May 18, 2012

ZAP!!! Saving Electricity

As mentioned in Save the Earth vs. Utility Bill Reduction, this is about ways to reduce electric usage. Reducing usage benefits the environment because the power plant can cut back on generating it so they don't deplete the coal, oil, or natural gas they use. Fortunately other ways are being used more with renewable sources like wind turbines, solar panels, and water wheels. Another benefit means more $$$ stays in your wallet. The key items that use electricity in a house fall into one of three categories: lighting, climate control, and appliances. What small things in each category would help reduce usage and save some $$$?

I learned a lot of common sense things from grandparents that lived through the Depression. I often heard "turn off the lights when you leave the room, don't turn one on just to walk through a room, use a nightlight in the hall at night instead of turning on the overhead, hit the switch off and open the drapes." All of them are great ways to start diminishing usage of lights. A few more suggestions:
  • Use natural sunlight as much as possible by opening the blinds or drapes in the most used areas.
  • In large rooms, use a focused lamp for any work or reading instead of using an overhead. A floor or table lamp uses one light bulb while overheads typically use several.
  • Switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent lamps or LEDs. More detailed info is available on the CFL vs Incandescent entry.
Climate Control
The Save the Earth vs. Utility Bill Reduction entry already mentions that the largest energy drain is due to heating and cooling. It also explains that changing your air filters, installing a programmable thermostat, and closing vents in unused rooms can help reduce energy use. An air conditioner makes sense for how it draws electricity, but "I have a gas furnace." Guess what? It uses electricity too. Keep in mind the furnace recommendations on the Thermostat Settings. The point is to turn the furnace down to save energy and $$$, and put on a layer of clothing.

The more you set back, the more you save

Set back 8 hours
per day
16 hours
per day
24 hours
per day
A key understanding about staying cool, is that air circulation creates the feeling of staying cool without requiring a lot of energy to do it. Ceiling and floor fans consume far less electricity than an air conditioner. Estimates show that the average ceiling fan uses 90% less electricity than the A/C unit. So does opening windows and creating a cross-draft of air through the living space. The Thermostat Settings entry recommends temperature settings for both the furnace and the air conditioner. To save even more electricity, if you are going out, turn off the fans. They don't truly change the temperature of the room, the air moving across your body makes you feel cooler. Leaving them on while you are gone is a waste of electricity. 

Appliances account for nearly 20% of electricity bills. Many appliances (stereos, DVD/VCRs, computers, toasters, lamps) draw a trace of electricity even when not in use or are turned "off." Unplug any appliances and electronics that are not being used to more significantly reduce electricity usage. If you are going to be gone for a while, unplug the microwave, coffee maker, radios, etc. until you get back. Sure, it isn't a ton, but if you have several unused items plugged in, it adds up.
In the kitchen, consider how much you are going to cook and the "tool" that you will use. There is a large difference between cooking a small dish on/in the stove, using a crock pot or slow cooker, and even a toaster oven for small pizzas or casseroles. See the Toaster Oven vs. Crock Pot vs. Stove entry for more detail. Baking in the stove during the summer means that your kitchen will heat up causing your air conditioner to run more.
Computers are also in this category. Turning on and off a computer takes less energy than when it is left running for a long time. Most new computers and hardware have energy-saving settings to automatically turn off if they have not been used for a certain period. Computers should be turned off if they aren't used for more than 2 hours, including overnight. A lot of people use laptops on battery supply only, and they go into sleep/standby mode. But guess what? You will eventually have to plug them in to charge, so they really don't "reduce" electricity usage.

In summary, the majority of the things we have in our homes depend on electricity (even the natural gas furnace and hot water heater). By saving every little bit, it adds up to a lot of energy savings and keeps more in your wallet. Some other minor suggestions are:
  • Use an insulating blanket around the hot water heater
  • Install foam insulation tubes around exposed water lines
  • Keep the refrigerator coils clean. Build up of dirt/dust prevents them from working efficiently
  • Buy EnergyStar products
  • Change the air filters for the furnace and air conditioner
  • Unplug what isn't used or won't be used for a while 
It isn't easy, trust me. But if you tackle only a few things per month, it will make noticeable changes. But my main point is that it all adds up in the end, look at the big picture about saving the planet for the future for the kids, and keeping a little in the pocket for you.

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