Sunday, April 25, 2010

Energy Saving Tips- Electricity

Part II of my energy saving tips entries brings us to Electricity. In Part I, I listed a number of my energy "sins"- including leaving a light on in the basement and one over the kitchen sink all the time, and putting the laptop in standby rather than powering down before bed. I included some ways that my household saves energy, and a few other suggestions. The tips for saving electricity are just as simple as those for saving water. Once again, start small, and keep moving forward and soon enough you'll forget you ever lived a life of wastefulness. You will save money and live better too!

I'd love to sing the praises of various energy star and high efficiency appliances, but unfortunately, we can't presently afford a bunch of new appliances, and really, in a rental it doesn't make much sense. Who wants to install a new water heater that the landlord won't pay for? Put it in anyway, then have to figure out a way to take it with you when you move? No thanks. I'll just point out here that if you're going to invest in any new appliance you should comparison shop the energy star labels- you could save up to 50% over what you are currently paying in energy costs if you choose wisely. Newer washing machines have faster spin cycle speeds which extract more water, and cut down your drying time. They also use less water to wash.

I started using compact florescent lightbulbs about 4 or 5 years ago. I bought them because they last a lot longer than incandescent bulbs. CFL's can last up to 10,000 hours- 10 times as long as an incandescent bulb. They also can turn 1 watt of electricity into 100 lumens of light, while incandescent bulbs can only turn 1 watt of electricity into 15 lumens. So, while CFL's do cost more than incandescent bulbs, they save you so much electricity that you could save $5 a year for every incandescent bulb you replace with a CFL. (One incandescent light left on overnight costs $25 per year) A typical home can save $80 a year by switching to CFLs according to the US EPA. Make sure you dispose of CFLs at a household hazardous waste facility if possible. They should not be thrown away in your household trash. If you are put off by the initial cost of CFLs, you can do what I did, and keep an eye out for bargains- like 2 for 1 deals, and pick up 1 more CFL with every trip to the discount store. Multipacks can be money savers, and places like Sam's and Costco sell 10 packs of CFLs, and places such as Aldi also sometimes carry them (I found them at Aldi yesterday for $1.99 for three 60 watt bulbs!). Also, October is National Energy Month, and many places put CFL's on sale then. Also, make sure you keep your lights dust free, as dust can reduce light output by 25%.

The other day I purchased a set of dryer balls. Yeah, yeah, the same effect can be had by loosely wadding up a couple of balls of tin foil and throwing them into the dryer. But they were cheap, and looked pretty sturdy, so I figured what the heck. Personally, I like to hang or line dry most of my clothes. I'm having some trouble figuring out exactly where at my present house to put up a clothesline though. The giant garden is sort of in the way of that. Perhaps I'll purchase some wooden drying racks. What I'd really like is one of those drying thingy's that works sort of like an umbrella- it's on one central post and then has arms that fold up and out that have the clothes line strung through them. Big space saver over the traditional clothesline. Can't remember what they're called though. DH prefers his clothes dried in the dryer - it makes them softer since we don't use fabric softener due to his sensitive skin. I used to use fabric softener in every wash. It does make your clothes April Fresh, but it's expensive stuff, and I've noticed that since I've stopped using it, my clothes last almost impossibly long. Another added benefit! Anyway, dryer balls- look like foot massage balls, they're sort of racketball sized with little nubs all over them. They're supposed to increase energy efficiency and save energy and money, as well as cut drying time. They are, from what I can tell, indefinitely reusable. They cost about $4. We shall see what they do for my dry time, etc. Similar washer balls are also out there- they cost about double what the dryer balls cost. I've yet to buy any, but they're supposed to reduce the amount of detergent you use and get your clothes cleaner. I have a feeling they work sort of like putting rocks in your washer. Not sure if I'll be making that purchase or not. If anyone uses these, I'd be interested to hear your testimonial.

Another handy laundry tip is to try to not only sort your washables by color, but also group them according to weight (fast drying items and slow drying ones). If you dry like items, they will dry uniformly and you'll cut down on your drying time. Also, only wash and dry full loads. Don't forget to clean the lint trap!

Your refrigerator alone uses 7% of the energy in your home. According to the US Department of Energy, we pay $69 a year to operate a new fridge, and $150 more to operate a fridge made before 1980. Also, it costs $5 a year to operate a coffee maker, and $51 a year to operate a separate freezer. There are a few things you can do to help cut costs though. Set your fridge to between 36 and 38 degrees, and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees. A full freezer is more efficient to run than one that's half full. If you have a model that requires a manual defrost- make sure to keep on top of it. A 4 inch blanket of ice is costly to maintain, as well as taking up valuable freezer real estate. Replace loose door seals to keep cold in and warm air out. You can check your fridge temperature by putting a thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the fridge and another between the packages in the freezer. Read them after 24 hours. Of course, refrigerators that have a freezer on top are more efficient than other models as cold "sinks".

Supposedly, newer dishwashers are so able to clean heavily soiled items that you can scrape dishes instead of pre-rinsing. I can't bring myself to do that though. The dishwasher works pretty darned well, but sometimes it takes us 2 or 3 days to get a full load together- and I just can't bring myself to trust that the dishwasher will clean 3 day old dried on gunk from the dishes. Even if I DO use the world's best dishwasher detergent. Definitely skip the heated dry option- air drying saves energy and keeps the machine from using a heating element to bake your dishes dry.

When cooking, use a lid. It will trap steam and help cook food faster. I guess technically it will also trap heat in your pot- but either way your food will cook faster. And keep the microwave clean- it will increase it's efficiency.

This one should go without saying- don't use your stove or oven to heat your house. That is not what it is designed for, and it's just not safe.

A few other things we don't ever think about: electronics can suck energy even when they are off. You can use power strips to cure this ill. Just plug your electronics into a power strip, and turn the strip off when you're not using them. If you have a lot of electronics, group them by items you use at the same time, like the computer and printer, on the same strip. And make sure to put the power strips in an easy to access place- it doesn't save you any energy if they're so inconvenient that you never use them. Don't put your tv on a power strip though, many tv's need to be reporgrammed if they are completely turned off, but do make sure to turn it off when no one is watching! Likewise, make sure you unplug power adapters and chargers. These also use energy when not in use. I'm thinking that I'll combine these 2 tips by putting all of the chargers and adapters on one power strip that can be turned off when not in use.

Heating and cooling: make sure you check your air vents and registers and clear any blockages away- like furniture or drapes, or get vent covers that redirect the air. If the vents are blocked, the air you pay to heat or cool won't make it to where you want it. Window coverings should be closed during the day in summer to keep heat out, and closed during the night in winter to keep the heat in- and vice versa. You can also get lined, or double lined curtains, or use a reflective backed curtain to manage heat and cold. Shut the flue on your fireplace if you have one, when it is not in use. An open flue lets air escape from your home. Weather stripping doors and windows seals leaks and makes for a more efficient home.

Heating the home accounts for 35% of an average home's energy bill- which makes it the single biggest expense in your home. A programmable thermostat which will automatically adjust your home's temperature can maximize your energy dollar by turning down the heat when you're away during the day and at night while you are asleep. Program it to set back the heat 2 hours before you go to bed and raise it up just before you wake- also turn it down if no one will be home for more than 4 hours. And turning down the thermostat 1 degree will save you 2% on your energy bill, and turning it down 5 degrees will save you about 10%. Best of all, once its programmed, you don't have to think about it again unless your families schedule changes significantly or the season's change. Don a sweater or sweatshirt instead of bumping up the heat, and give everyone a pair of warm slippers to wear around the house for the holidays. Don't forget to check your filter regularly- this will not only save you money as a clogged filter reduces the ability of air to flow and makes your furnace work harder, but a clean filter also removes dirt, pollen and other airborne allergens (and even bacteria if you buy the right kind of filter) from the air. You and your family (and pets!) will feel better and be healthier.

Cooling your home is also a huge energy expense, nearly as high as heating. Many of the same efficiency tips that apply to heating also apply to cooling. Curtains, vents, filters, weather stripping...all will help you out year round. If you're in the market for a new air conditioner, make sure to buy the right size- too small and it won't cool your home properly, too big and it won't remove humidity from the air and will cycle on and off more frequently than a properly sized system. Also, put ceiling fans (more effective) or floor fans in your rooms. Using a fan first will effectively move air and they are not as costly to run as an air conditioner. Set the thermostat to 78 degrees in summer. The smaller the difference between your indoor temp and the outdoor temp, the lower your cooling bill will be.

It also pays to look into how well your home is insulated. The more you are able to eliminate leaks and heat transfer, the better off you'll be. When looking around your doors and windows- make sure you can't see any daylight. If you can, then use some weather stripping or other insulation to seal those spaces up. You can also use a stick of incense to find drafts, as a draft will cause the plume of smoke to waft. Caulk gaps and cracks less than 1/4 inch wide. Use insulating blinds, shades or curtains. Hold your hand up near your window in the winter and like as not you won't have to touch it before you feel cold. Blocking the cold out and your heat in with an insulating barrier will keep you more comfortable and your energy bill more manageable. Insulating your hot water tank will allow only a fraction of the heat to escape than an uninsulated tank will. Also, keeping your hot water tank cleaned out of sediment and salts will make it perform more efficiently. In fact, so much sediment and salt can build up in your hot water tank that it can reduce the volume your tank can hold by 50%, and I probably don't have to tell you that it costs a small fortune to keep mud hot enough that it will in turn heat your water to 120 degrees. If you can't afford to insulate your home, there are assistance programs you can look for- the Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income families nationwide insulate and weatherize their homes. How do you know if you have enough insulation? When was your home built? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, only 20% of homes built before 1980 are well insulated.

So now I power down the laptop every night before bed. And while I do still leave the basement light on (no one wants to meet the boogeyman in the basement), I did make sure that it is a CFL.


  1. Its called a rotary dryer. I've got one you can have if you come and collect, LOL :)

  2. The problem with the dryer balls is 1, I have never seen a noticable reduction in static while using them (vs. not having anything in at all), and 2, they rip holes in your clothing! I had three or four shirts ruined before I realized it was these *#&$&& balls fault - and since then, have had no holes in my clothing after drying them. Some of them were very sturdy shirts, also. I was shocked.