If you need hints on how to save energy at your home – the place where you generally get whacked with a bill in your mailbox every month – one place to start is the Department of Energy.
Especially for techies, this is the spot to get hard facts about day-to-day energy use that goes to heating, cooling, lighting and running all those gadgets you love so much.
The good news first. After all, you might keel over before the end of this article.
The good news is that all those electronic toys – all of those things you heap together in the category of electronics – computers, stereos, television sets, game platforms and cell phones, which need to be charged – accounts for only 6 percent of your energy bill, on average.
This is a significant percentage. It isn’t nothing. But it also isn’t close to the main energy drains, like water heaters (18 percent) and heating and cooling, which accounts for 52 percent of the average energy bill.
So, when they say unplug this or that or make sure you turn those gadgets off, because those tiny light bulbs that glow 24 hours a day are a power drain, I take that with a grain of skepticism. A rug on the floor that allows you to turn the thermostat down 2 degrees is a great cost savings, while unplugging your CD player every night is a pain in the tuchus and can only get you so far.
Of course, if green is your thing, far be it for me to stop your planet-friendly efforts.
OK, the bad news is that heating and air conditioning accounts for 52 percent of your electric bill and making changes there can cost money, require some effort or require some sacrifices in your daily comfort. As they sometimes say, no pain, no gain.
Many effective options, however, are quick, easy, affordable for most and require little sacrifice. Here are some heating and cooling options:
- A rug on the floor: Cover all bare floors, says the DOE.
- Use ceiling fans instead of air conditioners: By keeping the air flowing, fans can also distribute heat evenly through a house, which may allow for you to turn down the thermostat a notch.
- Lighting: Take my word for it, clever engineering and modern science has transformed the concepts of skylights. These use to be nearly the equivalent of installing an open portal in your roof, so much heat was lost through them. But not any longer. Some skylights can effectively reduce your need for indoor lighting on all but the darkest, cloudiest days.
If skylights are not an option, it is recommended that you change over to energy-efficient light bulbs. Just a switch to ENERGY STAR bulbs can save you $75 per year, according to the DOE. And you can use that $75 to buy a rug for the bathroom, which will cut your energy use even farther.
As an additional tidbit, if you live in a deregulated energy market, where consumers have the power to choose from a variety of energy providers, you can opt to go green simply by telling your power supplier to purchase green energy on your behalf.
If you prefer solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power sources, in some markets all you have to do is check that box on your application or your energy bill.
~ Use a computerized thermostat that allows for lower temperatures at night once you program in the figures. The DOE says by turning down the thermostat by 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours each night can save reduce energy consumption by 5 percent to 15 percent.
~ Manage outdoor/indoor air exchange
I have a roommate, for example, who is a master at “doorknob communication.” That means, he opens a door, then says, invariably, “Oh, and one more thing,” at which point he keeps the door open for 10 minutes while he explains why we need to save on our heating bill. Pretty stupid.
~ Heat rises, so ceiling insulation is the most effective way to keep the temperature of a house constant, but heat also leaks through walls and windows. How much is lost? Lifehacker says 31 percent of the heat lose is through ceilings, while 15 percent escapes through ducts. Another 13 percent escapes through plumbing penetrations.
Why do we balk at saving energy through appliances? Well, because they are expensive as heck. But when you have to buy, buy energy efficient washers, dryers, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. Then use them wisely and keep them maintained.
~ Change your habits
Shorter showers is one idea, but this can be prompted by turning down the thermostat on your very heavily insulated water heater.
People take shorter showers if they are cooler and it’s fair to say you will not stick with shorter showers for long if you just do this through a Post-it note on the bathroom mirror.
~ Portable heaters
These should be a last resort heating system you turn to after sweaters and insulated pants. These are often electric-powered units, which are expensive to run or gas-powered units, which are dangerous.