More than a dozen states have adopted ambitious goals to cut back on energy use. My home state, Maryland, has one of the most aggressive plans.
This spring, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a law that calls for a 15 percent reduction in electric use, per capita, over the next seven years. If successful, Maryland will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve a cleaner environment. These efforts also will reduce the state's need to build new power stations and transmission lines. While no one will be rewarded for making that 15 percent reduction, or punished for failing to meet it, it is an important effort.
To reach the goal, local utilities are being asked to come up with conservation plans. Public education plans will also be initiated to encourage the state's 5.6 million residents to cut down on electricity use in their homes.
I asked an energy-efficiency expert to come to my 100-year-old clapboard house in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and show me what I can do to cut back on my electricity use. Jennifer Thorne Amann from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy cheerfully took up the challenge. Here is what she found on a walk through my house:
Insulation And Cracks
A lot of energy goes out of the cracks around doors and windows and through poorly insulated walls and ceilings. Thorne Amann suggested that I use a stick of incense or a candle to look for wasteful drafts by following the whiff of smoke. She told me that for less than $20 I could buy sealants to stop those drafts and save on heating and cooling.
She also said that for $250 to $500 I could hire a contractor to attach a gizmo called a "blower door" to my front door. This device sucks air from the house and helps identify the big leaks.
Lights consume about 10 percent of the electricity in a typical home. I replaced a lot of my incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs). These energy-efficient bulbs use one-fourth the amount of electricity that incandescent bulbs use. But I also have about 10 fixtures that are on dimmers — and standard CFLs do not work there. Dimmable CFLs are $17 apiece at my local hardware store. These light fixtures are not used all that much in my house, so I may not recoup the cost of those bulbs. Thorne Amann said prices should come down, because a new federal law will eventually phase out incandescent bulbs. I'll wait.
My refrigerator is 11 years old. It seems like a good candidate for replacement, because refrigerators built after 2001 are in general 30 percent more efficient than older models. However, we ran the numbers and found that my old fridge was actually pretty good. I would save a bit in energy costs, but not enough to make up for the purchase price of a new fridge.
The old freezer in my basement was a different story. If I traded it in for a new model, I would save $100 a year in electric bills and reduce my household electricity use by 6 percent. To see these savings, however, I would have to spend $450 for a new freezer — a painful move in the short run but worth it in the long run.
Electronics often consume up to a quarter of a home's electricity. In particular, appliances such as televisions and cable boxes are always drawing energy. Since I do not have a television or cable box, I avoid these are expenses. However, upon visiting a neighbor's house, I found that an ordinary TV draws around 60 watts, even if it is turned off most of the time.
Also drawing "phantom power" is anything with a charger that stays plugged in – from cell phones to laptops. So Thorne Amann suggested that I unplug those "bricks" when they are not actually doing work. It is even worthwhile for me to unplug my electric toothbrush stand, which draws two watts of electricity. That may not sound like much, but it is more energy than the lights in my bathroom use.
Heating And Cooling
Heating and air conditioning units are typically the biggest home energy users. My system failed last fall. When I bought a new one, I spent a few extra thousand dollars to get the most efficient model on the market. That probably was not a sensible investment from the standpoint of strict dollars and cents, but I did it anyway to reduce my family's "carbon footprint." Thorne Amann said even with a new system, I could save energy by making sure the ducts were taped up tightly (not with standard "duct tape" but with specialized metallic sealing tape). I might also consider insulating my ducts to save energy.
My electric water heater turned out to be the bogeyman in my house. It consumes a shocking 35 percent of my home's electricity. (Thorne Amann figured out its consumption by researching my model's specifications, which is not easy for most people to figure out. This is one reason why it may be worthwhile to use the services of an expert.) I could buy a marginally more efficient electric heater, or I could save a lot of electricity — and carbon emissions — if I switched to natural gas. Thorne Amann told me I could save by switching to low-flow shower heads and washing my clothes in cold water.
Thorne Amann said my family and I could also change some everyday behaviors around the house to reduce electricity consumption. For example, we could hang our laundry out to dry instead of using the electric dryer. I could set our thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter. And I could remind the kids to turn off lights and computers when they are not using them.
The Bottom Line
I can make a difference with simple steps, such as installing low-flow shower heads and compact fluorescent light bulbs. But if I want to get to the Maryland goal of a 15 percent reduction, I will have to invest a few hundred dollars in a new freezer. I can go further, and even cut my electricity bill in half, by replacing my water heater. In four to six years, those investments will probably pay for themselves. The power bills will also remain low after that.
Tips for Reducing Your Home Energy Use
Here are a few specific ways you can drive down your home energy use, reducing both your monthly electricity bills and your environmental impact.
Unplug Cords: Unplug anything with a power "brick" (the box on the power cord) if you are not using it. This includes cords like cell phone chargers and laptop chargers. Bricks consume power even when your gizmo is not plugged into it. Televisions and similar devices also draw power when off, so unplug those if you do not use them often. Large televisions can consume as much electricity as a refrigerator.
Change Your Bulbs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs provide quick and easy savings. Over the past few years, the light quality has improved, but you may need to try a few brands before finding the one you like best.
Measure Your Use: Buy or borrow a watt meter. Using this inexpensive device, which can be purchased for as little as $20, is an easy way to figure out how much electricity your plug-in appliances are consuming. If you find that an appliance is hogging too much energy, it might be worthwhile to invest in a more energy-efficient model.
Look For The 'Energy Star' Logo: Shop for home appliances with the Energy Star logo, which means the product has met standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Appliances bearing this logo are more efficient than base models.
Consider Gas: Switching from an electric water heater to a gas water heater will conserve energy, generally leading to lower bills and less carbon dioxide in the environment.
Seal Your Ducts: Make sure your ducts are tightly sealed, since energy can be wasted out of cracks. Insulation on ductwork can also help.
Use Fans: Use ceiling fans instead of turning down the thermostat, and only turn the fans on when people are in the room.
Source: Jennifer Thorne Amann, co-author of "Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings."
21 Impressive and Easy Ways To Save Electricity at Home
The subject of saving electricity is becoming bigger and bigger each day due to extraordinary energy bills caused by rapid changes in lifestyles. People want to make their homes as comfortable, entertaining and aesthetic as possible by installing heating and cooling systems, buying heavy appliances and fitting lighting systems that suck up a lot of energy. With the rising costs and shrinking economy more and more people are acting responsible and searching for reasonable ways to save electricity.
Each day you take a step to save electricity, it translates to more money in your bank account. Also, lower energy bills means lower electricity consumption, which is good for your health and the environment since fewer greenhouses gasses are emitted to the atmosphere. Although many people have shifted to renewable sources such as solar power, there are other electricity saving tips too which will help you to conserve power. The advantage to electricity saving is you don’t need total overhaul of your home to make it highly energy efficient. There are small yet effective steps you can take to save electricity at home:
Make use of natural light
Making use of natural light during the day has the potential to save you up to $9 per day. A single, strategically located window has the capability to illuminate 20 to 100 times its area. Besides saving you money, natural light enhances the aesthetic value of your room.
Replace old appliances
Large household appliances such as refrigerators and dryers are big consumers of electricity in any home. Make a point to replace old, inefficient ones with the latest models that come along with the Energy Star approval. Replacing an old dryer with the latest energy efficient version can save you up to $130 each year. Equally, replacing an inefficient refrigerator can save you up to $65 each year.
Unplug any electrical gadget
Some gadgets like computer printer and gaming systems consume electricity even when they are inactive. In fact, these kinds of electronics contribute to 10% of energy consumption. You can take advantage of a power strip with a switch to help you turn off numerous devices at a go.
Initial complete makeover to your water heater
Ensure to reset your hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, cover it using an insulating blanket. Bringing down the temperature and insulating the hot water heater can lead to significant energy savings of up to 15% each year. Also, occasionally inspect the water heater for leaks.
Caulk is a waterproof filler and sealant utilized in building works and repair. Caulking results in the formation of a flexible seal around door frames and windows. Caulking is an economical electricity saving measure. The return on investment would be realized within a year.
Consider installing a digital thermostat
When at home, find time to install and program your digital thermostat to ensure electricity efficiency. Resetting the temperature by 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit when not in the house can save your electricity bills by up to 10% each year.
Schedule an HVAC inspection
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about half of homes electricity is channeled to heating and cooling. So it’s sensible to hire an expert technician to inspect you air conditioning, home’s furnace and ventilation (HVAC) to make sure they are working at peak efficiency. This inspection will cost you about $100 on the higher side, but the amount you’ll save per year will be astronomical.
Make a point to seal and insulate ducts
Ensuring that every ductwork in your home is sufficiently sealed and insulated can lead to remarkable energy savings of up to 20% each year. Also, make a point to regularly repair air filters to ensure air moves flawlessly through the ducts, which mitigates the HVAC system from working more than it should.
Join the solar panel revolution
Installing solar panels is expensive, so it might not represent an economical option to some. However, solar panels offer the greatest possibilities for saving energy. Traditional forms of electricity can be expensive, especially when used to power heating and cooling systems. Solar power will take up those big energy consuming tasks since its abundant and cheap.
Install a windmill
Well, this might sound like searching for a needle in a haystack, but if you’re actually capable of installing this, you could save up a big part of your electricity cost. To add to that, it perfectly good for the environment.
Minimize TV watching time
Most people, especially kids, are addicted to watching TV. This can lead to a bad routine where the TV is left on the whole day. Minimize TV watching by refocusing kids on other creative activities like reading interesting books or engaging them in light house chores.
Weather-stripping is the act of sealing openings like windows, trunks, and doors from external elements. This process keeps drafts at bay, hence, dialing back on your heating and cooling costs, while maintaining the required temperature inside your house to guarantee comfort.
Change up incandescent light
Lighting takes up 11% of an average household’s energy budget. Conventional incandescent lights convert just about 10% of the energy they consume into light. The rest becomes heat. Changing up to light emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can minimize the energy required for lighting by 50%.
Invest in a tankless water heater
Tankless or Instantaneous water heaters provide only the required amount of hot water. They don’t generate the standby energy losses linked to the conventional water heaters. Tankless water heaters conserve energy by heating water directly without needing a storage tank. They also save you time as you don’t have to wait for the storage tank to fill up with sufficient water.
Use a laptop instead of desktop
An old desktop computer consumes way more energy than a laptop. If you’re still using an old desktop, consider recycling it and buy yourself a new generation laptop. Using a laptop for an average of two hours each day has the potential to save you up to $11 each year.
Ditch that old TV
Donate or recycle your old TV that consumes as much as $8 bucks per year. Buy the new generation LED TV that is highly energy efficient.
Turn off fans
If your air conditioner is in operation, there is no point of turning on the fans.
Change your laundry habits
Avoid using the medium setting on your washer. Just be patient until you have enough clothes since the medium setting is only capable of saving less than half of energy and water utilized for a full load.
If clothes are not very soiled, desist from applying the high-temperature setting. Water at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit uses a lot of energy than 104 degrees Fahrenheit for warm water setting. Also, 140 degrees Fahrenheit is less effective in getting clothes perfectly clean.
Hang clothes instead of using a dryer
Hanging clothes alleviates the needs for a drier, which consumes a lot of electricity and emits heat.
A vast amount of energy is always thrown into cooking. Consider the following recommendations to minimize cooking costs:
- Use convection ovens instead of conventional ovens since they are more energy efficient.
- Microwave ovens use a lot less energy (80% less) than conventional ovens.
- Utilize pressure cookers; they minimize cooking time dramatically.
- Always ensure to use lids on pots and pans as they enable faster heating of food compared to cooking in an open pot or pan.
Leverage off-peak rates
Most companies have scheduled off-peak rates that you can take advantage of to run your heavy appliances like dishwasher, HVAC system, electric ovens, freezers and so on.
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Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
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