Challenge #4 Your Home Energy Audit
According to the Energy Information Association (the official energy statistics from the US government), Residental energy use accounts for a substantial portion of global energy usage. The Industrial sector uses the most, Transportation is a close second, then Residential, then Commercial bringing up the rear. We have started to make a significant dent in our Transportation energy usage with Challenge #1. So, this challenge will focus on cutting our residential energy usage even further (adding to our gains from Challenge #2.) Remember the less energy you use at home the cheaper your renewable (wind and/or solar) home system will be, and the faster the payback period it will give you. Plus, we will be contributing to Wedge #3 ("Cut electricity use in homes, offices and stores by 25%") from Socolow and Pacala's plan to "Keep Energy in Check" from the September issue of Scientific American that all of you have read for Challenge #3.
Bringing us to Challenge #4: Your Home Energy Audit!
The Challenge is to cut your home energy usage by 25%!! Right off the bat, you will all win by doing so because your monthly energy bills will be at least 25% less. Green in your pocket! In fact, your bills may be substantially lower since usually energy use is cheaper for a baseline amount used each month, then the rate goes up for the energy that you use above the baseline amount allowed by your utility. For example, if your utility company is Austin Energy (as ours will be in our new home) and you use 500kWh of electricity in a month (during the summer) you will be charged 3.55 cents per kWh, but if you use more than 500kWh in a month you will be charged 7.82 cents per kWh. Ouch! That's more than double the rate! (and ends up as hundreds of $$'s per month in charges.) Doesn't it make sense to try to keep your usage to less than 500kWh per month?
OK, so now you're asking, "How do I know how many kWh's (kilowatt hours) per month I'm using?" That's easy... take a look at your electric bill. It will be right there! Take an average of 1 year or several months (consider seasonal changes in heat/ air conditioning use) and let's take some steps to shave off 25%!
Let's get started...
Here's where we currently are spending our home energy:
- Air Conditioning
- Kitchen Appliances: Refrigerator, Microwave, Oven, Dishwasher, Garbage Disposal
- "Vampire" Appliances: Cell phone/ blackberry chargers, toasters, coffee makers, alarm clocks, radios, iPod chargers and game boy chargers
- Laundry Rooms: Washer and Dryer
- Hot Water Heating
- Computers, Printers, Modems
- TV's and other audiovisual equipment
In the average home, lighting takes up about 24% of your energy costs. By now most of you have changed to CFL's and dramatically reduced your lighting cost and greenhouse gas emissions. But, also simply remember to turn off lights when you leave rooms, and open blinds to use more natural light (as long as the increased light doesn't add too much heat to a room that you're trying to air condition.)
Water Heating is another significant energy user. To reduce your water heating costs and greenhouse gas emissions, you have two strategies:
1. Use less hot water:
- Shorter, cooler, less frequent showers (check out this link to see how much water you are using each time you shower)
- Wash all clothes in cold water (there are good, biodegradable detergents that can make this option work well)
- Use hot water only when needed to wash faces, hands, dishes, etc. (usually cold will work ust as well.)
2. Get a Solar Hot Water Heater
- Solar hot water heaters work in every climate, not just sunny ones.
- Installing one is one of the most cost effective ways to use solar energy. On average, if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop 50% to80%. That could go a long way towards reaching the goal of this challenge!
- To find out how they work and how to calculate your home's cost savings check out the consumer guide published by the US Dept of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Yes, I'm surprised too that we actually have one! :))
3. Control your Heat and AC usage
- Buy a programmable thermostat and keep it set to 68 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer.
- Use fans to help lift the hot air out of your rooms in the summer, and in reverse in the winter to push the warm air into your rooms.
- Close off the vents and doors in rooms that are not in use to prevent your system from cooling them in the summer and heating them in the winter.
- Use shade screens in the summer to keep the heat from penetrating your windows.
- In the winter, open shades on south facing windows and keep them clean to allow the heat to penetrate your home during the day and close them at night to trap the heat.
- Consider how old your system is. Buy an Energy Star system if yours needs to be replaced. For more information on Energy Star systems, tax advantages and rebates, see their website.
4. Maximize your Appliance Efficiency:
- Refrigerators are GIANT energy hogs! Consider this... "In most households, the refrigerator is the single biggest energy consuming kitchen appliance. Replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a new ENERGY STAR qualified model would save enough energy to light the average household for more than four and a half months."
- Turn off the heat dry on your dishwasher.
- Use microwaves for quick heating instead of the oven or stove.
- Consider Energy Star appliances all over your home, especially in the kitchen and laundry room.
- Unplug all energy "vampires" when not in use. If they are plugged in they are using energy even if they are turned off or not running. Energy "vampires" include TV's, DVD players, coffee makers, toasters, rice cookers, phone and iPod chargers, etc.
- Use a battery powered alarm clock (preferably with rechargable batteries.) You'd be amazed at how manykilowatts are burned by a typical alarm clock!
Being a SAHM has tied me to my computer more than ever. So, as thankful as I am that I can "talk" to others 24/7, I'm also very aware that my 5 year old desktop is an energy vulture!Fortunately, Energy Star is just beginning to come up with some guidelines to limit the energy that your computer uses when it is in sleep mode. And, processors are getting more and more efficient (though Intel lags behind AMD.)
So, for now here are our options...
- Get a laptop.
- Get an Apple iMac (with an Intel Core Duo processor.)
- If you must have a desktop, shop for computers that use 50W or less at idle, and 125W or less at full load.
- Choose an LCD monitor rather than a CRT
- Plug your computer, monitor and printer into a power strip and turn off the power strip each time you turn off the computer. That way you won't waste energy in "sleep" mode and you won't disrupt the settings of your modem, router and VOIP phone.
(Adapted from Chin, M. "Choose an energy efficient computer" in Home Power: The Hands on Journal of Home-Made Power vol 114, Aug/ Sept 2006.)
Ok, so there is a laundry list of energy saving ideas for your home. Please post other ideas in the comments when you find them.
Don't just stand there... start saving energy! Your wallet and your children will thank you!