Environment: Flattening the Peaks

For a while, the little black box changed Emma Breen's life. As soon as the box was installed, Mrs. Breen, 64, switched her morning bath to the evening, washed her dishes before bedtime instead of after lunch and posted signs in her South Burlington, Vt., home admonishing guests not to use the hot water during certain hours. Down the street, the Dennis Cole family got a little black box too, but they used their hot water whenever they wanted.

Those little black boxes at Mrs. Breen's, the Coles' and in 98 other homes in the Burlington area are part of an...

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