Energy Awareness Month – 10 Energy Saving Tips

You have the power to conserve energy.

This October, fulfill the promise you made to yourself earlier in the year to get serious about saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint.

October is an ideal time to address your energy use for a number of reasons. First, you still have plenty of time to put energy saving ideas into action before cold winter weather arrives in earnest and the holiday season diverts your attention. Second, if you enjoy challenging yourself during national awareness days or months, you are in luck because October is Energy Awareness Month (it should be Energy Action Month). Third, reducing your energy use can also save you money.

I realize that switching to LED light bulbs and putting on a sweater instead of cranking up the heat will not stop Americans from burning fossil fuels. However, if millions of Americans take these and other seemingly small actions, it all adds up and can make a significant impact.

For instance, if each American household tackled their energy vampires for Halloween we could save 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and use it to provide the annual power needs of 35 million Americans.1

I believe that taking action, even a tiny action, acts as a strong antidote for inertia. The first action may be difficult but each subsequent action is easier because you gain momentum.

Are you ready to take action to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint? If you are, below are ten tips of varying degrees of difficulty and expense to help you get your creative juices flowing. Most of the tips include links to other posts where you can get more information and find useful resources.

Light with LEDs

If you have not made the switch to LED light bulbs yet, now is the time.

Residential LEDs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they do not contain hazardous mercury as compact fluorescents do.2

The cost of LEDs has dropped dramatically over the past several years and now you can purchase an LED light bulb for around $2.00 maybe less (depending on wattage and type).

If you put LED bulbs in your indoor and outdoor light fixtures this month, you may not need to change a light bulb for a couple of decades and you will immediately reduce your energy use. You can even decorate your Christmas tree with a few strings of colored LEDs.

Snug House

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseKeeping cold air outside and warm air inside during winter months and vice versa during the summer is a good idea, right. What you may not realize is how even small air leaks can wreak havoc with your heating and cooling bills. For example, a 1/8” gap under your front door lets in as much air as if the door had a 2 ¼” hole.3

Fortunately, you can shore up your home’s air defenses with a caulking gun, door sweeps, and weather stripping. You may be able to reduce some air leaks with things you have on hand like rolling up a bath towel to minimize door drafts. I folded up a piece of cardboard and stuck in a crack where the weather stripping on the fixed side of our double front door did not quite reach the threshold.

Read more in Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost.

Take Advantage of Your Thermostat

A thermostat is a useful device for moderating your home heating and cooling system. Turning back your thermostat 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day could save you 10% on your heating and cooling bills.If you frequently forget to adjust your thermostat when you leave for work, try hanging your keys on a hook next to it.

Learn more about thermostats, recommended temperatures, and thermostat options by reading Use Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money.

Staying Warm Indoors

On average, home space heating consumes a whopping 42% of the energy Americans use in our homes.5 Hot air rises and cold air sinks so during the winter we are living in the coolest layer of our homes.

You probably take care to dress appropriately for the weather when you go outdoors in the winter so why not carry that theme indoors. Instead of ratcheting up your heater consider wearing clothing made of warmer materials or trying one or more of the tips in 7 Ways to Stay Warm Indoors in the Winter and Be Green.

 Shower Power

Low-flow showerheads are water and energy saving devices. Using less water also means using less energy to heat water. A standard showerhead sprays out at least 2.5 gallons of water per minute even when you are lathering up your body or washing your hair.

Low Flow Handheld ShowerheadWhen you switch to a low-flow showerhead that puts out 1.6 gallons of water per minute you can easily cut your water use by 25% and reduce the energy needed to heat your shower water. If you buy a model with a “trickle” button or a shut-off valve you can reduce your water and energy use even more by restricting the water flow while you are soaping up.

Even non-handy people like me can easily install a low-flow showerhead for under $50.00.

Use Your Dishwasher

Washing dishes by hand is not a water or energy saving activity. A kitchen faucet pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute so you may be using more water than you think filling up the sink or a dish tub and then rinsing dishes.

Cramming a bunch of dishes in a dishwasher willy-nilly may result in some items not getting clean so do pay attention to where the spray jets are and learn to load your dishwasher efficiently.

Green and Lazy Laundry

Doing the laundry is a habit that you learn and then repeat thousands of times over your lifetime so you may find energy and water savings hiding in your laundry room.

I did not think much about my own laundry habits until my kids went away to college but if you have children at home you do not have to wait that long. If you are interested in evaluating your laundry habits, you may find the posts Laundry – Laziness is Good and Greening Your Laundry Habits useful.

Extra Credit: Using the sun to dry your clothes on a clothesline is a significant energy saving action, but I admit that I do not do it, at least not yet.

 Tackle Your Energy Vampires

Energy Vampire - Cell Phone ChargerAn energy vampire is a piece of equipment that sucks power even when it is not in use; this is called standby power. For instance, a cell phone charger left in a wall socket or a television both draw power just standing by waiting for you to use them.

Our Halloween activity for 2013 was tackling our energy vampires. It was fun, easy, and inexpensive. A few weeks after we completed our energy vampire project I learned the hard way that cable boxes must be on standby power to receive system updates. Our cable television service was abruptly discontinued without notice because our cable box had been going offline each evening. Now I leave it on.

Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

I am not advocating buying new appliances unless you need to replace a worn out or un-repairable appliance or piece of equipment. However, if you are in the market for a new refrigerator, air conditioner, or television, consider adding energy and water efficiency to your list of must-have features.

Look for the ENERGY STAR and WaterSense labels to identify and compare appliances and equipment. I wrote about my search for a high-efficiency replacement dishwasher in Dishwashers – Top 3 Eco-Friendly Features.

Go Solar

There is no better time than right now to go solar. Solar panel prices are low, tax incentives are available, and the summer rush for solar installers is over. You can increase the value of your home with solar panels while reducing or eliminating your electric bills. If you do not want to buy a rooftop solar system, then consider leasing.

Purchasing solar panels for your home is a sound financial investment and even more importantly, it pushes the ball forward in creating a clean renewable energy future for all our children.

You can learn more about home solar panels and our real life rooftop solar experience by reading Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did, Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think, and You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

My energy saving action for Energy Awareness Month is washing our laundry with cold water. I know, I know, why did I not make this change years ago? My only defense is that old habits stick with you. The good news is that you and I can change our habits today or any day and make a positive impact.

I hope one or more of the above ideas has struck your interest and helped inspire you to take action to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. Please share what you are doing to reduce energy use with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Coal-fired power plant looming over a residential neighborhood in West Virginia – Photo Credit Wigwam Jones

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References

  1. Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power, Green Groundswell
  2. LED Lighting – Energy.gov
  3. Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  4. Thermostats –U.S. Department of Energy
  5. Use of Energy in the United States Explained: Energy Use in Homes – U.S. Energy Information Administration

Repairing Things is the Antidote for Our Throwaway Society

Let’s make fixing stuff the norm, not the exception.

Be a rebel and join the repair movement. Declare your dissatisfaction with our throwaway society by fixing things instead of tossing them in the trash.

Whether you like it or not, if you are an American, you live in a throwaway society where people routinely throw broken things away instead of fixing them. It was not always so but today the influx of inexpensive products and the constant bombardment of advertising influence our repair and buying habits. The price of products does not include the cost of damaging our environment so low prices and convenience makes it tempting to buy a new item instead of repairing a broken one.

Throwing away damaged and broken things or sticking them in the back of the garage and then buying new replacements is harming people and the planet, but you can help change our culture by joining a growing movement of people who believe in repairing things instead of trashing them.

Repairing Things is a Green Thing to Do

Everything we use in our daily lives has an environmental impact that results from mining, logging, extracting fossil fuels, processing materials, manufacturing products, transporting goods, and disposing of waste.

Another perhaps even more compelling issue to consider is that our planet does not have unlimited resources or land.

We can conserve Earth’s dwindling resources and protect our land from more waste dumps by repairing things if they get broken or damaged and using them as long as possible.

Everyone Can Participate in the Repair Movement

The essential attribute for participating in the repair movement is the willingness to consider repairing things instead of automatically throwing them in the trash.

You can learn repair skills and/or get assistance from friends, family members, coworkers, repair professionals, and a wide variety of sources that did not previously exist.

For instance, the Internet is chock full of step-by-step instructional videos on how to replace parts and repair thousands of different products from leaky faucets to malfunctioning automatic garage door openers to broken smartphone screens. Community centers provide tools and equipment for people interested in pursuing artistic endeavors, tinkering, and repairing things. Imagine being able to fix your vacuum cleaner handle using a part printed on a 3D printer. Repair cafés and re-skilling events bring people together to share knowledge and learn new skills.

Below are two examples of repaired items, one I did myself and my spouse helped me with the other one.

A Tale of Two Repairs

My dad was Mr. Fixit and repaired many things around our home when I was a kid, including our cars. The fixit gene passed me by so I am not too handy when it comes to repairing most things. Luckily, my mother taught me how to sew, which means that I can mend clothing tears and replace missing buttons.

Rain Coat Repair

Over twenty years ago, I needed to buy a rain/warm coat for a business trip and since it was the off-season where I lived, my two choices were hot pink or forest green. I chose the green coat and wore it for many years before the bottom button fell off and was lost.  Initially, I attempted to ignore the problem, but the cool and windy climate where I now live motivated me to address it.

Rain Coat Repair - New Top ButtonFinding a replacement button to match the existing buttons was not possible and I did not want to replace all the buttons.

My solution was moving the top button to the bottom and sewing on a new black button at the top where I think it looks less odd.

I was able to accomplish the repair myself by spending a couple of dollars on a package of buttons and a few minutes with a needle and thread. Now, my coat is ready for a several more decades of wear.

Weed Whacker Repair

About five years ago, I bought a Black & Decker battery powered weed whacker (string trimmer) for $99.99. It is made of metal and plastic components and uses a rechargeable nickel cadmium battery (cadmium is a toxic material that requires special handling when disposing of the battery).

A few weeks ago, as I was wielding the weed whacker around our wild yard in preparation for fire season, the motor stopped working. I looked up the model number online and discovered that Black & Decker had discontinued it and replaced it with a similar model available for $69.99.

The environmentally sound solution seemed to be to try to repair it so I asked my mechanically inclined spouse for assistance.

After taking the weed whacker apart, my spouse determined that a tiny piece in the motor assembly had failed. Although some replacement parts were available online such as the handle, cover, and battery pack, the motor was not. Fortunately, a similar motor was located online and purchased for about $20 including tax and shipping. Once the new motor arrived, it took my spouse less than an hour to install it and reassemble the weed whacker. I was back in business.

If there is a moral to this story, it is that repairing stuff is possible if you are willing to make the effort and that keeping our planet habitable is a group effort.

Let us stop being a throwaway society and become a repair nation where fixing stuff is the norm, not the exception. Please share your repair story with other readers.

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