Friends asked me recently how to reduce their energy bills. Here are a few basic ideas.
As I write this I wonder how effective it is to know what to do vs. actually doing it. Too often I know what I should do, but for some reason, laziness, ego, or desire for immediate comfort, I don't do the things I know I should do. So, here is the information, it is up to you to overcome your own barriers and act. By the way, when I was the manager of the Solar Office at the California Energy Commission my staff suspected that I was not keen enough on solar energy. Why? Because too often when they tried to sell me a solar project I showed them that users can save five to ten time the potential energy from solar by simple conservation methods that were already available. Don't let the glamour of technology mislead you. Simple solutions are usually more cost-effective and more reliable.
You have to balance these suggestions with the amount of money you want to spent and the level of comfort you wish, but remember, THE MORE ENERGY YOU USE THE MORE YOU POLLUTE OUR LITTLE PLANET. The greenhouse effect is real and it is already impacting our globe. It is not a joke! The US is uniquely bad among advanced countries about admitting and doing anything nationally to reduce the greenhouse effects. Please do your part. Yes, to conserve you will have to reduce your accustomed level of "comfort." Take a few small steps at a time, but do them.
I. Natural gas for heating:
The cost of natural gas to consumers in California increased from 25 cents per therm (100,000 BTU) some 20 years ago to over $1.00 recently, a larger fluctuation than other energy source. Price varies often, low in summer, but conservation always worthwhile. it reduces cost and you feel more comfortable at home. Emotionally too.
0. Add attic insulation if at all possible, at least to R-30 value in non-mountain areas. This is the most cost-effective investment you can make here. Use blown-in, fire-resistant, cellular material in most cases. You could do it yourself, if you are the type, it is quiet easy, but needs two people for some 3 hours typically. Or get several estimates from utility-approved vendors. Always study the requirements/details, even if you are not a technology minded person. If you can not understand the explanation and process, go to another vendor. It may be desirable, in colder climates in California, to add under-floor insulation too (R-13 minimum). Increasing R-value (insulation level) increases the cost only marginally.
1. Reduce the temperature in the house in winter. The higher the temperature the faster it leaks to the outdoor. Dress heavier to compensate for it with long johns, sweaters, etc. Reducing temperature by two degrees equals about 5% saving. Cut temp. at night to 60 degrees max Use automatic thermostat, with seven days programming.
Space heating is the largest energy user, cooking is not significant, water heating is moderate, just cut shower time moderately. Reduce water heater setting to the lowest temperature you wish your water to be. (Dishwashers need 140 degrees for sterilization). Hot water pipes should be insulated when possible. Insulation is low cost, labor needed if difficult access.
2. Shut curtains at night, but better during the day too; use CFL, compact fluorescence lights, it is more economical. Full curtains are effective insulators. They can make noticeable differences in comfort and energy waste. Narrow, multi-sections curtains are useless as insulators.
3. Keep all heat outlets in areas you do not use almost close. Shut the doors of these areas too. They could be your buffer zones. For example, adjust the outlets to reduce heat to bedrooms. You use them basically at night, under good blankets. We use light blankets when we read in our family room since we stay in the same spot for long times.
4. Check all windows for leaks, add strip foam insulation (typically 1/4 inch wide and 3/8 thick, one side is backed by light glue, so they are self-gluing, and easy to remove or redo) where needed.
5. We recently installed plastic-frames dual glazed windows, mostly to reduce noise. They are not economically justified, in mild climates, but they do provide more insulation and more stable room temperatures. The cost, after 4 estimates, was $4,000 for 6 windows and one patio door (higher now). Good quality, but not the highest possible energy saving since the increase in cost was way beyond the small increase in performance. No need for triple gazed windows in central CA.
6. Replace old gas furnaces if you use a lot of gas and your unit is older than 20 years, or start to have trouble. Older units are in the order of 50% efficient, new ones can have up to 95% efficiency! (80% units, 2 stage units are more cost-effective). Note that the air duct system is likely to leak with time. Utilities often provide nearly full rebates ($75) for checking the leaks, and list of approved shops. Do not use duct tape to seal ducts. Use special tapes for this purpose.
7. Wood stoves may provide cheaper heat, but they do pollute the environment significantly, even good units. Don't use.
8. Ventilate the steam out of your shower and bath into the house, it will overcome the air dryness and heat the air. Leave the warm water of a bath in place until cooled, then drain. A lot of heat in bath water which can warm the vicinity.
1. The obvious things are: shut unneeded lights, and any other appliance, especially TV, bring lights down closer to the place you need them, illumination is reduced significantly with distance. You can reduce the lamp wattage by bringing the lights closer to its use.
2. Replace standard lights with compact florescent lamps in areas you leave lights longer, kitchen, garage, outdoors, and hallways.
3. Shut off computers if not used for over an hour, or put on standby.
4. Do not use "torch lights" they are dangerous and waste a lot of electricity. Get used to dimmer environment rather then bright reflective (ceiling) lights. Direct lighting is much more cost-effective.
5. When buying electrical appliances look for the highest efficiency units. Check, but often they will pay back their higher costs with energy savings during their lifetimes, but not always! (Estimate, using ten years as life expectancy.)
6. Do not buy solar systems to heat your water or home! Prices, even with rebates, are way over priced. Your actual energy use is not significant if you use low water shower heads and do not waste hot water. It takes 50 years to payback.
7. Do not buy photovoltaic systems to generate electricity. They are extremely inefficient and not cost effective. Even with many rebates they are a waste. Better spent your money to cut your energy use then encourage ineffective, high technology wasteful solutions. The hype around them is unjustified. Put your money into conservation/weatherization.
Note: Hire a reputable, recommended, energy conservation/weatherization expert if you are serious about saving energy and are willing to spend significant money for it. Good ones will save you much more money then their consultation costs. Read utility's literature and other books on energy efficiency for your home. Financial support typically available.
III. Your car:
We all know that:
1. Buying more energy efficient cars with high reliability, such as some Honda or Toyota models, will cut gas use and reduce pollution significantly. Honda is especially advanced in reducing pollution, and having high reliability. The low-energy hybrid cars by Honda and Toyota are excellent for normal driving; very small cars are less comfortable for long distances. There is a premium price of some $4,000 to 5,000 comparable to similar-size standard gasoline engines. Also, use regular gasoline, most cars do not need higher-octane and it does not improve mileage or protect your engine.
2. Don't idle a cold engine; they get warmer faster by driving for 2 to 4 minutes at moderate speed. Idling takes much longer to heat the engine since there is little energy expanded by an idle engine.
3. Change oil at intervals, and other maintenance, specified by the carmaker, NOT THE DEALER! Typically 7500 miles, or every six months. Even if you do not use the car the oil still deteriorates. It is a small cost to change oil. Note! Dealers usually recommend much unneeded maintenance that the manufacturer never asked for. Use the regular maintenance schedule, not the "special-operating conditions". It is rarely needed. Keep records. Do not neglect longer-term maintenance required, they can be critical. such as transmission oil change and timing belts change, typically every 90,000 miles. Often for a acceptable increase in cost (less than $100) during timing belt change you can also change the water pump.
4. Keep tire pressure at 32 for most uses, measured cold after less than one mile of driving. Otherwise, fill to 35 and re-measure in the morning. Fill spare tire as needed at every six month. Keep three flares, readily accessible, and tire replacement tools. Have a set of battery-start cables: 12 feet, heavy gage, not larger than number 6 wires. (No. 4 is superior).
5. Take driving refresher course every 5 years. You will be surprised how much you forgot.
In the last 20 years car paints are covered by a layer of protective clear plastic (since paints are now soft due to pollution requirements). Without this layer the paint deteriorates fast. Repair your clear plastic scratches, or your paint will deteriorate fast and the plastic layer breaks further.
WELL MAINTAINED CARS CAN LAST OVER 200,000 MILES.
Replace car if heavy gas user. Pollute the air, sends our money to our opponents, and increase global warming.
Matania Ginosar, Dr. of Environmental Science & Electrical Engineer.
Emphasis: cost-effective alternative energies.
original March, 2001. Updated 11/09