Access to electricity is at the heart of societal development and has been key to the growth of the US over the last 100 years. Energy production has made leaps and bounds of efficiency improvements, however there is a long way to go. Current[ly] electricity contributes 33% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US. The best way to lower your home’s carbon footprint is to use less energy. This may seem obvious, but it really isn’t. It is hard to know what is worth your time and money to improve, so I did the research for you.
Nearly half of your electric bill goes to heating and cooling your home. And to power the lightbulb in the room that you just left on, there is likely a power plant processing fossil fuels or uranium of which only 90% of the original energy even makes it to your lightbulb. The rest is lost in the process of transferring and transporting the energy to your house. Think about all the things that require electricity in your home; lights, TVs, your computer and printer, kitchen appliances, chargers, for some heating and cooling, water heater, and clothes dryer.
Don’t be a sucker
Did you know that 75% of the electricity used by electronics is while the devise is not in use? According to the Department of Energy, $3 billion a year in the US is wasted on home electronics not in use. These items are known as energy vampires. A few simple habit changes will immediately lower your energy usage and bill. The top culprits are computers and printers. Do you use your home printer once a week, or even once a month? If so, unplug it when it is not in use. No matter if you use a desktop or laptop, shut it down when you are done with it and unplug when you can. I had a terrible habit of just shutting the lid of my laptop when I was done using it and never shutting it down. An extra 5 seconds when wrapping up my work to actually turn it off saves the battery and thus uses less energy, and is probably better for the machine too. Even if your charger, for any devise, is left plugged into the wall it will continuously pull electricity. In the morning when I take my phone and watch off the charger, I pull the cube out of the outlet. Be aware of DVD players or gaming consoles too, don’t just turn the TV off when you are done, make sure the other electronics are powered down as well. An easy way to manage electronic energy usage is using smart power strips, when the switch is off electricity is not used. Simple yet effective.
Do you fall asleep with the TV on? I think it is a habit many of us rely on, setting a sleep timer is a great tool for saving energy. Consider fans, space heaters, and lights as well when you leave the house. What about countertop appliances? Do you have a toaster, kitchen aid, coffee maker or blender that is plugged in all the time just because? Those things still pull energy! Instead of thinking about unplugging, consider when TO plug in. Turn off everything that is not necessary, you will be surprised what you will find when you start to think about it.
Travel check list:
- Unplug unnecessary kitchen appliances
- Adjust the thermostat
- Turn off power strips and unplug TVs & electronics
- Unplug fans and space heaters
- Close blinds
- Ensure all lights are off or on timers where needed
Light bulbs can also be very impactful. If you have a 100-watt incandescent bulb on your back porch and you leave it on all the time for a year it will cost $123 for 1 light. However, if that bulb was an LED it would only cost $25 dollars including the cost of the bulb. That is just for one light! So, the question is should you go replace all your incandescent lights today for LED or wait until they burn out and then replace them? YES, go to the store and upgrade your light bulbs! You will save money and energy, even with considering the cost of the new bulbs it is cheaper to replace them now.
From the thermostat to HVAC, insulation and seals there is a lot to consider in regard to heating and cooling. Do you tend to set the thermostat high in the winter and low in the summer? Set your thermostat 1 degree warmer or cooler (depending on the season) than you usually do and reduce your energy bill by 3%. Programmable thermostats can be used to regulate temperatures to align to when you are in your home instead of when you are away. Use an infrared heater in the part of the house where you spend most of your time so that your HVAC is not running all day, warming or cooling rooms you do not even go in. You can also close vents in rooms like a guest room or spare bathroom when they are not in use everyday.
Take a look around your doors and windows, do you see light or feel a draft? Replacing weather stripping around a door or sealant around a window can instantly save a lot of energy. You can even hire a professional to perform a blower door test which tells you how well sealed and insulated your house is so you know where you can improve efficiency. Another simple fix many do not think of is locking windows. Properly installed windows seal much better when they are locked into place. Window treatments add a layer of insulation, and in the summer solar film on windows facing the sun is a great way to reflect heat before it gets into your house. Make sure you are changing your air filter every month so your air handler does not have to do extra work to push air around your house. Planting trees around your house will also help to cut down on wind pulling heat from your home and provides shade in the summer (and captures carbon!).
There are many other home considerations including upgrading insulation, HVAC, windows and doors, Energy Star appliances, or even roof top solar. To track progress put last months electric bill on the refrigerator and set a family goal for monthly reductions. Even the smallest adjustments in your home will save you money and reduce your carbon footprint, if we all make these changes together we can make a meaningful impact!