Saving electricity requires either conserving or improving efficiency. Conserving means performing fewer activities that use electricity -- turning off the lights or going without air conditioning on certain days, for example. Improving efficiency is about choosing the right technologies to use less energy for the same tasks. Aside from actually reducing your electricity use, you can also make sure your electricity comes from renewable sources. The U.S. Department of Energy has information on how consumers can either purchase green energy or make their own at home.
Targeting Your Efforts
Air conditioning was the biggest single use of electricity in homes in the United States in 2009. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. home used 17.9 percent of its electricity on cooling. The next biggest uses are 15.3 percent on lighting, 9.3 percent for water heating, 9.1 percent on space heating, 7.9 percent on refrigeration and 7.2 percent on televisions and set-top boxes (see References 1). Focus on these major uses of electricity to maximize the impact of your efforts.
Cooling and Heating
In the winter, set your thermostat as low as possible and wear warmer clothing indoors. Turn your heat down at night or when you're going to be away for a day or more -- a programmable thermostat is key here. Use natural light from windows and skylights to get a little extra solar heating during the day. In the summer, keep the thermostat as high as possible. Cool passively with open windows, or use a fan or swamp cooler instead of a conventional air conditioner. Keep windows covered during the day to prevent solar gain; open them at night to take advantage of cooler temperatures. When purchasing a new air conditioner, choose a model with a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. At the time of publication, Energy Star models have ratings of 14 or higher (see References 2).
Installing energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps instead of incandescent bulbs can reduce the energy you use on lighting by up to 75 percent (see References 3). CFLs also produce less heat than conventional bulbs, so they will also reduce your cooling costs during the winter (see References 3). Light Emitting Diodes use even less energy than CFLs and are especially suited to outdoor lighting because they are durable and function well in cold weather (Reference 3). Dimmers, timers and motion sensor lights can also help reduce lighting costs. Turn off the lights if you're going to leave a room for a while -- but keep in mind that CFLs take a few minutes to heat up and they're most efficient when kept on for 15 minutes or more (see References 4).
The best ways to use less electricity when heating water are to install a solar water heater, use less hot water, lower the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater and pipes, and buy a more efficient water heater (see References 5). Check the U.S. Department of Energy's Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency to see if you are eligible for a tax credit or rebate for installing a solar water heater. Install low-flow faucets and shower heads to reduce water usage. While showering, turn off the water while you lather up. When buying a new dishwasher or clothes washer, get an Energy Star-approved model to use less water. The Department of Energy's Energy Savers program has more tips on how to keep your water heater running efficiently.
Appliances, Televisions and Computers
Look for the Energy Star label on any new appliances you buy -- especially refrigerators, which use more energy than any other appliance. The label doesn't say which model is the most efficient, but it does give energy usage statistics so that you can compare products on your own (see References 6). You can also raise the thermostat on your refrigerator and freezer, and make sure to unplug televisions and other appliances when they aren't being used. Alternately, hook electronics up to power strips with on/off switches and turn them off when not in use. Reduce the brightness on televisions and computer screens and turn off electronics that you're not using.
Eric Moll began writing professionally in 2006. He wrote an opinion column for the "Arizona Daily Wildcat" and worked as an editor for "Persona Literary Magazine." He has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and creative writing from the University of Arizona.
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