7 Simple Ways to Conserve Energy at Home
Easily Reduce Your Home Energy Usage
Every home has them, those BIG energy suckers - refrigerators, hot water heaters, and furnaces. But if you don’t have the money to replace these big-ticket items for their more energy-efficient counterparts, how then can you save home energy and money?
Read along to learn simple, low-cost, effective ways to conserve energy at home by attacking the smaller, yet steady energy consumers that have crept into our lives.
7 Simple Ways to Conserve Energy at Home
1. Reduce Phantom Power
As new technology enters our lives, so too does an increase in energy consumption due to energy vampires or phantom power. These terms describe how often, unbeknownst to us, our plugged-in electric devices continually use power even when they appear to be turned off.
You can easily save energy at home by reducing phantom power usage from electronics and appliances in standby mode. The amount of phantom power being consumed per year per device may not seem like much to worry about, but multiply it by the staggering amount of energy vampires in our homes and you suddenly realize that a little bit of phantom power usage adds up to a lot!
A 2000 study by Dr. Alan Meier of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California estimates that 10% of the average annual residential electric bill is from phantom power. Other studies have revealed estimates as high as 13%!
Efforts, such as the Energy Star Program, have been made to encourage the development of electronics that use less electricity in standby mode. In 1999 the International Energy Agency (IEA) began the One-Watt Initiative. The One-Watt Initiative calls for appliances to use no more than one watt of "leaking electricity" by 2010 and no more than .5 watts by 2013. The IEA defines leaking electricity as the electric power used by a device while not being used for its primary purpose.
Reducing leaking energy or phantom power at home would in turn greatly reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, in 2007 the IEA estimated that 1% of CO2 emissions were directly from standby mode power usage. To put that in perspective, consider the fact that air travel is responsible for less than 3% of CO2 emissions.
Saving energy at home not only benefits the consumer by reducing energy costs, but saves the planet by reducing our carbon footprint.
Read more about Meier's research at The Economist
Sample Phantom Power Measurements
Electronics Plugged In but Turned Off
20" Dynex LCD t.v. & Motorola Cable Box
Find the Energy Vampires in Your Home
Did you know that 99% of the electricity a microwave oven uses is to power the digital clock and not to heat food?
Any item that appears to be off but still has a light shining is using phantom power. Just from where I am sitting in my family room right now I can see four such electric devices, including the television, cable box, DVD player, and oven with a digital clock.
Chargers plugged in that are not actively charging electronics also use a small amount of phantom power. From where I am sitting I can see three chargers left plugged in even though they are not being used to charge: one for a cell phone, one for a Nintendo DS, and one for a laptop.
Common energy vampires include:
- televisions (plasma and LCD)
- video game consoles
- DVD and blue-ray players
- home theater systems and cable boxes
- cell phone, laptop, handheld video game, camera, and iPod chargers
- desktop computers and printers
- routers and modems
If you are curious as to the exact amount of energy being used, the "Kill A Watt" is a great tool for determining this. Simply plug the "Kill A Watt" into the wall and then plug the electronics into the "Kill A Watt" to get a digital reading of the watts being used. It certainly is a terrific tool for identifying the worst offending energy vampires.
Easy ways to reduce phantom energy used at home:
- unplug chargers not in use
- unplug electronics not in use
- use power strips for multiple devices and turn the power switch on the power strip to "off"
Read more about how to Zap Phantom Loads to Save Energy at Mother Earth News.
2. Conserve With the Computer
While more and more people gravitate towards purchasing laptops over desktops, there still are plenty of homes with desktops in use, mine included. It is all too common to leave desktops turned on continually, creating a huge amount of leaking electricity.
Desktops use approximately 150 watts of power, which, depending upon local electric rates, can cost about $90 per year. Comparatively, laptops use approximately 15-25 watts when they are plugged in.
There are a number of ways to use less electricity towards computing:
- If you are going to be away from your desktop for more than 20 minutes, turn off your monitor; away for more than two hours, turn off everything.
- Use power management/sleep mode tools on your desktop. Remember, turning monitors off saves energy, not screen savers.
- If you are purchasing a new computer, consider purchasing a laptop instead of a desktop.
- Use power strips (especially power strips that double as surge protectors) to power down computer peripherals such as printers, speakers, monitors, etc.
3. Conserve With Televisions
Televisions are not only big sources of phantom home energy use, but they also consume a lot of energy while in active use. And since households now have multiple high definition televisions used for watching DVDs and playing video games, in addition to regular cable television viewing, homes have seen an increase in their electric bills.
According to CNET, there are three factors that affect the amount of energy televisions use:
- Type of Technology: Plasma televisions use two-three times more energy than LCD televisions.
- Screen Size: Super-sizing is not just limited to fast food. As television screens get larger, so too does the amount of electricity used.
- Light Settings: Within the control of the consumer, reducing the light output of the television can cut energy use by half. Note that light output is best controlled by changing contrast and backlight settings, not the brightness.
Ways to reduce energy use from televisions:
- If buying a new television consider the type (plasma vs LCD) as well as the screen size.
- Adjust the light settings.
- Turn the television off when no one is watching it.
- Use the sleep timer on the television so it is not on for endless hours after you fall asleep while watching it.
- Set limits on television/movie viewing and video game playing.
Read more about television power at CNET
4. Turn out the Lights!
Estimates show that 10% of home energy bills come from lights. With a few simple changes, it is easy to save electricity used to illuminate your home.
- Use compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. CFL bulbs may cost a little more upfront but they last at least four times longer than incandescent bulbs, use 1/4 the wattage, produce 75% less heat, as well as reducing home cooling costs. On the downside, CFLs have a trace amount of mercury which requires proper recycling.
- In places where CFL bulbs are not recommended (frequent on/off locations) then use lower watt incandescent bulbs.
- Eliminate halogen bulbs.
- Turn lights off when they are not necessary.
- Install occupancy and vacancy sensors. They are really simple to install and are worth the small up front cost. I have one installed for the light going down to my finished basement, as well as a pass-through area with four canned lights, and the lights stay on long enough to walk through and then automatically turn off. When you walk past them, your motion is detected and they automatically come on again. Vacancy sensors work well in bathrooms, especially ones where small children forget to turn the light off.
- Install outdoor motion detectors.
5. Stop Air Leaks, Save Energy
Newer homes are very well insulated, but air leaks still exist. And where there are air leaks, there are energy leaks.
Common locations for air leaks in a home are:
- windows and doors
- kitchen vents
- electrical outlets
If you are not sure if you have an air leak you can do a test with incense. Simply light the incense and hold it near suspected air leaks. If the smoke moves, then you have a confirmed air leak. You can also perform this test with a piece of ribbon.
How to reduce air leaks and save home energy:
- add or replace weatherstripping
- caulk where necessary
- close drapes on cold, cloudy days to keep the cold out
- add insulation to electrical outlets on exterior walls
- keep fireplace damper closed when not in use
#6 Save Home Energy When Heating Water
Approximately 25% of home energy bills are from heating water. Saving energy to heat water is a matter of making your water heater work less and more efficiently.
Methods to conserve energy used by water heaters include:
- lower the temperature on the water heater
- take shorter showers
- do certain types of laundry using cold water
- do full loads of laundry and full loads in the dishwasher
- insulate first few feet of the water heater pipe
- insulate the water heater tank
#7 Conserve Energy - Appliances
An additional way to save on home energy costs is to take a look at other electrical appliances throughout the home.
Simple ways to conserve energy used on appliances are:
- Turn off appliances when finished.
- Unplug appliances that are not in use.
- Use smaller appliances in place of bigger ones. For instance, a toaster oven uses 75% less energy than a large-sized oven.
- Keep appliances clean so they run more efficiently. For example, be sure to periodically clean under and/or behind the refrigerator. And clean dryer filters every load. A dirty dryer filter can use 30% more energy to get the job done.
There are numerous ways to conserve energy.
Saving energy at home does not have to be costly. Conserving small amounts of energy throughout the home not only adds up to big energy savings, but reduces the electric bill.
Consider taking your own home energy audit, looking for energy vampires room-by-room in your home. You may be surprised at how many ways you can find to save energy.
For additional ideas on ways to save electricity, please read:
Have you found clever ways to save electricity and energy? Please tell us about them in the comment section below.