Getting Started with Home Efficiency

Getting Started with Home Efficiency

Achieving an energy-efficient household means reducing its energy consumption by using efficient appliances and implementing energy-savings strategies. An example is to swap out incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents (CFs) or LEDs, and boosting insulation levels in your home.

Efficiency works together with conservation—changing your energy-use behaviors (for example, turning off the lights when you leave a room, or dialing the thermostat back to 65°F at night). Apply the basic principles of conservation and efficiency to all of your energy choices, before looking at harnessing renewable energy.

Energy efficiency is always the most affordable and environmentally sound place to start when approaching renewable energy. Experts estimate that for every dollar you spend on efficiency improvements, you can save $3 on your renewable energy project. So where is your money best spent?

A 2009 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory identified seven major household energy uses:

  • Space Heating—29%
  • Space Cooling—17%
  • Water Heating—14%
  • Appliances—13%
  • Lighting—12%
  • Other (stoves, ovens, microwaves, coffee makers, dehumidifiers)—11%
  • Electronics (computers, monitors, DVD players, TVs)—4%

Since space heating and cooling take such big bites out of the energy pie, improving your home’s insulation and reducing air infiltration can be a smart first strategy. Sealing draft-prone areas, the points at which dissimilar building materials converge or the building envelope is penetrated, reduces uncontrolled air infiltration. Combine this with increased insulation, and upgraded window and doors, and you can reduce the amount of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning needed to sustain a comfortable household temperature throughout the year. Passive strategies, such as solar retrofits, movable shading devices, and/or strategically placed landscaping, can also provide energy-saving benefits when it comes to heating and cooling your home.

Some strides have been made in more efficient water heating, including better-insulated tank-style heaters (both gas and electric) and the much newer “hybrid” water heaters that feature heat-pump technology. For retrofit situations, consider adding extra insulation to your pipes and tanks to reduce energy losses. Solar hot water systems can also drastically improve a home’s water-heating efficiency, cutting your water-heating bills by 40% to 80%.

Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and electronics can greatly improve your household’s energy efficiency. From LED lamps to horizontal-axis washing machines, many gains have been made in reducing energy use. Before you start shopping, surf the Energy Star website to find the most efficient appliances that will suit your needs.

Higher-efficiency lighting—mostly in the form of LED lamps—has begun to enter the mainstream, with quality bulbs readily available. Compared to their incandescent counterparts, LED lamps use one-tenth of the energy and last up to 40 times as long. They contain none of the hazardous mercury present in compact fluorescent  (CF) bulbs, but are more expensive than CFs.

Last but not least, you can identify the energy-wasters—known as phantom loads—in your home. Unfortunately, many household electronics—even when “off”—constantly draw energy. Unplugging them, putting them on plug strips that can be switched off, or using dedicated switches can defeat these phantom loads and provide additional energy savings.

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