The earth is burning up. And we’ll have to burn fossil fuels for electricity for the foreseeable future. When we’re frugal with electricity at home, we reduce our share of fossil fuel consumption and save money at the same time. What’s not to like about that?
It helps to keep in mind two overlapping concepts.
Energy conservation involves finding technology to perform tasks with less electricity than older technology. In terms of saving electricity at home, it can mean replacing appliances, which is expensive in the short term but can save a lot in the long term.
Energy efficiency means changing lifestyle to use less electricity. The benefits are less obvious, because individual changes might seem too small to matter. But just think how much difference it makes for tens of millions of people to make the same small savings.
You care about the environment, so you have probably adopted lots of greener habits already. There’s always more to learn, though. How many of these do you do?
Table of Contents
Use the right lightbulbs—only when you need them
It seems every article about saving electricity at home starts with lightbulbs. Haven’t most people gotten the memo? In the US, anyway, the government mandated phasing out incandescent bulbs back in the George W. Bush administration. At the time, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) were the only viable substitute. I found the suggestion to switch to CFL bulbs in a article dated 2023!
Nowadays, light emitting diodes (LEDs) are a much better choice.
- They last even longer than CFLs.
- They’re brighter than they used to be and come on immediately at full brightness.
- Unlike CFLs, they don’t contain mercury, so they’re not a hazardous waste if one burns out or breaks.
If you have a lot of CFLs, keep using them as long as they work adequately. You have to take them to a hazardous waste collection site when you replace them.
With incandescent bulbs, people could save a lot on their electric bill by going around and turning them off. Nowadays, the savings amount to much less, but having unneeded lights on still wastes money, electricity, and probably fossil fuels. Being frugal with electricity means turning off even LEDs when they’re not needed.
Put a stake in energy vampires
Some electrical gadgets, known as energy vampires, keep drawing electricity even after you turn them off. Any one of them doesn’t draw much power, but how many of them do you have running? It adds up. You can save electricity by paying attention.
If something uses a remote control, has an LED indicator light, or has one of those boxy black plugs, it’s an energy vampire. Some examples:
- Televisions, plus things like external DVD drives attached to them
- CD players, tape decks, phonographs, tuners, etc. and the amplifiers they’re connected to
- Computers and peripherals, including modems
- Many electronic games
- Chargers for cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other portable gadgets
- Wireless phones (besides cell phones)
- Microwave ovens (because of the LED clock)
Your TV uses electricity when it’s off so the remote will work. Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to change channels or adjust the volume by walking across the room to the TV.
A wireless phone sits on its charger until you need it, but it won’t work at all if you unplug it.
Therefore, managing energy vampires isn’t as simple as just unplugging everything when you’re not using it. You can unplug some of them. Here are a couple of suggestions for others:
Don’t charge your phone, etc., overnight
It doesn’t take eight hours, or even six hours, to charge a phone. Tablets and laptops take longer than phones, but not that long. So charge them during the day, when you can keep an eye on them and unplug the chargers when they’re finished.
Take control when you leave town
If you’re going to be gone for a while, you won’t be using your entertainment system or desktop computer and peripherals at all. They should all be plugged into power strips. So turn the power strips off before you leave and turn them back on when you return.
It might take several minutes for your cable service and wi-fi to reboot, but you have to bring stuff in from the car. And you have been saving electricity and money while you’ve been gone.
It’s better in many ways to cook at home rather than eating out all the time or overindulging in any kind of fast food. It’s also too easy to waste energy in the process. Here are some points to keep in mind for being frugal with electricity in the kitchen:
- Use the smallest suitable appliance. That is, prefer a toaster oven, slow cooker, or air fryer to a regular oven for anything small enough to fit.
- When you need to use the oven, see if you can cook more than one thing at a time that needs the same temperature.
- Some foods, such as pastries, must go directly into a hot oven. Otherwise, don’t preheat the oven.
- Avoid opening the oven door. It will cool the oven and take more electricity to bring it back to temperature.
- On the stove, prefer the small burner unless you need to use a large skillet or soup pot. (If you have a gas stove, make sure the flame doesn’t curl around the bottom of the pot. It wastes gas.)
- Prefer using the microwave to reheat food or boil water. If you need to boil water on the stovetop, put no more than what you need in the pot. It takes extra time and electricity to heat the water you’ll just discard.
- Turn the burner off a minute or two before the food finishes cooking. It will stay hot long enough but not draw any electricity.
Use other appliances mindfully
Of course, you have other electric appliances besides your range. Let’s finish up kitchen appliances and look at saving electricity in the rest of the house.
- Use the oven (and dryer) according to the season. That is, run them in the middle of the afternoon in the winter to help your furnace out. But run them early mornings or evenings when it’s hot out so as not to interfere with your air conditioning.
- Your full-size refrigerator and freezer probably defrost themselves. Mini refrigerators and freezers, on the other hand, are probably not self-defrosting. Defrost them whenever the ice gets as much as a quarter of an inch thick.
- The dishwasher uses less water than hand washing, but of course, it uses electricity. Run it only when it’s full and turn off the heater that dries the dishes. Let them air dry.
- If possible, only run the washing machine with a full load. It probably has settings for smaller loads, which is especially good for people who live alone. These settings will save water but not electricity.
- Wash in cold water. When you use hot water, 90% of the energy goes to heating the water.
- Line-dry your clothes if you can rather than using the dryer.
- Clean the lint trap on your dryer before every load.
- Replace your HVAC filter regularly. Three months is the maximum life for the filter, and you may need to replace it more often. Keep an eye on it.
- Use a ceiling fan. In the summer, the blades should turn counterclockwise and quickly to create a breeze. In the winter, the blade should turn clockwise and slowly to force rising warm air back down. The fan makes the room seem cooler or warmer without changing the actual temperature. So turn it off when no one is in the room.
More ways to be frugal with electricity
Here are some things to keep in mind quite apart from how you use appliances.
- If you need to buy new appliances, always choose models with Energy Star certification.
- Follow all schedules for routine maintenance. Have your furnace and air conditioner inspected annually. Have a professional remove lint from the dryer and vents every couple of years.
- Use a programmable thermostat to control temperature based on time of day and whether anyone is home or not. Use the vacation mode when you’re out of town.
- You can save money on heating and cooling with judicious selection of window treatments.
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Live Green: 52 Steps for a More Sustainable Life / Jen Chillingsworth