When I was a boy, probably 9 or 10, my dad told me I needed to do a better job of turning off lights when I left a room. I didn’t think that was a problem but he did. So much so that he instituted a policy that, if I left a room and didn’t turn off the light, I’d be fined ten cents. And these fines would be recorded (honor system) on a sheet of paper taped to my bedroom closet door; a stroke for each infraction. I recall going into my room, adding a stroke, and leaving the room, only to realize I had left the room and not turned off the light; another stroke. I don’t remember how much my allowance was then but I do recall each stroke cost me ten cents of that allowance. That experience taught me several lessons: turn off lights; don’t waste things; and be honest or it will cost you.
So in looking at my New Years’ resolution to reduce energy consumption, our home is a great target. We’ve changed out all our light bulbs for energy efficient ones. We never use the “heated dry” function on our dishwasher. We have a service contract for our heat and A/C systems to do routine, semi-annual cleaning and maintenance checks. I’ve learned heating constitutes 45% of a typical homes energy consumption. And, I turn off lights when I leave the room most of the time. We also keep our place a bit cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer than we used to. Experts recommend lowering the winter thermostat to 680 when you’re home and lower when you’re away or at night. This is easy if you have a programmable thermostat.
Our home is a newer one so we don’t need to caulk our old windows or add insulation to our attic – these are often prime targets for saving energy in older homes. So what else can I do?
I plan to turn off our hot water heater (electric) whenever we’re away for a few days. It’s pretty easy; it’s almost always on a separate breaker. Flip it off when you leave; turn it on when you get back. Turns out water heaters are a big consumer of electricity, typically 18% of my electric bill. And if you have a gas hot water heater, you can save energy by setting the dial on the heater to “vacation” when you are away.
Hot water heaters have a label estimating how much will be spent during a year; check it out. Assuming it is $800 ($2.19/day), I’ll save $30 if I turn it off when I’m on a 2-week vacation and reduce my energy consumption.
If we were building a new home (or doing extensive remodeling) we could investigate alternatives to a large single water heater with tank less options.
Speaking of energy, when it’s time to renewal our service provider (we live in an area where electricity is competitive) we can opt for a provider that uses 100% renewable sources for our next contract. That may or may not be the cheapest option but it does provide guaranteed demand for our service provider which, over the long term, will provide more sustainability and ensure I’ll have that option in the future.
Some homeowners can consider solar panels. This is not currently an option for us, since we live in a condo, but it is worth exploring with our homeowners’ association.
Another way to reduce electric consumption is to unplug appliances and chargers when they are not being used. A 2016 article in the NY Times indicates that as much as ¼ of the energy used in your home is from devices in the idle power mode. Makes sense. So many things have digital readouts (so even when they are off, they are still drawing power) or are connected to the internet.
It’s also safer to unplug things that you’re not using (recall that tragic episode from This Is Us).
I ran across another idea in the New York Times Climate Fwd series suggesting that if you have an old DVR, change it out. Seems that older DVRs were energy hogs, sometimes half as much as a refrigerator. The newer set-top boxes use much less power but still, the amount of power they use was surprising to me.
A few years ago when we bought a new refrigerator and later a new washer & dryer, I was amazed at how energy efficient the new ones are compared to what they replaced. So the old adage of “use it until it breaks” may not be applicable if you consider the ongoing cost of operation.
One last “home” item is one that didn’t cross my radar until my son sent me a TED Talk link featuring Ray Anderson. He was the founder of Interface, Inc., a carpet manufacturing company. He has been referred to as the “greenest CEO in America” because of his progressive stance on industrial ecology and sustainability. His objective is to manufacture carpets with zero impact on the environment and he’s made great progress and established a model for other companies to follow. So when we consider new carpet, I will investigate products like “Cool Carpet” made by Interface. Again, being a better consumer has a big payoff for the planet.
There are a lot of experts like Ray Anderson and Naomi Klein that warn us about the dangers to our planet unless we make changes. I hope the lyrics to the Willie Nelson song, Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over is not a prophetic analogy to our planet if we don’t turn out the lights.