Thomas O'Brien, the youngest of the O'Brien clan, will join his family in trying to cut down on their TV watching, including Sponge Bob. It's all part of a several-month effort to "go green" and reduce their energy use

Danny O'Brien's bedroom is a tribute to the Boston Red Sox. The walls are painted to look like Fenway Park, complete with scoreboard, Monster seats and a Citgo sign that lights up.

But the Citgo sign might have to go dark for the offseason.

Danny and his Wildwood Road family | parents Kevin and Donna and siblings Ann Marie, Rosalie and Thomas | have accepted the challenge to "go green." For the next few months they will cut down on their power usage, shutting off unnecessary lights and electronics. And the Townsman will follow them every step of the way, in print and online.

Can they make a difference? Can they save money?

For Danny, the biggest challenge will be keeping his mitts off his video game controller.

"I'm so addicted to PlayStation," he says.

In general, shutting off lights, turning off the TV and eliminating car trips will be the largest tests for the family. Kevin O'Brien drives Ann Marie to Central Catholic every morning on his way to work in Wakefield or Boston, and Donna O'Brien drives the other kids to St. Michael's School in North Andover.

"I think the hardest (change) is probably going to be gas conservation because I have four children always going in four different directions at different times, and trips back and forth to school because my kids don't take the bus to school," said Donna O'Brien. "For my children, it might be the awareness of shutting lights and the importance of that [and] how it can decrease our bill."

All four O'Brien siblings will have temptations to resist | and habits to overcome.

Ann Marie, a sophomore, will need to cut back on her instant messaging and FaceBook visits. "Usually my parents try to get me off after 15 minutes," she said. "I'm IMing. Going on FaceBook. All the time."

Her younger sister, Rosalie, will have to cut back on the time she spends on the computer and listening to her iPod.

The youngest of the quartet, Thomas, will try to avoid dipping so heavily into the world of SpongeBob and other cartoons.

But in general, the family is not a large consumer of energy. In fact, they are already conservative compared to many Andover families. The O'Briens have "no TV" nights, during which the kids work on crafts or play other games. There are tight limits on how much computer and video game time people can have.

"I don't think we have a humongous SUV. We just got cable last year," said Rosalie. "We haven't gotten a Hummer."

Danny can play video games for 30 minutes each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only.

But even with the restrictions, sometimes more energy is used than Kevin and Donna might prefer, as Donna and Danny admit.

"Part of what happens is, a lot of times, (Danny) gets up before us and we'll get up at 9 o'clock and find out that he's really been on (PlayStation) since 7. He'll say, 'Oh, I didn't have my 15 minutes' and we know he's (bee)] on it downstairs," said Donna O'Brien.

"That's true," said Danny. "That's true."

During the challenge, the O'Briens will leave the video game controllers out rather than putting them away as they usually do during the week. Danny will need self-control to reduce his playing time. He knows the games will be calling to him, but he and the other members of the family believe they are up to the challenge if it means reducing their energy use.

And it's not as if they need to live in the dark and toast bread over an open flame. Even with the challenge, there are certain things the family doesn't plan to give up. Watching "The Office" on Thursday nights is an entertainment priority for the girls.

Overall, family members hope to come away with a better knowledge of what things cost | and with a few extra bucks in the bank each month.

"If we can save money and put it toward college, that would be huge," said Donna O'Brien.

The kids hope some of that money will help take them to Disney World next year.

Dad Kevin O'Brien, the energy enforcer of the family, believes he will have the fewest problems dealing with the change. His goal?

"Changing everyone's habits. Being aware of the costs and being more energy-efficient," he said. "I'm usually the one shutting everything off. I feel like I'm the night watchman around here. I just need to get my habits into other people."

"I think saving energy is a good thing, too | just for everybody. I think it will show people how it's easier to do than they think. People think they have to completely go green and get organic everything, grow their own plants and have solar panels," Rosalie chuckled. "It's easier than that."

We'll see.


The Townsman will follow the O'Brien family's journey, recording its efforts in the paper through the work of columnist Judith Holt (see Page 4). People can catch video of the family in action at the Townsman Web site, The family has been given a camera to use to record its successes and difficulties.

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