I was not surprised by the fact that the average American family spends more than $1600 a year on utility bills. I know that seems surprising but I know what I pay and when you average it out, this amount seems average for us. This adds up to about $133 a month on average and we actually spend a lot more than that in the summer. I’m sure the same is true for a northern household in the winter. So $1600 does not seem extravagent and yet it is! Do you realize that the electricity generated to power a single family home creates more carbon than two average sized cars?! This, I must admit, I do find surprising and very disheartening. How on earth can we bring this number down? It’s not like we’re overdoing it, at least by our standard of daily life. So what can we do to change these numbers, to save carbon and money? And do these things have to make daily life difficult?
I think there are some easy solutions that can help us reduce this consumption however, I do not think anything is easy when it is not a part of a daily routine. I, just like everyone, has adjusted a routine that allows for just so many tasks a day within the framework of the demands made upon my time. I hate it when I have to stop something, change something, move something and, in the process, disrupt the efficiency of my routines. But, none the less, I do beleive the effort is worth it and I have been trying harder. Here are some of those steps you can take if you are willing to make small changes to your daily routines.
Unplug all appliances when you are not using them. You can make this easier by plugging several in a given area into a power strip that you can switch off. I know this seems simple but I was surprised to realize how much we actually left going all the time. Household members often fall asleep with TVs on and ceiling lights on dimmers are also ignored. We turn the computers off most of the time but we never unplug them. Cell phone chargers are plugged into the wall long after the user has left with the phone. Lights in closets, the laundry room or the downstairs bath are often left on and no one notices. I actually realized that a light in a downstairs storage closet had been on for almost a week before someone pulled the string. All of this is eating our wallets and spewing carbon on the planet.
I also realize that light displays and other instant features consume 60 to 80 percent of the electricity used by electronics such as televisions and DVD players. My VCR is always on because I like the digital clock on the face of it and consult it at night. I also realize that whether a device is charging or not, if it’s plugged in, it’s sucking up electricity. So the cell phone users in the family (not me, though!) need to unplug those chargers! We are criminals under the new green laws! So we are trying harder to make changes.
I have been told that if you’re not using your computer, put it in sleep mode, which consumes 60 to 80 percent less energy than full-power mode. Mine goes into sleep mode if I walk away for 30 minutes. But better yet, I should unplug it. At night, I have been shutting it down but I never unplug it. I think I will try doing that from now on. According to the DOE, the energy lost on appliances that are turned off but plugged in (known sometimes as “vampire energy loss”) represents 5-8% of a single family home’s total electricity use per year.. That’s equivalent to an average ENTIRE month’s electricity bill. So if you’re spending that $133 a month on average, you could save that money and actually get a free month of electricity simply by unplugging all those devices. I am sure it would be insane to unplug the refrigerator, but why not the stove, microwave, coffee maker and any other countertop appliances? I can hear everyone complaining in the morning for awhile, grappling with the plugs to get things started but after awhile, it would just be routine.
If you are having trouble getting motivated, consider that, on a national scale, this accumulates to a minimum of 68 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year! This equates to the productivity of 37 electricity-generating power plants and costs consumers more than $7 billion! All because it isn’t a part of my routine? According to experts, this wasted energy emits more than 97 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is wicked. Think of the money I would be saving! So I’m going to do this, for the coming year, and see how it affects my bills. I will update this blog from time to time on the efforts and how successful I am at it. How about you?
In the winter, set your thermostat a little lower than usual. Try dropping it a degree or two every week so that you grow used to the temperature. Do the opposite for the summer time. Here in Florida we only use the heat when it gets extreme, which is rare. Last year, we actually shivered in our blankets until the temps stayed around 30 for more than a night or two, when we were just forced to turn on the heat. But during the summer, let me tell ya! We run that air until it just becomes a constant hum in the background, a puddle of water on the closet floor. God forbid we have a freon leak or a clogged condensor.. then the cost is astronomical. But we just can’t do without it. Just as the folks up north would likely die in the cold without heat, the same applies to those of us sitting through triple digit temps.
But I believe that if you can adjust to a lower setting on the heat and a higher setting on the cooling system, anyone would be amazed at the savings after just a few weeks. They tell you to turn the temps up at night and down in the morning but we have found this intolerable here in Florida. We do the reverse. We lower the temp at night so we can sleep without sweating and tossing and turning in the heat. In the morning, we turn it almost off because everyone leaves for work or school or those who are at home are in and out anyways and don’t mind the warmth. You guys up north in all that snow should do the same. At night, try turning your thermostat down 5 to 10 degrees (use blankets and snuggle) and turn it back to a warmer, more comfortable temperature in the morning. If you’re leaving the house, don’t forget to turn down the thermostat or even turn it off. If you go away for a few days, you can safely lower the thermostat to 55F to save money.. .or turn it off while you’re gone but only if you don’t have pets or fish.
Switch your lightbulbs to CFLs. By replacing traditional bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, you can save money and conserve energy. In fact, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, by replacing only four 75-watt incandescent bulbs that burn four or more hours a day in your home with four 23-watt fluorescent bulbs, you can get just as much light while saving more than 2,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and $190 over the 10,000-hour life of the bulbs. I read this on their site and went about making the change. Not only do I love these bulbs, but they last a very long time. I use the dimmers where I can to lower the cost even more. I have nothing but praise for these bulbs
There has been a lot of talk and subsequent fear about breaking these bulbs and disposing of them. The bulbs do contain a very small amount of Mercury but no more than the other flourescent lights you are familiar with. You change the bulbs in your overhead kitchen lights and office lights, so what’s the difference? The only threat these lights impose is on people with sensitivity to light because they tend to burn brighter than incandescents. There are also stories about them buzzing and flickering and we have all encountered this aggravation in bathroom and office lighting. But it is no more common in the bulbs than the flaws you encounter in regular light bulbs. I have had many and encountered only one that buzzed and flickered and I admit, it was aggravating. But I have also bought broken and burnt out incandescents or even those that burned for a day or two and just died. There is a risk in everything you buy after all.
One more thing. The mercury present in flourescents makes it necessary to recycle them rather than send them to the landfill, where they are apt to poison the atmosphere. Broken or not, they should be recycled and not just pushed into the garbage bin. Take them to Home Depot and the folks there will take care of it. But remember that you won’t be doing this very often; the bulbs tend to last for years… and years.
If everyone in America made this one simple change, the amount of energy that could be saved is equal to the amount consumed by 38 million cars annually.
Next time you brush your teeth, turn off the tap water. I started doing this but it took some thought. I kid you not. I had to make myself think to do it every time and even now I still sometimes stand there brushing with the water running. It’s not easy to change habits! In addition, try to take short showers instead of long baths and using cold water when you can. In the summer here, when our cooling costs are almost as much as the rent, I take cold showers on hot summer nights before I go to bed. This allows me more comfort when I’m sleeping in a summer heatwave without cranking the air way down.
Other water savers include using the energy saver cycle on the dishwasher; air dry instead of heat dry the dishes. I know this leaves the dishes wet but try running the dishwasher late at night or before you leave for work to give them time to drip dry. Limit the use of the dishwasher and washing machine to days when you have full loads of dishes and clothes. Never run a wash on a small load. It uses as much water and electricity as a full load so it doesn’t make sense. Check your plumbing for leaky faucets or pipes and, try to get them fixed right away. According to the EPA, leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water a year. That is HUGE.
Don’t let your energy and money flow out the window. Insulation is the biggest money saver of all and if you don’t do this, you’re throwing energy out the window… literally! I have lived in rental units for a long time now and I always turn on the air and then stand outside the windows and doors and put my hands along the outside, feeling for escaping air. I am aware of agonizingly high electric bills due to the fact that I was also cooling my backyard and my patio! Nothing is worse than this as an energy wasting nightmare. This is the same thing as tossing your money out the window and watching it just drift away.. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, proper insulation for your climate can reduce your heating and cooling costs up to 20%. This is a lot of energy and money, indeed.
Give your home the insulation test. Rub your hand all over the inside and outside of doors, jambs, windowframes, sliding glass windows and doors, pipes and outside vents. If you feel air escaping outside or air entering inside, you have an insulation problem. And if you rent like I do and your landlord or landlady is a miser and won’t help out, it is worth the few bucks it costs to get this job done. Buy caulking and seal up cracks in doors and around vents. Use proper sealers for windowframes and sliding glass doors and windows. Stuff newspapers and old fabric around pipes, outside conduits and other open areas. And if you have a fireplace get a metal sealer and seal up that flue. You will be surprised when you go over the yearly heating bills and, taking into consideration any raises in the local rates, make note of the cost difference from before you did this. It will amaze you and make you a convert. I know it did me.