ABCs of Energy Efficiency
Simple Measures to Improve Energy Efficiency
There are two actions that, with relatively low levels of investment and virtually no intrusion into one’s habits and lifestyle, can have a dramatic impact on the energy efficiency of a home:
- Air sealing, often referred to as “plugging”, improves the overall energy efficiency of a home and represents one of the more important actions in weatherizing a home.
- Increasing the amount of insulation in the attic can assist in stopping heat flow from rooms in the home to the attic during the winter and the transfer of heat from the attic to other rooms in the summer.
These actions will contribute significantly to reducing a household’s utility bill, and their passivity in addressing the challenge of energy conservation makes them highly desirable elements in any plan to improve energy efficiency. However, there are other actions which are much more intrusive into our daily routines that can catapult the effectiveness of these plans.
Changes in Habits and Lifestyle Improve Energy Efficiency
Before delving into specific habit and lifestyle-related changes that can improve energy efficiency, a brief tutorial on the more common sources of energy and how their usage is tracked and billed will help in better understanding the rationale for specific recommendations:
- Electricity, the source for our lights, appliances, air conditioning, sometimes space heating and electronic devices in our homes, enters the home through a service entry cable. It passes through an electrical service pane containing fuses or breakers and is distributed through the home using wires, receptacles, and switches. Electricity usage is tracked by kilowatt-hours (kWh), with each kWh costing between 8 and 15 cents based on location and specific regulatory jurisdiction.
- Natural Gas is delivered using a network of underground pipes, passing through a meter outside of the home and piped, using smaller metal pipes, to a furnace, boiler, stove, water heater, or gas fireplace. Its usage is tracked and billed at a cubic foot of gas.
- Propane (Liquefied Petroleum Gas-LPG) is delivered by a truck to a storage tank outside the home. It enters the home through a pipe and is distributed using a network of pipes similar to that for natural gas. Propane is billed by the gallon in much the same way as gas is for an automobile.
- Fuel Oil, transported by truck, is also pumped into a storage tank, either inside or outside the home, and piped to appliances as needed. Like propane, fuel oil is billed by the gallon.
Obviously, one way to reduce the cost of energy is to select a portfolio of energy sources that offers the most optimal trade offs between service and cost. However, over time the economics across these sources can change significantly. So, in addition to sealing and insulating the home, there are a number of behavioral oriented actions that can have a major impact on the cost of energy, while further improving our society’s overall efficiency in its consumption of energy.
- Adjust the Thermostat: Reducing the temperature in our homes during the colder months will conserve fuel used for heating. This represents an area a high potential leverage as space heating is among the largest energy expenditures in homes. In fact a reduction of one degree F will reduce fuel use by 1 to 3 percent with a corresponding reduction to the heating bill. Within reason, the wearing of additional clothing on a cold day allows for significant cost savings and improved energy efficiency. The reverse is true during the warmer months. By raising the thermostat, the air conditioner compressor comes on and off less frequently and for shorter periods of time, and less electricity is consumed.
Close Empty Rooms: The isolating of rooms not being used by closing the doors reduces the amount of area that heating and air conditioning systems have to heat and cool.
- Adjust Based on Time of Day: Turning the thermostat down during the colder months at night can contribute substantially to reducing heating fuel consumption at night. If “sleeping cold” is disruptive to one’s sleep, the availability of down (or equivalent) comforters or electric blankets offer potential options.
- Lights Out: Ensuring that lights are on only when necessary for use is a relatively easy way to save energy. The thought that turning on a light uses far more energy than while it is operating is true. The surge experienced by fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs is brief and not significant enough to warrant leaving the lights on.
- Ceiling Fans: Even a simple desktop or standing fan will contribute to the improved efficiency of central or room air conditioning. But, ceiling fans are most effective in drawing up and distributing the cooler air that lies along the floor, thereby easing the burden on air conditioning to keep a space cool.
As presented in adjusting the thermostat, the seasons certainly have an impact on any household’s plan to reduce energy costs and improve its efficiency. There are a number of steps to take as the outside temperature varies, generally consistent with seasonal variations:
- Winter Cold: The key is to take maximum advantage of the free heat provided by the sun. Opening up shades and drapes on the east, west and south-facing windows is a form of passive solar heating that will warm floors and furniture, and reduce the number of times the heating system needs to activate. Though the winter rays may be less intense than the summer, the fact that the sun is lower on the horizon will facilitate the sunlight penetrating deeper into the home. Opening shades on the north side will not aid in reducing heating bills, but can reduce the need for electrical lighting. At night, the use of heavy or insulating drapes or shades drawn over the windows will serve as insulation, keeping the heat inside and cold air out.
- Summer Heat: During the summer, the focus shifts to keeping the warming rays of the sun out of the house, thereby reducing the load on the air conditioning system. So, closing the shades and drapes is appropriate.