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Energy Savers

I thought that our home was damn energy efficient: Energy Star appliances, diligent thermostat control, turning off lights not in use, etc.  My wife and I are pretty well-educated on environmental impacts, too, so I was amazed at all of the “hidden” inefficiencies that turned up when we ordered an energy audit of our home.
By some accounts that I have read, a typical American home wastes as much as half of the energy that it uses in a year due to inefficiencies in the home. That works out to a lot of green leaving your wallet and a lot of CO2 needlessly put into our greenhouse world, so I thought it would be helpful to pass along some energy-saving pointers…

  • Heating and cooling—Heating in the winter and cooling in the summer are the biggest energy suckers in your home, accounting for more than 40% of the average home’s energy use. Here are some of the things to watch for…

    • Older furnaces and air conditioners are usually the culprit, so if you can help it, don’t wait until you have no other choice to upgrade. 
    • Leaking and/or uninsulated ducts also undermine the temperature of air that travels through them. 
    • Cool or heat your home to your ideal temperature only when you are home; consider a thermostat with a timer to more easily manage the ups and downs.
    • While insulation is standard for exterior walls, you should also consider insulating ceilings, floors, attics, crawlspaces, and (as mentioned) around pipes and ducts.
    • Air leaks out of your house from windows and window frames, door frames, baseboards, electrical outlets, fireplaces, and foundations.  Seek out these leaks and seal them.
    • Clean or change your furnace filter at least once a month.  A clogged filter makes your system work harder than it needs to.
  •  Appliances—Refrigeration alone accounts for 8% of energy use in an average home, and all appliances together use about 20%.  A couple of appliance pointers…
    • Keep your fridge and freezer as full as possible; the food helps to retain the cold. 
    • Consider drying your clothes on a rack or an outside line whenever the weather permits.
    • Cook with a toaster or microwave oven when possible; they use less energy than your stove and oven.
    • Perhaps not traditionally thought of as an appliance, but in your home office, turn off computers, monitors, printers, faxes and copiers when they are not in use.
    • When shopping for new appliances, look for the Energy Star-rated models or research Consumer Reports for best energy efficient deals.
  •  Water heating—Delivering hot water to your spigots is the #2 single biggest culprit of energy use in most American homes.  So, make sure that your water heater is set at about 120 degrees (many are set higher temperature than necessary).  Importantly, water-holding tanks should be insulated to retain heat and save energy.
  • Lighting—Not far behind the water heater, turning on the lights is another obvious consideration.  Light and energy are wasted in empty rooms, by using lights that are brighter than you need, by lighting an entire room when only a small part is occupied, and using traditional bulbs rather than the new compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
Depending on the extent, professional audits can cost several hundred dollars.  However, some utilities have discounts for their customers, and in some urban areas, low-income residents can get audits for free.  After all, it saves the energy companies money, too.
Coming soon: New and alternative energy-saving technologies!


One thing that surprised me during my energy audit was a comment about the size of my fridge. The auditor recommended a far-smaller refrigerator (about 10 cu. feet smaller) for my small family. My fridge is about 12 years old and in fairly good condition, so I would think trashing it in favor of something new and super efficient would almost negate the energy savings. If I could sell it, it would probably be worth it, but I just can't see how trashing working appliances is good for the environment.

By some accounts, refrigerators are the biggest singular energy sucker in your home, even if they are full.  But the full accounting of environmental cost includes disposal, so I understand your dilemma.  The sticky part of it is that the long-term cost of disposal (landfill space and haz-mat disposal are considerations come to mind) is a totally separate issue than long-term energy use.  

So, to me, it's almost a situation of "pick your poison" or "which issue are you more concerned about".  Sometimes, being environmentally responsible in one respect causes problems in another.  The burden is always shifted somewhere else.

If you do go the replace/dispose route, be certain to look up EPA's guidelines on disposal: