Source: New Hampshire Home
Colder, darker days are on the way, and as the leaves fall, heating and electricity bills begin to rise. Here in northern New England, we rely on the comforts of lighting and heat a bit earlier than the rest of the country. But many of us also are frugal and concerned about the environment. So now is an ideal time to look at our homes to see how to reduce energy consumption for the winter ahead – and for the future of the Earth.
Most of us know we should turn off lights and turn down the thermostat, but there’s more we can be doing. Here are a few basic steps – some big, some small; some obvious, some not – to save energy right away in your own home.
Heating and cooling represent about half of the average home’s total energy bill, according to the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning. Here’s what you can do:
- Weatherize and insulate. Make sure your attic, ceilings, crawl spaces, floors etc. are insulated. Start where you can feel the cold air coming in. While some weatherization projects – such as having new insulation pumped into your attic – can be expensive, others aren’t. “Door sweeps are very inexpensive but effective,” says Denise Blaha, co-founder and co-director of New England Carbon Challenge, an organization created to promote the reduction of residential energy use.
- Look at your windows. Despite what a salesperson may tell you, new windows don’t usually “pay for themselves” in terms of lower heating costs. But energy efficient windows will reduce your bill, plus make you more comfortable year-round by reducing drafts and outside noise. If you are going to replace your windows, make sure they are energy rated. However, replacement isn’t in the only option. In many cases, you can make existing windows more efficient through caulking, weather stripping and using shades during the warmer months.
- Love your furnace. Heating systems should receive regular maintenance so they perform optimally and keep you safe. Schedule a cleaning every year. If your furnace is very old, you may want to consider replacing it with a new, more energy efficient unit. Some now come with ratings by Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program to help businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.
As a rule of thumb, if an appliance creates or removes heat, it’s probably using a lot of energy. Refrigerators and clothes dryers tend to be the biggest energy hogs in the house. Other culprits are hot-water heaters, ovens, microwaves and dehumidifiers. Even small appliances, such as coffee pots and hair dryers, can use a surprising amount of energy, depending on their design and frequency of use. That’s why it pays to shop carefully when you need to buy a new appliance. More and more consumer electronics come with Energy Star ratings, and a thoughtful purchase can shave dollars from your monthly electricity bill.
- Refrigerators. Many European households get by with the sort of modest-sized fridge that most Americans would consider suitable for a college dorm. That kind of downsizing is too radical for most of us, but it’s recommended to replace a refrigerator that is fifteen or more years old. “We’re frugal Yankees, and we tend to keep things a lot longer than we should,” says Blaha, who describes herself as “mortified” when she took an energy-usage reading on her twenty-year-old refrigerator. “My new Energy Star refrigerator draws one-quarter of the power,” she says.
- Clothes dryers. Dryers have become more efficient, but the most environmentally friendly dryer is a clothes line. If drip-drying isn’t feasible all of the time, just try it when it’s convenient and practical – on a dry, sunny weekend for example. Otherwise, it’s important to maximize your dryer’s efficiency (and reduce fire hazards) by keeping the lint trap clear and the vent clean.
- Washing machines. This is one area where you can save, both in water and energy usage. The US has started to follow European design with smaller, more efficient, front-loading washers. As a bonus, many of these new units are better at extracting water from the clothes, which means your dryer doesn’t have to work as hard.
- Water heaters. An old water heater may be using twice as much energy to give you half as much hot water as a newer model. You can buy Energy Star-rated water heaters, and you also might check with your heating provider about the best water-heater option for your home. Many older water heaters benefit from a blanket of insulation, which is a quick and easy job.
- Televisions. Due to their sheer size, today’s bigger flat-screen televisions, whether Plasma or LCD based, use a lot more power than the boxy CRTs (cathode ray tubes) of old. Even the so-called LED Tvs, which are LCD TVs lit from behind with LEDs instead of flourescent bulbs – don’t usually represent dramatic power savings because of the big screen format. Consider the energy ramifications of a super-large TV before buying, and be careful to turn off any TV when you’re not watching. Many newer televisions draw power even when they’re off, so you may want to consider unplugging them or utilizing smart strips.
ALL THOSE LIGHTS
Products with clocks or lights that are on all the time (your printer with it’s little green light for example), or devices that are designed to “power up” quickly are always drawing a small amount of current. The typical home has twenty-five of these devices, according to Blaha, and they represent about 5 percent of your electric bill.
One way to counter this “phantom power draw” is simply to turn off devices – printers for example – that may be used only a few days a week. Another option is to plug them into “smart” power strips, most of which work by detecting devices drawing power on “standby mode,” then cutting the power until it’s needed again.
Many homeowners have started switching from incandescent bulbs to the newer compact flourescent lamp (CFL) products. The CFLs consume less energy and last far longer. This is an easy change that can be done incrementally, swapping CFL bulbs in as the older incandescents burn out.
THE HUMAN FACTOR
More and more people seem to be willing to make some of these “easy changes,” like switching light bulbs. Other changes – such as driving less, buying fewer or more energy-efficient appliances, or even remembering to turn off unused electronic devices – may not come as easily. One of the most difficult parts of any home-energy-reduction program is the reluctance of many homeowners to change their ways.
“The key is to be honest with yourself,” says Blaha. “Are you the kind of person who enjoys making changes or are you a ‘set it and forget it’ type?” A good test, she says, might be whether you bought cloth shopping bags and remember to use them. But even if you forget those bags, you can still save energy, using baby steps. You can buy a timer for your thermostat, use smart strips and commit to replacing just one outdated and energy-hogging appliance in the upcoming year.
Above all, stay positive, Blaha says. If you bought a clothesline and only use it occasionally, that’s better than not using it at all. “Don’t worry and don’t be guilt ridden,” she says. “I hope that people realize there are all kinds of actions you can take to reduce home energy usage.”