Energy conservation education among consumers typically begins with things like turning off electronics or unplugging items not in use. To be fair to the environment and the utility bill, everything should be turned off when not in use. Still, we are human and not perfect. We don’t always need to be so hard on ourselves for forgetting to turn the lights off once in awhile.
Some devices use more energy than others. By having an idea of the biggest users of energy, it can help conserve more over the course of the month.
Heating and Cooling
Air conditioning is typically one of the bigger energy costs. Americans spend over $11 billion per year and pump 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by cooling their living spaces.
High efficiency air conditioners are designed to use less electricity, but the most savings might be on type. Certainly, for cooling large homes and offices, a central unit should be used. If cooling only one small room, a room unit will usually suffice. A helpful feature to have is a built-in timer or programmable thermostat. This can help keep the room/office cool only during the critical times and not waste energy when no one will need it.
The simplest, most effective thing to do is to regularly replace the filter and coil and keep the ducts cleared out. If the unit isn’t functioning correctly, getting it fixed will cost less than the additional costs of lost energy.
Considering personal usage helps immensely. For something that uses so much energy, make the unit work less by keeping the room dark, well sealed and insulated. For alternatives, consider natural ventilation of open windows creating cross breezes, and using fans in conjunction. See this government infographic for more information on home cooling.
Heating is the most necessary and most expensive of all household needs. Perhaps not surprisingly, heating is also a complicated network of components. Options range from furnaces to boilers to solar heating to space heating and many other sources. There are also several types of distribution networks to disperse the heat.
Critical aspects to consider with heating systems include the life expectancy of the system and the efficiency that results from older systems. Like with air conditioning, insulating, sealing rooms, covering windows, cleaning air ducts and filters and other preparation make for much more efficiency in energy conservation.
In any case, it really pays to do homework concerning heating and cooling. Other than maybe kitchen appliances, heating and cooling are the most significant users of home energy.
Clothes washer and dryer
For what little amount of space they take up, washers and dryers use an incredible amount of energy. The basic premise of energy efficiency with washers and dryers is pretty intuitive and easy to implement.
For the washer, make sure it is fully loaded to use less water for cleaning more clothes and set to a colder temperature. For the dryer, don’t fully load it and keep the lint trap clean so air can circulate more freely. One thing people often forget with drying is that it’s not necessary all of the time. Using a drying rack will conserve lot of energy as well as preserve the life of the clothes.
As with the heating and cooling systems, maintenance on the machines will keep them efficient. When these machines are used, night time is the better for a home’s overall energy conservation and the grid in general.
Stove and Refrigerator
The kitchen merits a lot of consideration for a home’s energy conservation . The appliances themselves are important to consider, but not so much as with heating and cooling systems. Kitchen appliances can have long lifespans and older ones can be nearly as efficient as newer ones. The key is how well they are used.
Refrigerators need basic maintenance like making sure the seals are good and keeping the door closed as much as possible. A bad seal can add many unnecessary dollars to a monthly energy bill. Also, check the settings. Keeping the temperature settings between 37-40 degrees is optimal and will cause energy loss outside of that range.
When using the stovetop, make sure the pot fits the burner and the heat isn’t applied any more than necessary. Oven doors should remain closed and pots should remain covered. It sounds simple and redundant, but around the kitchen, a little consideration in usage will mean the most to energy conservation, with no huge investment required.
When it comes to the cost of lighting a room there are a myriad of factors to consider. It is not quite as simple as turning them off. Considerations such as home or an office, time of day, costs per kWh and other variable charges based on the particular utility company take a lot of studying. From the consumer’s point of view, how efficient the bulb is, how many units are connected to the same array of fixtures, how often the bulb needs to be replaced, whether the light emits heat and similar considerations must be taken into account.
Incandescent or halogen lights should basically not be used. They are horribly inefficient and give off most energy as heat so they may require more energy to be spent cooling a room. In all cases, use of such bulbs should be minimized and turned off as much as possible.
CFL lights are very energy efficient, but bulb life is greatly reduced the more often they are turned on and off. So, it becomes a question of how much it costs to replace and/or dispose of the bulb more than how much energy is being used. There is also a concern whether they use more energy when first turned on that may make leaving them on for longer periods more energy efficient.
LED lights, conversely, are not affected by turning on and off and are relatively energy efficient. These are probably the best option, particularly when coupled with timers or sensors that turn them on and off as needed.
Cell phone, Computer and other handy-dandy electronics
One of the more common devices currently in use, a cell phone takes almost no energy. It takes not more than about two cents per month of energy usage to keep them charged.
Keeping them charged is mostly a convenience factor so that they don’t die when away from the charger. However, when near the charger, it doesn’t hurt to plug the phone in. Contrary to many weird rumors, the battery is not affected whether it has 10% or 90% life. Also, leaving it plugged in all night will not suck energy. The phone knows when it is charged and the energy flow stops. Likewise, leaving the plug in the socket when not attached to the phone doesn’t consume energy.
Powering a laptop doesn’t actually cost a whole lot more than a cell phone. In fact, Forbes determined that a person could power a cell phone, iPad and laptop for $10 for an entire year.
Many everyday devices around the house are “energy vampires” sucking up energy even when not in use. Gaming consoles and cable DVR boxes use a lot of power, but TV arguably takes up the heavy majority of consumer electronics power, whether in use or not. They also emits a lot of carbon.
There is no consistent number of watts that a TV uses due to the constantly changing technology. However, Samsung was in hot water recently for fudging energy efficiency scores. Energy ratings certainly a huge industry concern with new ultra high definition (UHD) hitting the market to the prospect of $1 billion in added energy costs for Americans annually, or basically the same energy use of powering all the homes in San Francisco.
Changing technology isn’t something consumers have a lot of control over, unless following my own plan of not owning a TV. The big costs with new UHD TVs has a lot to do with backlighting, so changing the automatic brightness settings might help a little. Processing power is another big concern, which can be helped a little by choosing a smaller TV. Most TV shoppers equate bigger with better and that comes with a huge price tag.
For when the TV is not even on, standby mode is another big concern with energy conservation. Best practice is to unplug devices when possible. Use of a powerstrip makes that process easier.
There are a multitude of other common devices at work in a home on any given day. A little research into watt usage and responsible operation goes a long way to energy conservation. All told, even the big energy suckers, like heating and cooling, are far more energy efficient and not using nearly as many kW as they just 30 years ago, but it doesn’t give license to be lazy with them.
A UK report from the Energy Saving Trust highlights significant benefits in the economics of energy efficiency, increased spending and tax revenue, as well as increased health and well being overall. In all cases, the wider economic implications for the regular consumer and the future of energy availability is a major concern. If saving money isn’t a big deal, energy conservation should be – if people want to continue having energy to use at all in the future.