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BACK to the basics

SAPULPA, Okla. (AP) _ Follow Don Burger down the winding, wooded path, and he'll show you the shortcut he knows by heart. He could walk it blindfolded if he had to.

It's his property, a chunk of land where he and his wife, Velta, raise honeybees and fruit trees and fresh green vegetables of all kinds.

Burger could take you down to where the apple trees are blooming, or where the asparagus plants are bursting into life. He could show you the bright green buds on the cabbage, or let you thrust your hand into freshly dug dirt to pull up a palm full of rich Oklahoma soil.

He could show you his beehives, some of the finest in the area, and you could hear how the honeybees have come to be teachers and friends, how they have taught him some of life's greatest lessons.

One of those lessons is conservation.

Burger learned how to take shortcuts to cut energy costs in his home. He's done it successfully for more than a decade. His home heating and cooling bill has remained pretty much the same since 1989, when the home was built.

``Folks are always asking us how we did it, and our reply to them is, `We didn't have a choice,''' Don Burger said.

The Burgers' monthly bill from Indian Electric Cooperative of Cleveland has never exceeded $50.

A 150-gallon tank filled with 100 gallons of propane gas has served the Burgers for the past three years, used only to heat the cooking stove or to warm water for washing dishes. The stove is a high efficiency stove that burns less propane than the usual kinds of gas stoves, Burger said.

Their water heater is an electric unit. They use it only once a day for baths. Velta Burger washes all the family clothing in cold water.

``I've got a timer on the water heater,'' Don Burger says. ``It's a 40-gallon tank, set to run only one hour a day.''

It's set to heat up to 140 degrees.

They have an electric dishwater and an electric clothes dryer, but Velta Burger prefers not to use them.

She washes dishes by hand and hangs clothes out on a clothesline.

The Burgers get their water from a well located a few feet from the house. A creek running through their property supplies water for irrigation.

The Burgers go into town infrequently. Much of what they own is homemade or bartered in exchange for honey and organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Don Burger has discovered ways to reduce energy consumption in his home by using alternative energy.

He's done so quite accidentally.

``You start out not knowing where it's leading,'' he said.

Homemade roof panels made of corrugated metal, painted white on the outside and black underneath, store heat in the winter and repel it in the summer.

Heat is pumped through the house by use of a rotating fan, circulating warm air from a wood-burning, cast- iron stove.

``It's got a catalytic converter,'' said Burger. ``I have it set to a certain temperature so that the heat flow throughout the entire house remains pretty near 74 degrees during the winter.''

In fact, the home's temperature remains about 74 degrees year-round, he said. A lone window air conditioner does the job during the summer.

Another feature is a day room on the east side of the house that catches and stores heat on winter mornings. Because there are no windows on the west side of the house, there is no buildup of afternoon heat in the summer.

``The way a house is built can determine your energy cost,'' said the 66-year-old minister, who makes his home deep in the woods.

His house, a two-story wood-frame structure, is built with double walls an inch thick. A 3-inch space for insulation lies between them.

At 1,800 square feet, the Burgers' home is a marvel of energy efficiency.

The secret is how ``tight'' the house is and how efficient the heat and cooling sources are, Burger said.

And the Burgers are not alone in their quest for home energy efficiency.

According to energy experts, people across America are exploring various alternative energy sources.

``With the prospect of a summer of blackouts, layoffs and sky-high fuel costs, everyone should seek ways to reduce their energy bill,'' said Steve Foster of Energy Savers of Oklahoma.

His company sells and installs exterior shading made of strong vinyl-coated polyester that reduces energy costs by blocking the sun's heat in the summer and helps to retain indoor heat during the winter.

``What people need to think about are alternative energies best for them,'' said Chris Powers, an engineer with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. ``They need to think about renewable energy sources.''

Powers said that because certain regions of the country are suited to particular kinds of renewable energy, Oklahomans should consider geothermal, solar and wind power.

``I couldn't agree more,'' said Jay Murphy of Tulsa-based K&M Shillingford, a company that has pioneered the use of ground source heat pumps worldwide.

Murphy has heard of the Burger family's self-styled efforts, which he called a sort of model for others.

However, ``everyone can't do as they have,'' he said. ``That's why it's important to look into other forms like geothermal. It's a clean, environmentally friendly source generated from the earth's interior.''

Others advocate solar energy as one of the best sources for Oklahoma.

``Solar's best,'' said Michael Paranzino of the Solar Energy Industries Association. With annual sales up 25 percent over the past five years, he said with this summer's predictions of energy concerns, the industry is on the verge of exploding.

Mike Bergey of the Oklahoma-based Bergey Windpower Co., said the times are ideal for wind power, too.

His company, which makes residential wind turbines, recently sold hundreds of home units in California.

``The future is clear,'' Bergey said. ``How can we afford to do otherwise?''

With strong prevailing Oklahoma winds, he said ``wind power is an excellent alternative for Oklahomans.''
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