just turn that off at night when we go --- when we go home. And that's really the best way, you just need to cut the power.




DOZIER: Another haunted house trope, I feel like you go in and the lights are always flickering. In scary movies, you know, it adds that eerie ambience. So you're home, you've got these flickering lights. It's spooky. What could be going on there?


OLSEN: So, here's the thing about flickering lights. A lot of people think that it's the old incandescent bulbs that are causing the flickering, when in fact that's not true. LEDs, those fancy new bulbs, can flicker just as much, if not more, than the old kind. But usually what's going on with flickering lights is either you have some faulty wiring in your house -- that can cause it -- or you have something amiss with one of the other appliances in your home. So when your lights are supplied by a constant supply of energy, that causes the current to flow and the light to go on. And if you have another load in the house that draws down that energy supply the lights can start flickering. So, one of the things that can cost you energy, and one of the reasons your lights might be flickering, is if one of the bearings on one of the machines in your house is bad -- like your washing machine or your dishwasher or your dryer -- that all of a sudden will, when that turns on, there's so much resistance because of that bad bearing that'll suck the energy all down in the rest of the house. Those lights'll flicker, and you're using a lot more energy than you need to when that happens.
But, fun fact, those old lightbulbs, those incandescents, are actually less likely to flicker because they're so wasteful. So the heat of the energy going across that filament in the bulb, is actually what causes the light. And even if the power energy drains down in those bulbs, that glow will still go because it's so hot. 90% of the energy used in an incandesceny bulb goes to heat.And so that heat is what keeps them on, so they can ride out that energy fluctuation. So if you're seeing flickering in your incandescent bulbs, you really have a problem somewhere else in the house that you need to address.




LANTERO: Continuing on through our haunted house, I feel like in scary movies you hear a lot of wind kind of whipping through and um, kind of the, you know (WHISTLES) sound, what might that be?
OLSEN: So to me that is absolutely the scariest form of energy waste. So in your average home -- your average home is a leaky place -- and so in an average home, the amount of air leaks throughout the house will add up to the size of a two square foot window being left open 24/7. And imagine all of the creepy things that can come in through two square feet of open space in your house. Not only your ghosts and ghouls, but really terrible things like soil gasses, radon, outdoor air pollution, dust, all this stuff is getting sucked in through the house because you have all these leaks in em. So one of the first things we do when we go into a Weatherization project, is we seal up all those air leaks to the best extent possible, and really try to keep all those creepy crawlies out of the house.
DOZIER: SO that's almost scarier than actual ghosts.
OLSEN: Oh it's absolutely scarier than actual ghosts.This is stuff that can can actually kill you.




DOZIER: It's Halloween. You're alone at home. You're waiting for trick-or-treaters. They've all gone home. And you hear some bumps in the night, coming from your basement.




DOZIER: What do we got going on there?
OLSEN: Well, there's a couple things that are pretty freaky going on with bumps in your house coming from your appliances. So number one is your water heater can be making some popping noises, and what's going on there is you have an old water heater and you have a certain kind of water. Sediment can build up in the bottom of that tank. And so when that burner kicks on there's moisture in that sediment, and when the moisture in that sediment  gets heated up so it creates steam, it all of a sudden explodes into the water and you get a popping sound. So that sediment not only freaks you out when it pops, but it can also cause inefficiencies because it's getting between the burner and the water. And it also might mean you have a pretty old tank. If you have enough sediment in the bottom of your tank that you're getting popping noises, it probably means it's old, probably means it's fairly inefficient, and something that could be replaced for a more efficient one.




LANTERO: Alright. So you're home alone. You have all this going on, and you pick up the phone. Who do you call?
DOZIER: Seriously?
OLSEN: Well, if you're qualified for our program you can call your friendly, neighborhood Weatherization program. But if you're out there in the rest of the world and want to take a chance at making your home better, you can call a certified home energy professional. You're looking for someone who has been through a proper course, and has proven they have the ability to do this work in your home. Nothing's scarier than an unqualified contractor. You get those guys in your house that don't have qualifications, you never know what you're gonna end up with in your attic, doing things to your home. You need to make sure you have someone that's been qualified to do the work and knows what they're doing, otherwise scary things can happen.
DOZIER: So you need the real Energy Ghostbusters?
OLSEN: You really do.
DOZIER: Accept no substitutes.
OLSEN: Nope, no substitutes. If they don't have a proton pack, send em packin'.
DOZIER: And you're Egon.
OLSEN: I'm Egon.




DOZIER: Well, uh, Josh Olsen, thank you very much for guiding us through this spooky energy haunted house. We really appreciate your time.
OLSEN: Sure, thanks for asking.




DOZIER: That wraps it up for this episode of Direct Current. Jump on your broomstick, and fly over to for energy-themed halloween costumes and pumpkin stencils, home energy tips and lots more fun stuff! You can find the rest of our episodes at
LANTERO: And if you have questions about this episode or any other episode you can email us at or tweet @ENERGY. If you’re enjoying Direct Current, help us spread the word! Tell your friends about the show, and leave us a rating or review on iTunes. We really appreciate the feedback.
DOZIER: We’d like to give a big thank you to Josh Olsen and the energy-saving heroes in our Weatherization Assistance Program.
LANTERO: And an extra special thanks to Jared Gardiner for letting us use his awesome organ rendition of the Ghostbusters Theme. Direct Current is produced by Matt Dozier, Simon Edelman and me, Allison Lantero. Art and design by Carly Wilkins. Support from Paul Lester, Pat Adams, Daniel Wood, Atiq Warraich and Ernie Ambrose. And special thanks to our boss, Marissa Newhall.
DOZIER: Thanks as well to John LaRue and the Energy Public Affairs Team. We’re a production of the Department of Energy and published from our nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C.
LANTERO: Until next time, thanks for listening!