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Friday, June 11, 2010

Reduce Energy Use



Every time I look at my electric bill, I cringe. In reality, my bills aren’t bad. We are part of the TVA system and it’s actually pretty cheap. But truth be told; that bill could be lower. So I have been researching ways to reduce my electrical use.

One of my biggest surprises was all the “energy vampires” in a house. One expects the refrigerator to eat up power (about 8% of home usage) but the hidden energy vampires use around 4% of monthly power consumption.

What are these energy hogs? Basically you can find them by following the light. If there is something glowing…it is drawing power. Microwave, coffee maker, TV, chargers (which draw electricity even when their device isn’t plugged in!!), clocks in unused guest rooms, nightlights in rooms not being used, and so on. They are all using energy that is not benefitting you.

Computers. You can save money by turning off your computer monitor when you are not using. A screen saver does NOT cut energy use…in increases it! If you’re not going to use your computer for several hours (like overnight) completely turn it off.

Then… unplug your speakers, printer and so on as they continue to draw power even with the computer is off. Think about it…they do have separate plug-ins. Easy way to get the job done is to plug them into a power strip and flip the switch on the power strip.

TV-DVD-stereo-etc. Same thing. They are drawing power in the “off” mode. Plug them into a power strip and toggle it off when you aren’t watching.

Most of our energy dollars are lost in our heating and cooling of our homes. Clean or replace the filters monthly so the unit doesn’t have to work so hard. Use fans in the summer to create breezes that will make you feel cooler. If you have duct work in uninsulated areas, put insulation around it so to cut heat transfer.

Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units but not to block the airflow. Place your room air conditioner on the north side of the house. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

The outdoor unit must be positioned a minimum of 12 inches from any wall or surrounding shrubbery to ensure adequate airflow. A 30-inch clearance must be provided in front of the control box (access panels) and any other side requiring service access to meet National Electrical Code. The top discharge area must be unrestricted for at least 5 feet above the unit.

The most obvious loss is thru poor insulation. This chart can tell you what level of insulation you need in your area:

http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table

This is something I’m going to have to do. I’m going to price the DIY batts and see what it will cost to put some extra in our attic. That will certainly be an EARLY morning project!!

I am also going to put on heat reducing film on the west window to cut the heat coming inside that way.

Another project will be to seal around the windows and doors with caulk and weather-stripping. I’ll have to hire that done as I don’t do ladders and a lot of my windows are on second story level. But I will do the ones I can reach to save money.

Common sources of air leaks include cracks around windows and doors, gaps along baseboard, mail chutes, cracks in brick, siding, stucco or foundation, or where any external lines (phone, cable, electric, and gas) enter the home.

I found out a source of energy loss is the outlets and light switches in a home. That drops when you have proper weather sealing but… If there is a draft coming from the outlets there are little insulating pieces you can put in to seal them. And if it’s a hidden outlet that is never used there is a cover that completely seals it.

My hot water heater will be getting a blanket to keep its hot in. But the TVA site warned that you need to check that a blanket doesn’t void your warranty. Also do NOT cover the thermostat. And speaking of thermostats… set it to 120*.

Another way to save energy with your water heater is to drain it occasionally. The TVA site had this to say: “Perhaps the best thing that you can do for your water heater is to drain the tank once a year. Sediment forms in the bottom of the tank, reducing the heat transfer to the water. By draining water from the bottom of the tank, the sediment is eliminated. There should be a drain valve near the bottom of the tank. Open this valve and let about five gallons of water (or enough so that the water runs clear) run into a bucket. Close the valve and you are all set.” My poor heater is at the end of its life run and I will have to replace it fairly soon. I’ll be getting a more energy efficient model and will definitely do annual maintenance on it.

Lights. I’ve been trying to switch over to compact fluorescent bulbs. Our home has a lot of recessed (can) lights and those babies suck up the electricity. They also put out a lot of heat. As they burn out I have been replacing them with CF bulbs.

There are a couple things about CF bulbs I don’t like. First they are larger and don’t fit into a lot of my lamps. Second, for the recessed lights there is a ‘warm up’ period until they are full brightness. But I’ll use them where I can.

An easy way to save money with lighting is to turn them off when you’re not using them! It’s an old wives tale that it takes more energy to turn on a light than to let it burn.

I’m going to install a sensor switch in my garage. The lights are controlled by a switch next to the door to the finished downstairs area. We park in the second bay of the garage. So if I need to go from the house to the car at night, I have to turn the lights on and leave them on. With a sensor I can trigger it as I walk towards the car and when I pull into the garage it will turn the lights back on. Beauty! I just had the “people door” in the garage replace and picked one with a small window at the top to let in some light during the day… so I don’t need to use the lights then.

I found some good energy saving tips on appliances use that I’m going to start using. Here are some of the better ones:

Dryer
•Keep the lint filter clean improve air circulation so it doesn’t have to work so hard.
•When possible, air dry clothes. I am going to put in a clothes line. I have an idea for a really cute one!
•Use the cool down cycle to finish drying clothes with the heat already in the dryer.

Refrigerator
•Maintain some space around the walls so the cool air can circulate.
•Keep the coils clean so it doesn’t have to work so hard.
•Keep food and drinks covered so the condenser doesn’t have to work so hard to remove moisture.
•Keep the freezer full as it helps keep itself cold.
•If you have plenty of ice, switch it off so it doesn’t run (one of those energy vampires).
•Have it placed at least 4 inches from the back wall so it can ‘breathe’.
•Let food cool first before putting away.
•If your fridge is almost empty, put in some jugs of water to help store the cold.

That is where I am starting. I’m really curious as to how much improvement I will see in my future electric bills.

Do you have a good tip for saving energy?

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