Melrose Park Neighbors



Environmental Issues and Progress

This page last updated 5-9-01

On this page: Environmental items of interest to our community. Please note overlaps with other sections, such as Earth Day and Mill Run.

The following article about Andy Rudin and Joyce Chen's energy-saving methods is inspiring to many of us. Andy is first vice president of Melrose Park Neighbrs Association and a professional energy conservationist. We're proud of him! This piece was a front page story and was probably read by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of readers:


Philadelphia Inquirer


Wednesday, May 9, 2001

At area home, an energy super-saver

By Sandy Bauers

A telling moment in Andrew Rudin's life was when he put an electric meter on his fish-tank heater.

After all, he'd metered everything else - fridge, TV, stereo, computer - so why not that?

Just about the only things that aren't metered at his Melrose Park home are the light fixtures (with compact fluorescent bulbs) and the clocks (powered by rechargeable batteries).Out back is the main meter, the most important one because, on any given sunny day, it's spinning backward,


busily reversing the count of kilowatt-hours that Rudin, 57, and his wife, Joyce Chin, have used.


Andrew Rudin at his home in Melrose Park with solar panels. He and his wife generate more electricity than they use.

Much of the time - as long as it isn't dark or too cloudy - he's not taking electricity from the power lines. The solar panels that cover his roof are putting it back.

"It's a miracle, a mind-blower," Rudin said.

It sure blew the mind of the guy from Peco Energy Co.'s theft of services division, whom Rudin found out back one day puzzling over three "nonworking" meters.

It was a mix-up, Rudin explained. He is actually one of Peco's three official residential "cogenerators," a rare breed of customers who produce more than they use.

Rudin is a man who takes electricity to the decimal point. He religiously logs the numbers from his meters, noting how much energy each appliance uses. And whether it's worth it.

As for the fish-tank heater, it was a revelation: The tiny device used 40 percent as much electricity as his refrigerator.

Out it went. (The fish not only survived, "they started laying eggs," he said.)

Then there's the sun porch - where two solar panels heat the household water. Another small panel powers a water pump.

Rudin isn't doing all this for the money. Even though his monthly electric bill is rarely more than the $5.10 minimum meter charge, the system itself was almost $30,000. (He still thinks it was a good deal. After all, "it's less than a SUV.")

It's more of a philosophical statement. Rudin switched to solar and cut his usage to the bone because "it was the right thing to do."

His electrons don't generate pollution, he said. They have "no asthma associated with them, no nuclear waste, no coal ash, no dead fish."

Rudin is convinced the country is headed for an energy crisis. He wants to prove solar is viable, and not just on "some fancy house in the middle of nowhere," but on a conventional 1917-era urban twin. Like his.

When Rudin and Chin were looking for a new house once their children were grown, they had specific criteria. They wanted the house to be small, be in an integrated neighborhood near public transportation (he traded his car for a bike), have a front porch . . . and a south-facing roof. (The wood stove that provides virtually all their heat came later.)

Rudin's solar system isn't the largest around. But his approach is unusual.

"He may be more extreme with his deep concern of energy," said Ron Celentano, the Wyndmoor energy engineer who designed Rudin's system.

Rudin also may well be one of the most accessible solar generators. For two years, he's been a stop on a solar tour sponsored by the Clean Air Council.

"He inspires us all," said Evan Pappas of the council. "Other places will give you information, but he's ready for a full class of Solar 101."

Rudin, who works at home (another overall energy saving) as an energy management consultant for religious institutions, thinks too many Americans take their electrons for granted.

According to Peco, the average household consumes nearly 7,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Last year, Rudin and Chin used - "I can tell you exactly" - 2,611. His panels generated 2,683, an excess of 72 kilowatt-hours.

"Amazing, isn't it?" he said.

He's not trying to do without electricity. "There are things electricity does that I can't deny," he said. "You can read at night, cook a good meal."

But energy has become an intellectual challenge. He likes to see how little he can use without compromising his lifestyle.

Last year, he bought strings of light-emitting diodes for Christmas lights. He and Chin often eat by candlelight - "it's a positive thing."

Little things add up, like the doorbell: Rudin figured out the usage on that, too. It was $12 a year, "and nobody ever rang it, really." So he installed a manual twist bell - at a cost of $12, a one-year payback.

At one juncture, he tallied how many kilowatt-hours his house consumed while he slept. Now, his television and similar electric appliances have kill switches so "when they are off, they are really off," not using energy to maintain a memory.

He loves the little quirks of a solar house. When the hot-water panels are filling, the pressure drops slightly, and it gives Rudin a momentary satisfaction to know the system is kicking in.

Likewise, in the morning, the sun hits the roof panels and the inverter makes a little click. Rudin takes note and smiles.

And the showers: "You know that the water has been heated by the sun the day before. It's a nice feeling."

One sunny day, Rudin sat in his tiny backyard. He kept to the shade while his roof soaked up energy and, in a way, churned out possibility. "Just think," he said, "there are 11 more roofs on this block. . . ."

Peco doesn't compensate Rudin for the excess he generates. That would require another meter and a few alterations.

The energy simply goes back into the grid, and that's good enough for him. "I may not get paid for it," Rudin said, "but I can sleep at night."

Sandy Bauers' e-mail address is