Classes have started, football season is here – as much as we hate to admit it – fall (and winter!) are upon us. Maybe it is time to look at how much – and where – our living spaces use energy. This may not sound like a fun way to spend a weekend, but think of the money you could be saving! If you leave in a dorm or rent an apartment, you may not think these energy tips pertain to you, but there are many things you can do to help shrink your carbon footprint.
How many times did your parents tell you to “turn off the lights” when you left a room?” They were right – turning off lights when not in use can save a lot of energy. One way to do that is with a timer – not only with lights, but with appliances you know you use at a certain time each day. Dimmer switches, energy efficient light bulbs and, if you live in a home, motion detectors also can save a significant amount of energy/money. Another trick is to keep your lamps away from the thermostat – the heat from the lamp can cause the air conditioner to run more frequently. A programmable thermostat, much like a timer switch, can also save energy and money.
Another thing you might want to do is figure out how much energy it takes to run the major appliances in your home. There are tables that can help you estimate costs for a home, but why not use the Power Monitor from our Tool Library. The power monitor will help you discover your “phantom” electrical use. Many household devices use power, even when turned off. It is easy to use – plug the power monitor into the wall socket and then plug the device into the power monitor. It measures the power usage for the entire time it is plugged in. An easy fix for using too much electricity are electrical power strips. Simply turn off the power strip when the device is not in use. These can save money if you are in a home or apartment where you are responsible for paying your own electric and heating bills.
A high energy user is your refrigerator. It runs 24/7 for years – even that small dorm-size refrigerator. The electric motor and air compressor take a lot of energy to run. So, what can you do? Check your the temperature in the refrigerator. Ideally your refrigerator temperature should be between 35 and 41° F. Your freezer should be around -18ºC which is-0.4ºF. These temperatures are best for keeping food fresher longer, slow the growth of bacteria and keep your food from getting freezer burn. Another easy refrigerator fix is simply making sure the door seals are kept clean. Evenly spacing out items in the refrigerator and keeping it full will help keep energy costs down, too. If you don’t have enough food in the refrigerator placing sealed and empty refrigerator containers can help. When you open the refrigerator door, the cool air stays in the container and is not lost through the open door. Keeping a pitcher of cold water will not only help even out the cooling in the refrigerator, it will keep you from running water long enough to get it cold. Vacuum your refrigerator coils regularly and – as David Findley says in Do it yourself home energy audits – don’t “sightsee in the refrigerator.”
Water usage is another way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money. Easy things such as taking showers and not baths; take shorter and cooler showers; turn off the water while brushing your teeth; only wash full loads of clothing and wash in cold water. A common misconception is that it takes warm/hot water to kill germs, but is really the detergent and not the water temperature. Also use drying racks instead of dryers.
There are also ways to use “gray water,” the water from washing dishes, doing laundry, and other things like dehumidifiers. That water is safe to use on plants and in yards. Using gray water reduces water usage and prevents it from ending up in streams and rivers.
If you live in your own home, you can do a “pressure test” to find energy leaks in your windows, doors, and around wall sockets. Energy Efficient Homes for Dummies (pg 92-98) has complete step-by-step instructions for doing the test and how to stop those leaks.
Spend a little time this weekend doing a quick energy check, because whether you live in a house, apartment or dorm, there are DIY projects that can help you save money and reduce your impact on the world around you.
Findley, David S. 2010. Do it yourself home energy audits: 140 simple solutions to lower energy costs, increase your home’s efficiency and save the environment. New York : McGraw Hill. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 F523 2010
DeGunther, Rik. 2008. Energy efficient homes for dummies. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley : Chichester : John Wiley (distributer). Engineering Library TJ163.5 ..D86 D44 2008.
Do it yourself home energy audits. June 24, 2013. Energy.gov
8 easy projects for instant home energy savings. Feb/March 2008. Mother Earth News.
Rehfeld, Barry J. 2011. Home sweet zero energy home: what it takes to develop great homes that won’t cost anything to heat, cool or light up, without going broke or crazy. Gabriola, B.C : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 R44 2011
Lubeck, Aaron. 2010. Green restorations : sustainable building and historic homes. Gabriola, B.C. : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TH4816 .L82 2010
For more intense energy-saving projects: Top 10 best do-it-yourself green projects. 2015. The Green Optimist.