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5 Ways to Reduce Energy Consumption in Your Home

Updated on May 31, 2017
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Eugene is a qualified control/instrumentation engineer Bsc (Eng) and has worked as a developer of electronics & software for SCADA systems.

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Reducing Energy as Part of Your Frugal Lifestyle!

With the cost of energy rising every day, reducing wastage in the home is essential if you want to save money. Not only is it possible to cut electricity consumption, but savings can also be made on the use of heating fuels such as coal, gas and oil. This hub gives basic common sense tips you can try in order to cut your energy use, reduce CO2 emissions and do your bit to save the planet!

Tip 1 - Install More Efficient Lighting

  • Turn off all lights in rooms you aren't using to reduce electricity use.
  • Fit dimmer switches to reduce light intensity when full brightness isn't required.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy saving CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lighting) bulbs.These offer an 80% saving in energy. A 20 watt CFL for instance produces the same amount of light as a 100 watt incandescent. You can also use the newer LED bulbs. These are expensive at present but more efficient even than CFL and this is the technology we will be using in the near future
  • Consider using sodium lighting outdoors to light up the yard rather than halogen floodlights. This is the most efficient form of lighting in terms of light output per watt

Tip 2 - Upgrade Your Heating System Controls

Older heating systems may just be fitted with an electromechanical timer and boiler thermostat. It's wort upgrading your system with room stats, a hot water tank thermostat and an electronic controller to streamline your energy use.

  • The room thermostat of a central heating system can be turned down a couple of degrees to save energy. In cold weather a far better way of keeping warm than sitting down in a room is to do light work or some other chore which entails movement.
  • Fit thermostatic valves to your radiators. These shut off flow of water through the radiator when the room reaches a set temperature. This reduces the duration the boiler is running, cutting down on oil or gas consumption.
  • Reduce the temperature on the thermostat of the immersion heating element if electricity is used to heat water. Ensure the water tank is lagged.

Tip 3 - Reduce Electricity Consumption of Appliances

  • When boiling a kettle just put enough water into it for your needs. Over time, the cost of boiling all that excess water can mount up
  • Unplug appliances or switch them off at the socket instead of putting them on standby with the remote control. So called "vampire appliances" on standby can use up to 25% of the energy they use when fully switched on. See later in this article for more details
  • Use a microwave for cooking vegetables, heating soup and any other form of heating rather than sauce pans on a cooker / kitchen range
  • When using the washer, select a quick wash if clothes aren't very dirty
  • Place the freezer in the garage or coldest room of the house
  • When buying new appliances such as fridges, freezers and washers, consider appliances which are power saving and look for an energy rating sticker on the appliance. An "A" rating indicates that the appliance is very energy efficient
  • If your electricity supply company can provide you with a night rate meter, this allows you to use cut price electricity at off peak times (typically 11 pm to 8pm). If you are a "night owl", you can do washing, dry clothes and use other high powered appliances during this period. A secondary meter normally incurs an additional periodic surcharge/overhead on your bill, so you need to make it worthwhile by shifting electricity usage to night hours

EU energy efficiency label
EU energy efficiency label | Source

Tip 4 - Track Electricity Usage With an Energy Monitor Adaptor

You can buy an electricity usage monitor for keeping track of the running cost of electricity for running an appliance. These monitors which are available from Amazon and electrical and DIY stores plug into a socket outlet.The appliance is then plugged into the monitor. These devices will monitor voltage, current, power drawn by the appliance, the duration the appliance has run for (useful for devices like freezers which cut in and out) and the energy usage in kwh. By inputting the price of electricity per unit, the cost of running the appliance can also be displayed.

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Tip 5 - Install or Upgrade Insulation - The Key to Trapping Heat in Your Home

Insulation works by trapping air in a material. This reduces the thermal conductivity of the material or ease by which heat can flow through it. If you've ever held a piece of expanded polystyrene packing (Styrofoam) in your hand, you may have noticed that it feels warm. This isn't because it actually gives out heat, but because it traps the heat being lost from your hand so that it starts to get hot.
Insulation is used in our homes to trap heat and stop it flowing out of the building. Heating a home with little or no insulation is like filling a bucket with a hole. Installing or upgrding your insulation will reduce the cost of heating your home by reducing the time your furnace/boiler has to stay on.

So How Exactly Does Insulation Work?

Insulation is a material with a low thermal conductivity or high thermal resistance. Basically this means that the material is used as a blocking device to prevent heat passing from one region to another. In the case of a house, it prevents heat leaking from inside the house to the outside.

Insulation relies on the principle of trapping air in a foam or mesh of fibers. Since air is a good insulator, this reduces the heat transfer through the material. It is important that the air is trapped in pockets or cells. If the air is simply held in a bag or between two sheets of material as in the case of double glazing, the effect of the insulation is not as great as air currents carry some heat through the trapped air.

What is Insulation Used For?

Insulation has many uses.

  • It's used in the walls and lofts of homes to prevent heat loss to the outside air
  • Pipes are insulated to prevent them freezing
  • Double or triple glazing relies on trapping a layer of insulating air between sheets of glass. The air in the intervening space reduces conduction of heat from the inner pane to the outer pane of glass and loss of that heat to the outside air
  • Insulation is used to lag boilers and the hot water pipes of central heating systems in order to maximize the heat flowing to radiators. Insulation is also important around steam pipes in power stations as vast amounts of heat would be lost from the steam which could have a much higher temperature than 100 C or 212 F when under pressure. Asbestos was once used for lagging pipes and boilers in ships, trains, heating systems etc. It had the advantage of being a good insulator when formed into boards, ropes or lagging and also was heat resistant since it was of mineral origin. Its use has been more or less discontinued due to the hazardous affect of asbestos fibers which cause a chronic lung disease called asbestosis.
  • The walls of fridges and freezers are hollow when manufactured and are then insulated with an expanding foam. This reduces the flow of heat from the ambient air into the fridge cavity. Cooler boxes are also insulated in a similar way.
  • Handles of saucepans, frying pans and other cooking utensils are made from wood, Bakelite or other plastic which acts as a thermal insulator to prevent you burning your hand.
  • The wings and fuselage of the space shuttle and other spacecraft needed to be insulated to prevent the delicate skin from being melted due to friction with the air during re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. In the case of the space shuttle, light weight insulating and heat resistant foam tiles were used and these were bonded to the body of the shuttle.

The handles of saucepans are made from wood, Bakelite or other polymer so they don't conduct too much heat to the user's hand
The handles of saucepans are made from wood, Bakelite or other polymer so they don't conduct too much heat to the user's hand | Source
Insulating ceramic foam tiles on the underside of the space shuttle protected the space craft from the heat of reentry
Insulating ceramic foam tiles on the underside of the space shuttle protected the space craft from the heat of reentry | Source
Expanded polystyrene packaging. Polystyrene is also known by the brand name "Styrofoam". It is a very effective insulator
Expanded polystyrene packaging. Polystyrene is also known by the brand name "Styrofoam". It is a very effective insulator | Source
Boiler lagged with asbestos
Boiler lagged with asbestos | Source

Insulation is Used in the Loft and Walls of Your Home

Insulation in the home takes several forms. In the loft, the space between the floor joists is commonly insulated with between 4 to 8 inches of fiber glass, rock wool, sheep's wool or shredded paper impregnated with a fire retardant chemical. More up to date building regulations recommend a greater thickness of material. The space between the roof rafters can also be insulated either with the materials mentioned above, or a foam can be sprayed onto the inner surface of the roof.

Walls can also be insulated. Typically, expanded polystyrene, rock wool or other foam sheeting materials are used to insulate the inside of exterior walls. Building codes must be followed to ensure that the material is not exposed to flame in the event of a fire. In the case of exterior masonry walls, an alternative choice is to have the outer faces of walls insulated with a matrix of insulating panels. Once the panels are installed, the walls are plastered and then painted.

If your home isn't insulated, start by insulating the loft/attic space. This will reduce the amount of heat rising through the ceiling and out through the roof space, resulting in an immediate noticeable improvement. Next you can insulate the walls of your home. You will lose about 4 inches of space on the inside of walls that are insulated, reducing room space, so this needs to be take into account.

Insulation Material
Function
Rock wool
Attic and wall insulation
Fibre glass
Attic and wall insulation
Expanded polystyrene
Wall insulation, cooler boxes, flasks for keeping hot or cool, coffee cups
Expanded polyurethane
Used as insulation in fridges and freezers
Asbestos
Formerly used for insulating boilers and lagging pipes

Turn Off Appliances on Standby

Did you know that some appliances, e.g. TVs, use up to 30% of the energy while on standby that they use while fully turned on? Anything with a little "red eye" LED can be sucking power while asleep. This is sometimes called vampire or phantom power and if you have a lot of gadgets and appliances, the energy usage can mount up.

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Main Power Switch on Appliances

In the old days everything had a power switch. This included desktop PCs, TVs etc. The switch was connected to the incoming power line so when you switched off, the power consumption was zilch because everything was totally switched off.

Vampire Power - Pull the Plug and Cut Down on Your Electricity Consumption

Nowadays many devices don't have a mains switch. Instead a momentary push button is used and this controls whether the appliance is fully powered up or on standby. When a user presses the button, embedded software within the device detects the press and forces it to power up or go into standby. Alternatively in devices without microprocessors or micro-controllers, pressing the button forces the electronics into a low power state. The electronics which monitors this button uses some power, however the majority of the energy usage is due to the fact that a device is on standby and its power supply is active

What Devices are "Vampires"

TVs, HIFI systems, video recorders, DVD recorders/players, Blu-ray players, surround sound systems, satellite and terrestrial decoders, computer printers etc.
Basically anything which uses an LED indicator (usually red) to show that it is asleep and in standby mode. If an appliance can be switched off using a remote control, electronic circuitry must be active in order to detect the infra-red signal from the remote when someone switches the appliance back on again. This circuitry uses energy but other circuitry may also be enabled so that the device powers up quickly when switched on.
Even if a device cannot be put into standby, it may still consume electricity. So for instance microwave ovens or anything else with a clock or other type of display falls into this category. The consumption of electricity by the display electronics may be quite small however and the only way you can check is by using an energy monitoring adapter.
Even if standby power of an individual device is relatively low, if you have lots of appliances and gadgets plugged in, energy wastage over time can mount up.


Keeping Away the Vampires

What can you do to prevent this waste of energy? Simply pull the plug on appliances at night or when there is no need to have them switched. Also check with an energy monitoring adapter whether the electricity consumption is significant.

What is the Disadvantage of Pulling the Plug on Appliances?

Well basically some older devices such as video recorders may lose their time and date setting on the display. Newer devices often have a back up battery which preserves the time.
Satellite and terrestrial decoder boxes may take anything between 10 and 30 seconds to scan and save channel settings when re-powered.

Could You Be Bothered Saving Energy?

Do you think it's worthwhile saving energy?

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© 2017 Eugene Brennan

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    • eugbug profile image
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      Eugene Brennan 2 months ago from Ireland

      Thanks Larry!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great tips!