America has produced the perfectly Energy-Conscious Man.
Edward B. Elliott, a 63-year-old barber in Kensington, keeps his lights dim, turns off his car's engine when he goes downhill, puts blocks of styrofoam in his windows at night, and uses so little water that a recent quarterly bill was under $1.
Elliott is full of energy-saving ideas -- some old, some new.
"How can I get my wife to turn the lights off? asked Robert Ota, who was having a shave at Ed's Barber Shop.
Razor poised, Elliott answered: "Go into the kitchen and turn the water faucet on full force and then just walk out."
Ota nodded thoughtfully, neither accepting nor rejecting the idea.
Elliott also suggested putting little signs near all the light switches that say: "Please Don't Leave Me On By Myself."
"I guess you'd call me a one-man campaign on conservation," said Elliott. "I have the opportunity to talk to so many of my customers about it."
Elliott has become a sort of energy guru around his part of Kensington. He is not fanatical, nor superbly well informed, nor even especially meticulous -- for example, he's never sat down with a calculator and figured to the penny how much he has saved by all this.
In most respects he is quite normal. But perhaps more than most people, he has developed a consciousness -- a sharp awareness -- about saving energy.
"I don't like to be miserly," he said. "The kids (and grandchildren) come to visit and I have the air conditioning on . . . . We've always been very thrifty, and we taught our kids thrift."
Elliott's wife died four years ago of cancer. Theirs had been a close-knit, loving family. He nursed her until the end -- "a wonderful, precious woman" -- and her death shattered him.
"Since she passed, I can devote myself to (energy saving), and I guess I kind of go overboard. . . ."
In a sense, it has been his hobby -- a chore at first, then a challenge, until it "became second nature."
Ed Elliott was born in Mexico and drove across the country after World War II in a Model-A Ford. In 1947, he set up his one-chair barber shop on Howard Avenue.
It still has only one chair, a chair that has patched brown leather, with chrome armrests worn through to black metal by countless customers.
The shop was heated by gas until 1977 when Washington Gas Light Co. imposed a $23.60-a-month "system charge" on Elliott and many other commercial and industrial customers.
Elliott wasn't going to put up with that because it meant that despite strong conservation he'd still have to pay at least $23.60.His gas bill jumped from $13 in December to $33 and $45 in January and February that winter.
So Elliott shut off his gas service and installed a water-filled electric space heater.
He built a sealed-off foyer for his shop -- double insulating it in front and blocking blasts of cold or hot air from the shop when customers opened the door.
His electric bill went up, but despite rising rates, he is still paying less for heat ($58 in a typical winter month) than he was with the old system.
Elliott had some unexpected help, too: "The people upstairs put in a plush carpet. I noticed the difference right away. They're not using my heat as much as they were."
Elliott keeps the lights off except for the ones over the barber chair.
On the way home he drives a 1971 Datsun wagon whose well-tuned engine ticks as smoothly as a fine watch.
He never drives over 55. He turns off the engine at stoplights, and when going downhill. The police say that is illegal but he does it anyway. He accelerates slowly.
He gauges his speed so he doesn't have to use the brakes much, and coasts into his driveway with the engine off.
The house: of course it is caulked and insulated from stem to stern. It is 55 degrees inside when he walks in, and Elliott turns the thermostat up to 62.
Apparently because the place is so well insulated, it takes only minutes after the heat comes on to feel warm. Soon it feels toasty warm, then almost too hot.
The fireplace is sealed shut with fiberglass insulation. A fireplace is inefficient and sucks warm air out of the house, Elliott explained.
There are big living room windows with a southern exposure and an adjustable awning. The awning can be fixed to admit sunlight in winter and keep it out in summer.
Elliott keeps buckets in his bathroom. When he is running the water to let it warm up, he runs it into a bucket. Then he uses this water in his toilet.
A recent quarterly water bill was 61 cents.
But that may be just a start. "I'm thinking of collecting rainwater." he said. "In olden times, people used to use cisterns for this."
He sleeps in the basement in the summer. It's cooler down there, and he doesn't have to use the air conditioning much.
Electric bills in the height of summer come to $13 or $20.
Elliott's specialty is the use of styrofoam panels in his windows. By leaning them against the inside of his windows, he prevents air from inside the house from circulating freely against the cold glass.
He also has styrofoam panels insulating his refrigerator and the hatch opening to his attic. Behind his bed, where the wall is uninsulated, he has placed larger styrofoam panels.
Although none of these panels entirely covers a wall or window they still help insulate.
A U.S. Department of Energy expert, Erv Bales, said styrofoam works well when used in these ways, but may be hazardous in case of fire. When burned, the styrofoam emits a poisonous gas, he said.
Now Elliott has turned his thoughts to garbage and alcohol. You make alcohol out of the gargage and use it to run cars. He is thinking not only of himself, but of his countrymen.
"Just think, all this garbage going to waste," he said with a shake of his head. "We need a crash program. . . ."