One of the biggest sources of pollution in the modern world is the production of power, in all its common forms -- electricity to power innumerable home and work appliances, natural gas to heat our homes and run our ovens. The less energy we use, the less need be produced and the smaller the impact on the environment. Of course, as Californians learned in 2001, reducing pollution is only one good reason to conserve energy -- lowering your bills is another! Here are some ways you can lighten your personal contribution to the pollution energy production creates.
Quick improvements to save energy right away
- Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. Each compact fluorescent bulb will keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the air over its lifetime. And while compact fluorescents are initially more expensive than the incandescent bulbs you're used to using, they last ten times as long. What's more, a compact fluorescent will lower your energy bills by about $15 a year, and by more than $60 during its lamp life.
- Turn off inessential lights and appliances. At work and at home, turn off inessential lights and equipment. Set computers, monitors, printers, copiers, and other machines to their energy-saving feature. (If you're running Microsoft Windows 95 or later, go the Control Panel, click on Power Options, and make your selections.) Always turn off the computer and peripherals at the end of the day, and don't leave your computer on for more than an hour if you're going to be away.
- Use your shades and blinds to save energy. In cool weather, close shades and blinds at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows. In warm weather (or when the air conditioner is or will be on), keep them down to keep cool air in.
- Turn down your thermostat and water heater. In the winter, set your thermostat to 68°F or lower when you're home and awake, and lower when you go to bed at night. Also, set the thermostat to 55°F when the house will be empty for several hours.
Set your water heater to between 120°F and 140°F, and remember to set it to its minimum setting when you are away for a few days.
- Use appliances more efficiently. Make sure your oven gasket is tight, and resist the urge to open the oven door to peek -- each opening can reduce the oven temperature 25°F. Preheat only as much as needed, and avoid placing foil on the racks -- your food won't cook as quickly. The same principle applies to your refrigerator. Don't leave the door open longer than you need to, and try not to put piping-hot food inside. Finally, take care to clean the lint filter of your dryer -- doing so will not only make your dryer run safely, it will reduce the amount of energy needed to dry your clothes. Dry only full loads. And don't forget the most energy-efficient way to dry clothes: outside in the sun and air.
Bigger projects for more big savings
- Buy energy-efficient products. Many manufacturers resist making more efficient products because they think consumers won't pay extra for them. Prove them wrong, secure in the knowledge that these appliances will save you money over their lifetimes. When you shop, look for the Energy Star label. Energy Star products typically use 20 percent to 40 percent less energy than standard new products. Of course, if you're buying a new appliance, you're probably replacing a much older one, so the savings will be even more significant. For more information, see the U.S. EPA's Energy Star website, or consult the U.S. DOE's Office of Building Technology energy-efficiency guide for homeowners.
- Weatherize your home or apartment. Drafty homes and apartments allow energy dollars to leak away. Seal and caulk areas where air leaks through. Don't just seal doors and windows, look for other air leaks, such as around plumbing penetrations or ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures.
Also, make sure your home has adequate insulation. Many old homes don't have enough, especially in the attic. You can check the insulation yourself or have it done as part of an energy audit. Energy Star windows can also save energy -- and money -- by reducing heat loss. And, while they're at it, they make your house more comfortable and reduce noise too.
- Check on energy-efficiency incentives and energy ratings. Some utility companies have programs that encourage energy efficiency. Check with your utility to find out if it offers free home energy audits, cash rebates for using energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and lower electric rates for households meeting certain energy-efficiency criteria. Bay Area residents can also take advantage of CHEERS, a California program that performs energy analyses of homes and makes recommendations on savings. Visit their website or call (800) 4-CHEERS.
- Choose renewable energy. Choose an electricity supplier that uses renewable power resources, such as solar, wind, low-impact hydroelectric, or geothermal. Consult the online Power Scorecard developed by NRDC and other groups.
For more information on energy efficiency, go to: