Using Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency

The fastest path to cleaner and more economical energy use is simple: reduce demand by using energy more efficiently. Clean energy can only meet some of our energy problems. If we want it to have a greater impact, we have to meet it part of the way and reduce our demand.

And no matter how long it takes for renewable energy to ramp up, every one of us has the power to reduce emissions, increase energy security, and save money on our energy costs at the same time. An added benefit is that every kilowatt hour of renewable energy we add takes us that much further toward reduced emissions and energy independence.

Every homeowner can benefit from investments in energy efficiency to lower cost and reduce emissions.

Energy efficiency is all about looking at the big picture of your everyday life and understanding how all of the choices you make impact the bottom line of how much energy you use – and how much it’s costing you.

Your Home 

Our homes are the most obvious and most significant sources of energy consumption in our lives. Improving energy efficiency at home will yield the greatest returns – economically and environmentally.

A house is an energy system. It’s starts with the construction of your home – from the way its sited on a lot to the materials used to the way it’s built and insulated, and through to the installation of windows, doors, roofs. These factors all affect the heating, cooling, and lighting of your home, which in turn affect your energy use and costs.

Energy Use at Home The average U.S. family spends about $1900 per year on utility bills, according to the U.S. Dept of Energy. Where does it go?

  • 43%: heating and cooling, with heating representing the largest amount
  • 12%: hot water
  • 11%: lighting
  • 9%: computers and electronics
  • 9%: appliances
  • 8%: refrigeration
  • 8%: other sources 

Where Can You Save? 

  • Ensuring proper insulation, particularly in attics and walls, and sealing leaks around windows and doors and other escape sources like fireplaces, ducts, and electric outlets
  • Setting thermostats lower in winter and higher in summer, and using a programmable thermostat to regulate temperature during times when your house is unoccupied during the day
  • Insulating hot water tanks, or lowering the temperature of the thermostat
  • Switching from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent bulbs – using 75% less energy and saving $30 over the lifetime of the bulb
  • Upgrading older appliances to energy efficient appliances. Look for the Energy Star label.
  • Unplug any electronics when not in use since they will continue to draw power even when turned off. Any appliance with a light or clock that isn’t needed when not in use should be unplugged, along with cellphone chargers, televisions and DVR recorders. Put your laptop in sleep mode. 

Learn more and develop a total energy efficiency plan with the in-depth resources at EnergySavers.gov, or consult a professional energy auditor to help you.

Get started at home: tax credits are available for energy efficient improvements

Your Car

Most of us may be more likely to connect energy usage to our vehicles. With oil and gas costs – and their relationship to our energy security and independence – top of mind for most people, we are more conscious of gas mileage and more aware of alternatives.

The first step is to be aware of the overall fuel economy of your vehicle. Most any resource available to car buyers has the information for the make, model, and year of your car. Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and FuelEconomy.gov can help you understand.

But there’s more to it than just fuel economy, and you don’t need to buy hybrid vehicles to realize savings. Your driving and maintenance habits play a role in the performance of your vehicle, too:

  • Use the proper grade of oil for your car – and look for the “Energy Conserving” seal for maximum friction reduction. You can improve mileage by 1 – 2%.
  • Keep tires properly inflated. You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure
  • Avoid aggressive driving. Speeding, rapid acceleration and braking. These driving habits can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.
  • Combine trips. Several short trips taken from a cold engine start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. 

Your Shopping and Spending Habits 

Are you a shop-a-holic? It may have an impact on your carbon footprint as well as your wallet. Reducing demand extends to reduced demand for goods and products that can be found through other means than buying new in the package at the mall or incurring carbon-intensive shipping. Plus, you’ll save money and even make some unbelievable finds you wouldn’t find – or maybe afford – any other way.

  • Consignment Shopping: Consigning is a great way to shop or make money on items you don’t use or wear any more. Consignment stores buy items from you and then resell them at a modest profit. These stores typically have standards for the items they accept, and stories of finding top-of-the-line designer merchandise with the tags still attached are infamous. The best part is that no new goods are manufactured, packaged, and shipped in order to stock the inventory. So give it a try and see what you’ll find near you.
  • Garage Sales and Swap Meets: Always keep in mind that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The neighborhood garage sale is a great way to recycle items that could otherwise end up in a landfill – and provide other people with the chance to pick up the perfect thing without the trip to the mall, the packaging, and the new production. For the ultimate garage sale, rain or shine, check your local Craigslist and Freecycle for items for sale – or being given away – in your area.
  • Your Public Library: Looking for the latest bestselling novel or new release on DVD? Stop by the public library next time you want to read a book or watch a movie. 

Your Lifestyle 

Habits, patterns, and choices in all areas of life hold hidden opportunities to increase energy efficiency, save money, and reduce carbon emissions.

  • Use Reusables. How often are you picking up your coffee to-go or stopping by the store? Skip the cardboard coffee cup for your next latte and invest in a reusable travel mug. Keep it with you for next pick-me-up. One less paper cup – and most establishments offer a discount for customers who bring their own mug. Paper or Plastic? Neither. Get a few reusable shopping bags and stash them in your car to take with you everywhere – not just the grocery store, but anywhere you buy items that would be bagged. If you’re always forgetting them, some bags are designed to stow in a small pouch that fits in a pocket or a purse to make remembering easier.
  • Walk or Bike More. Consider the trips you make when running errands or running around town. How many of those could you walk or bike to, or between? Not only will you save on all the starts and stops of your engine, but also increase your physical activity level simply by going about your daily business.
  • Eat Seasonally, Eat Locally. The recent emergence of the sustainable food movement – thanks to the spike in gas prices – has helped to shed light on our food supply. When we buy food that is out-of-season and shipped in from California, Washington, South America, or New Zealand, we are also buying lots and lots of fuel and carbon. That fresh kiwi or marginally tasty winter tomato come with considerable hidden costs. Check out local farmer’s markets, farm stands, and grocery stores for locally grown produce, especially during the months of the growing season. Many stores are offering locally grown items.
  • Eat Less Meat. Raising animals for food is extremely energy intensive, requiring huge quantities of water, feed (such as corn), and land. And even though some biomass technologies can make use of animal wastes for energy, less waste would also help mitigate environmental impact on waterways and the Gulf. Take a cue from Asian and Italian cuisine, and consider using meat as an ingredient rather than a main. Think spaghetti with meatballs, or rice with beef and broccoli. Preparations like those make portions of meat stretch farther, saving money, resources, and energy.
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