Energy Empowerment – October is National Energy Action Month

On September 30, 2013, President Obama proclaimed October 2013 as National Energy Action Month. The keyword is action. We can and must reduce our energy consumption, use energy more efficiently, and move to clean renewable energy sources.

“Years from now, our children may wonder if we did all we could to leave a safe, clean, and stable world for them to inherit. If we keep our eyes on the long arc of our future and commit to doing what this moment demands, the answer will be yes.”
2013 National Energy Action Month Proclamation

If you have been meaning to do something to reduce your energy footprint, empower yourself to take action now. This post will provide readers with energy saving ideas that are either free or low cost to implement and will save money over the long run.

Energy Scavenger Hunt

The words energy scavenger hunt caught my eye while I was scanning search results for National Energy Action Month. I pictured a Halloween scavenger hunt with costumed kids and / or adults searching for and then snapping photos of items like solar panels, ENERGY STAR appliances, and hybrid cars and winning LED light bulbs or locally made treats.

As it turned out, the article in the Central Wisconsin Sustainability Newsletter was for an online energy scavenger hunt for kids which looked educational and fun.

Action: mix it up this Halloween by organizing an energy scavenger hunt for a school, work, or neighborhood group. Contestants will learn about energy use and have fun doing it.

Bring Your Own Bottle

Author's Reusable Water BottleBottled water is an energy intensive product. Energy is used during plastic water bottle manufacturing, bottled water processing, bottling, transportation, and recycling.

Transporting a single 16.9 ounce (1/2 liter) bottle consumes enough energy to run a 100-watt light bulb from 7 to 14 hours.1 Multiply that by the billions of bottles of water consumed in a year and that is a huge amount of energy—wasted.

Action: if you are still buying bottled water, stop. Use a glass at home and take a reusable water bottle when you go out.

Ditch the Car

The benefits of walking and biking on personal health and wellbeing are well known. Reducing car travel, even for one trip a week, decreases energy use, air pollution, and car wear and tear. It also reduces driver and passenger stress caused by traffic jams and trying to find a parking place.

Action: at least once a week, walk or bike when you would normally use your car. Walk or bike to school, work, or to run errands. Leave your car at work and run errands on foot during your lunch hour or park at one store and walk to the others.

Snug Home

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseOn average, 53% of our total home energy is used to heat and cool our homes (45% and 9% respectively).2 A snug exterior keeps warm air in during the winter and cool air in during the summer and defends against excessive energy use and high utility bills.

A 1/8” gap under the front door lets in as much air as a having a 2 ¼” hole in an exterior wall.3

Action: check your home for drafts, air leaks, and cracks then seal them with caulking and weatherstripping. Not so handy? Offer a friend or family member who is a home cooked meal or babysitting in return for their help.

Light with LED’s

About 6% of household energy is dedicated to lighting.2 Incandescent light bulbs are inefficient and add to a home’s heat load. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are more efficient but contain a small amount of mercury. CFLs require special handling if broken and at disposal. LED bulbs use 70%-75% less energy and can last 25 times as long.2

Action: replace incandescent and CFL bulbs as they burn out with LED bulbs. Although more expensive to purchase than their less efficient counterparts, LED bulbs make up for it in energy savings and long life.

Shower Savings

Low Flow Handheld Shower

Showers and baths account for part of the 18% of home energy used to heat water 2 and about 17% of the water used per day.4 A full standard bathtub uses about 50 gallons of water. The average shower lasts 5-10 minutes and uses 12.5 to 25 gallons of water.4

Action: skip baths except for rare occasions or bathing children. Time yourself and take shorter showers or install a low flow showerhead. You won’t miss the excess water.

Use Your Thermostat

Thermostats can have a significant impact on heating and cooling energy use and cost, especially for those who live in areas with cold winters and / or hot summers. You can save 10% a year on heating and cooling your home by using your thermostat.2

Action: adjust your thermostat to 68° or lower in the winter and 78° or higher in the summer. Depending on where you live you might benefit from purchasing a smart thermostat.

There’s an App for That

I saw a post about an energy saving contest at North Carolina State University using a free smartphone app called JouleBug. Students, faculty, and staff collect pins and badges for energy saving actions and can win prizes. Smart—make saving energy a game.

Action: smartphone enthusiasts download one or more free or low cost apps that help you assess, monitor, and reduce your energy use. Start a friendly competition with your family or friends.

During October, take one or more of the actions listed above or come up with your own. The most important aspect of National Energy Action Month is to actually take action.

Related Posts:

References:

  1. What is the Environmental Impact of Bottled Water?
  2. U.S. DOE – Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Money & Energy at Home
  3. Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost
  4. Water Saving Shower Ideas – Low Flow Showerhead

Resources:

Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseA snug house is a good defense against high heating and cooling bills. Eliminating air leaks into and out of your home is a relatively low-cost way to reduce energy use and cost. According to the U.S. EPA, a 1/8” gap under a 36-inch door lets in as much air as having a 2 ¼” hole in the wall. Feeling a draft is an indication of an air leak and turning up the thermostat only pumps out more heat that is then lost through leaks and cracks.

Handy homeowners can check for air leaks and cracks and then seal most if not all leaks themselves. Home improvement stores provide advice on materials, tools, and installation techniques and may offer workshops for novices. A plethora of information is available online from professionals and do-it-yourself experts via websites, blogs, and videos. Not so handy? Find a friend or family member who is or hire a professional.

Check for Air Leaks and Cracks

The U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR offer resources for do-it-yourself homeowners. Some areas to check for air leaks and cracks include:

  • Common Home Air Leaks - ENERGY STARWindows, doors (including garage), baseboard moldings.
  • Attic hatch or door, basement rim joists.
  • Chimney openings, furnace and water heater flues.
  • Electrical outlets, switches, and water faucets (especially on exterior walls).
  • Penetrations through insulated walls, floors, ceilings for plumbing, wiring, cable TV and phone lines, light fixtures, fans, mail chutes, doggie doors, and dryer vents.

Seal Air Leaks and Cracks

There are a variety of materials and methods for sealing air leaks and cracks. For instance, a tube of white latex window and door caulking and a caulking gun could cost as little as $10. Some actions are free.
  • Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use.
  • Close curtains and blinds at night in cold weather.
  • Cracks and gaps less than ¼” wide can usually be sealed with a caulking gun.
  • Expanding or flexible foam or other types of weatherstripping can be used to fill large cracks or holes.
  • Door sweeps help keep air, moisture, and insects out. This goes for garage doors too. Draft “snakes” or even a rolled towel will help minimize door drafts.

Take energy use reduction and cost savings to the next level by performing a home energy auditSome utilities, local governments, or nonprofit organizations will provide low-cost or free home energy audits and may offer financial assistance, rebate, and tax incentive programs.

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