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Our energy needs are increasing everyday. The production of energy is unable to match this need due to increasing costs and depleting resources. While breakthroughs in research are helping, the need to be power smart is inevitable.
A regrettable gap exists in the knowledge of energy saving avenues available to us and this post will help in closing that gap a little bit.
Insulation and Air Infiltration
If you have used Kill-a-watt meter to measure how much each electric utility is consuming, you will find space heating and cooling as the biggest culprits.
Insulation and arresting air infiltration can play a major role in efficient heating or cooling. If you are a tenant you may not be able to do much, but you can persuade the house owner to use ENERGY STAR rated windows and other improvements resulting in improved property value. You may still find tips that are applicable to you and follow them to reduce your energy bills.
Windows: Notice how air-conditioned buses’ windows have two panes of glass separated by locked air. These kind of windows are called double-glazed windows and attenuate heat transfer by 50%. In extremely cold regions triple-glazed windows will provide higher savings per installation cost. Install storm windows for single-glazed windows. A cheap and efficient (unless you can’t control the urge to pop the bubbles) solution is bubble-wrapping the windows.
Try using a shrink wrap specifically designed for heat insulation to regulate heat flow during winters.
Cover the exhaust fan in kitchen when it is not in use.
Front Doors: Use storm doors at the entrance in addition to your main door. The storm door prevents drafts entering from entering your door and provides extra layer of heat insulation on top of main door.
Seal Air Leakage: Weatherstrip and chalk all the air leakages around outer door, windows. plumbing fixtures, electric outlets, ceiling, attic hatches, ducts, furnace flues, wall penetration and other areas where air leaks. You can test if the air is leaking on a windy day using an incense stick or smoke pen. Turn off fans and check if the smoke is disoriented by leaking air. You can also find out sir leakages by spotting dirt on air ducts, ceiling as outside air deposits this dirt around the leakage. Use and close tightly fitting dampers while fireplace is not in use (and don’t use fireplace at all; it is the least efficient conventional means of heating your house)
Insulation: If you are living in a house older than 50 years, you should consider insulating the house. Four different types of insulation are popular.
- Rolls and Batts: They are made of fiberglass and rock wool. They are available in widths suitable for standard wall studs and attic/floor joists.
- Loose-fill Blowing insulation: These are fiber pellets that can be sprayed into building cavities and hard to reach fixtures by using air-pressured cans.
- Polyurethane Foam Insulation: Polyurethane based foam can be sprayed into holes or cracks in door frames and windows to prevent air leakage. Use close-celled foam which is designed to let the foam expand and efficiently fill the gaps. High R-value foam insulation can also be used for insulating walls to get more insulation with less thickness.
- Rigid Foam Insulation: These are flat-sheet insulation made of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) coated with reflective lamination on both sides. They are mode effective and expensive compared to fiberglass rolls.
Find out the amount of cost-effective insulation required in your area by using java-based Zip Code Insulation Program: http://www.ornl.gov/~roofs/Zip/ZipHome.html
Attic insulation is important, but you also have to allow free flow of outer air in the attic. The air ventilation helps prevents heat and moisture buildup during summers, reducing energy bills. During winters, prevention of moisture buildup helps prevent wood rot and keeps the deck uniformly cool preventing ice-dams Install Wind baffles (venting chutes, rafter vents) inside the attic at the ceiling joists and rafter bays to ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Insulating the attic floor can help arrest heat transfer.
Ensure that you use fire resistant insulation when insulating around recessed lighting fixtures. To detect heat leakages, you can use an infrared temperature gun.
On average, space heating is the biggest energy expenditure in a household. After having insulated and plugged heat leakages, here are some more ways to save on space heating:
Thermostat: On average, space heating is one of the biggest part of the energy. The most basic step is to keep the thermostat as low as is comfortable during winters. The cold draft from windows will cause the heating system to keep running even though the rest of the room is comfortably warm. Therefore keep the thermostat away from windows.
Get programmable thermostats. Program them to not heat the room up when you are away or asleep and back to warm when you are home or active.
Humidity: Limit the use of exhaust fans during winters. The humidity created by cooking and bathing helps keep the heat indoors. If you bake, leave the oven open after you finish.
Natural Light: Keep the shades on south-facing windows open during the day and the windows clean. Let the sunlight fall on concrete slabs or walls as they are good at absorbing heat.
Heat Pumps: Choose heat pumps as they are the most efficient space heating utilities. The energy efficiency is rated in terms of Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF). An HSPF 10 heat pump is three times more efficient than the most efficient gas furnace.
There are three types of heat pumps available base on the source of heat.
- Water source
- Geothermal or ground source
Ground source heat pumps are the most efficient kinds. They use earth as the heat source during winters and heat sink during summers. They also control the humidity and are sturdy.
It is very important to clean the filters once a month and maintain the heating units as recommended by the manufacturer.
Blackout Curtains: Blackout curtains trap the heat to stay indoors, which saves energy during winters and keeps outside light and heat out, which saves energy during summers. Blackout curtains cost between $20 and $200 depending on the brand.
Electric Blankets: Get an electric blanket or mattress pad along and a comforter. There is no need to heat the entire room when you are asleep. The blanket will take care of the heating needs. Program your space heating thermostat to lower heating levels and turn the heat on about 15 mins before you wake up.
Water heating is the second largest energy usage in a typical household. Shower and washing clothes make up the highest hot water usage.
Measure of Efficiency: The efficiency of water heater is denoted in terms of Energy Factor (EF). Get a water heater with high EF (at least 0.9 for electric unit and at least 0.59 for gas unit). Gas units are more efficient compared to electric ones and compared to the conventional water heaters, heat-pump water heaters are the most efficient. A heat pump transfers heat from one place to another using electricity, with very low operation cost. Heat pumps themselves are expensive to purchase and install, but they pay off in terms of saving. Heat pump based water heaters have a Saving/Investment ratio (SIT) of 5. Which means that, over the lifetiume of the heat pumps, they save money that is worth 5 times their cost.
Conserve Water: Install water saving shower heads and fix leaking faucets and pipes immediately. Do not shave or wash dishes under running water. Take showers instead of baths.
120 F or Lower: CDC recommends that the thermostat on water heater be set at 120 F or lower to prevent scald injuries. If you require hotter water, install a smaller water heater and use that water.
Arrest Heat Loss: Most of the modern water heaters come well insulated. If you are using an old model, consider replacing with a newer one or cover the water tank with an insulting blanket. Keep the heater as close to the point where water usage is highest. Insulate far reaching water pipes.
Clean the tank once every month to remove sediments.
Switch Off: Turn the water heater off when you are off to work and turn it back on sufficiently before you need hot water.
Heat Recovery: Greywater or drain-water heat recovery system absorb the heat from waster hot waster and use that energy to pre-heat cold water. The heat recovery systems are beneficial if the family size is big.
Tankless or Not? Tankless water heaters supply hot water continuously without needing a tank. These kind of water heaters allow simultaneous and successive use on multiple fixtures, which is not possible with a conventional water heater due to recovery time.
Since tankless water heaters are turned on when hot water is required (no requirement to keep the water hot in a tank), they consume less energy. The tankless design makes them compact and therefore can be installed at a lot more locations.
Since they provide never ending hot water, the showers can get longer. The energy saved might be lost due to change in habits with the luxury brought in by tankless water heaters. These water heaters are difficult to install and are expensive compared to conventional water heaters.
If your household already has a gas water heater, stick to tank style gas based water heaters. If you are using an electric water heater, then think of moving to tankless.
Work with drafts: Close the windows and blackout the south-facing windows during the day time. During nights, open the windows and hang damp towels to cool the air before it enters the room. Damp clothes will only work well in dry environment. If you live in a humid location, use swamp coolers.
Place a box fan in a window to pump cool air. A block of ice of frozen water bottle works wonders. If you have another window in the same room place a box fan to push the air out.
Follow the Kangaroos: Kangaroos survive the hot Australian deserts by licking their paws. The saliva cools their blood vessels and helps in lower their body heat. This method is used by a lot of animals, kangaroos in desert example just goes to show its effectiveness.
We can apply the same technique to cool ourselves by placing a cold water bottle or a damp cloth around the neck, armpits and the inside-facing side of the wrists, elbows & knees.
Smart Air Conditioning: If a regular fan or cooler doesn’t work for you and you have to use an AC, ensure that you are using an efficient one. The AC’s efficiency is rated in terms of EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio). Go for ACs with EER of 11 or more. Buy an AC unit that fits your room’s requirement. A bigger unit will perform less efficiently than a smaller properly-sized unit.
The compressor unit should be placed outside under a shaded area. Keep the outdoor units clean by spraying a mild jet of water. Keep the evaporator coils clean with a foamy spray.
Clean the filter regularly. You will notice a big improvement simply by using a clean equipment.
Keep the thermostats away from heat producing devices. This will ensure that the thermostat correctly records the ambient temperature of the room. Set the temperature as high as your comfort allows and use a 7-day programmable thermostat.
Use a fan to direct the cool air from the AC to you instead of lowering the AC temperature.
Attic/Whole House Fan: Invest in a attic fan if you have an attic. The attic fans suck the hot air near the ceiling out. They are very effective in cooling the house down before you turn the AC on.
Trees: Plant deciduous shade tress on the south and west sides of the house. Plant trees like Mesquite, Palo Verde or Desert Willow. They cool the area during summers and shed the leaves during winter, allowing sunlight to fall on the house. Plant evergreen trees on the north side. They will again cool the area during summers and block cold drafts during winters.
Unplug: Some utilities draw energy even though they are turned off to keep themselves ready for activation when they are turned on. The energy drawn by these vampire or phantom utilities causes heat. On one hand energy is wasted and on the other hand extra energy is spent to cool them. Unplug such utilities to reduce energy wastage.
Incandescent light bulbs produce light and heat. The heat produced by these bulbs are a waste of energy and therefore strict norms are being put on incandescent lighting. If you want to stay with incandescent lights, look for energy saver bulbs that meet the new efficiency standards.
CFL: Upgrade your light bulbs to Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). They are a more energy efficient compared to incandescent lights. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use 75% less energy compared to incandescent. Use CFLs only in cases where you use the light for at least 30 mins at a stretch. The life of a CFL largely depends on the number of on/off switching they undergo. Do not use CFLs in bathrooms, closets and hallways because of this reason. Always remember that the CFLs should be disposed off responsibly as they contain traces of mercury (about 1 mg in the newer ones). You can recycle the expired CFLs for free at Home Depot or Lowe’s. Check EPA’s How and Where Can I Recycle CFLs? page for locations. Check if you can buy dimmable CFLs and use them.
LED: Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights are in market which do not suffer the disadvantages of CFL (limitation of switching) and incandescent lights (inefficiency). The current consumer LED lights available in market are either one-volt rated or have a poor heat-sink design—this means that the consumer LED lights have a short life. The commercially available LED lights are expensive and cost five times that of CFL and last only three times longer. LED lights still need improvements to be considered as economically viable option. However, if you do not like the CFL light and are looking for better lighting choose LED lights over incandescent ones. LED don’t flicker, are dimmable, do not emit UV light and have no delays.
- Use small number of high wattage bulbs instead of large number of low wattage bulbs. Example: Using one 50 W bulb will be more efficient compared to two 25 W bulbs. Higher wattage bulbs have more efficient design.
- When using a table lamp, place the table or desk at the corner of the room. The reflection from either walls will reduce the wattage requirement.
- Paste stickers to remind you to save energy and switch the lights off when leaving a room. You may also use sensors to do that automatically.
- Use lighter colors for walls, ceilings, floors and furniture. Lighter colors reflect the light better.
- Use as much daylight as possible, instead of closing windows and curtains. Install solatubes if you prefer privacy.
- Clean lighting fixtures regularly.
- Use light fixtures with reflectors to better use the light emitted.
Computer and Electronics
Turn Off: Some of the electronic equipment do not completely turn off when they are switched off. They draw energy to keep themselves active, so that they switch on immediately. The phantom energy drawn can vary widely depending on the type, size and brand. Connect such equipment to a power strip and when you are not using them turn the power strip off.
There are a few smart power strips which turn off TV peripherals when turn TV off. Similarly there are adjustable power strips which can to tuned to turn off computer peripherals when the computer is turned off. Such are facility not only saves energy, but also prolongs the life of the electronics.
Power Management: Operating Systems for personal computers come with built-in power management options. Activate power-saving modes such as dimming the screen brightness if not active for certain time; sending the computer to sleep (suspend-to-ram) and hibernate (suspend-to-disk) modes after a long duration. Screensavers save screen, not power!
Rechargeable Batteries: Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones wherever possible as they are more cost-effective. Since used batteries are a hazardous waste, using rechargeable ones is more environment friendly.
- Use ENERGY STAR rated computers, peripherals and electronics.
- Clean your computer and its peripherals regularly.
- Plug USB drives, WiFi, Bluetooth and other plug-and-play devices only when required.
- Use laptops, notebooks, tablets or smartphones instead of desktops.
- Switch to using Linux, if you can handle it.
Pressure Cook: Pressure cooking is faster and energy efficient. It saves more than 50% energy. Pressure cooking is possible for food like steamed vegetables, beans, stew, lentils, potatoes, soups, etc that allow moisture. Modern pressure cooker little water as steam, so the food is not water logged and the water-soluble nutrients are not lost. Since food cooks faster now, the need to order outside food is reduced. An added benefit is that the flavors are pushed more inside the food due to high pressure.
If you are new to pressure cooking try reading recipe books specifically written for pressure cooking. hippressurecooking.com is a also a great resource to learn. If you have an Indian lady friend, ask her if she can teach you to pressure cook.
Flat Bottoms: Use pans and pots with flat base. A flat heating surface exposes more area for heating and hence heat transfer is more efficient. Match the pan size with heating element size. Keep the lid on when cooking to trap heat within the container. When cooking with liquids, cook on high flame first until boiling begins. Then let the food to simmer.
Microwaves: Microwave ovens save 50% energy compared to conventional cooking on flames. Cook as much of the meals are possible in a single shot. Most foods can be cooked at the same temperature.
Blue Flames: The gas burners should burn with blue flames. If you see yellow flames, the burner is inefficient.
Big ones need more energy for same amount of food stored: The operating cost of the refrigerator is proportional to the cubic-feet size of the refrigerator whether or not all the space is used. Therefore carefully choose the size of the fridge, as small as possible and just as big as your needs.
Fill up any of the unused fridge space with water bottles even if you don’t need it. Water has very high specific heat, which means that it maintain temperature quite well. If there is power loss, water helps keep the temperature in the fridge down, saving energy and prolonging the fridge’s life.
Replace old refrigerators: Refrigerators last for an average of 12 years. If you are using older refrigerators, replace them with new energy efficient ones. You can check how much energy your old refrigerator is probably consuming here. Use Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator to check if buying a new fridge is indeed cost effective. You will discover that replacing fridges older than 8 years with the new and efficient ones is a cost-effective solution.
When buying a new fridge, check the EnergyGuide label. EnergyGuide gives you how much energy (in KWh) the refrigerator will consume in an year. Choose the new fridge based on the cost of the fridge and the annual cost. Do not forget to look for ENERGY STAR label. Energy star fridges use 12% less energy.
Clean the condenser coils: Dust covered condenser coils degrade the compressor’s efficiency, resulting in increase in energy usage. Clean the coils at least once in 3 months usage a vacuum cleaner.
Check the gasket: The door gaskets air-insulates the fridge from the surrounding environment. Slamming the fridge doors and prolonged usage can cause the gaskets to be ineffective. Place a dollar bill across the door and the frame and close the fridge. If the dollar bill slips with a very gentle pull or drop off on its own, replace the seal with a new one. If you are buying a new fridge, check if it comes with improved insulation.
Cover the Food and Liquids: Uncovered food and liquids will emanate vapors that add to compressor load. This will also prevent the food items or liquids from acquiring undesired taste or smell.
Do not keep the door open for long: Try to remember where you have placed a certain item or always designate places for regular items so that you can quickly access them. The longer the door stays open, the more cool air is let out and the more energy is spent to re-cool.
Don’t place hot or warm food: Hot food will add to the load. Wait until the hot/warm food cools off to room temperature.
Keep the refrigerator away from heat: Fridges are usually placed in the kitchen. Ensure that you place them away from heat sources like oven or dishwasher. Ensure that there is enough space between the fridge and the walls.
Operating Temperature: Keep the fresh food compartment between 37 and 40 degrees; freezer should be at 5 degrees. Keep track of the temperatures by placing a thermometer in a liquid for about 24 hrs.
Chest-type Freezers: If you choose to buy a separate freezer, buy chest-type freezer instead of upright freezer. Since cold air is heavier, when you open the door, the chest-type freezer will lose little cold air compared to upright freezer.
If you are about to replace your refrigerator, evaluate the option of buying a chest-type freezer with a Johnson Controls freezer temperature controller. Johnson Controls override the freezer’s internal thermostat and allows the freezer to stay at fridge temperatures. Since freezers are better insulated and you open the freezer from top, the power usage us lower.
Laundry: Wash using cold water as much as possible. Unless you are dealing with oily or hard to remove stains, cold water is good enough for washing clothes. Ensure that the detergents work with cold water.
Try to wash with a full load. If you have to wash only a small number, use water only as sufficient as required or you can soak the clothes in a 5-gallon bucket with detergent for an hour and use a plunger.
Use front loading washing machines as they use less water and energy compared to the conventional top-load washing machines. Front loading washing machines are more gentle on the clothes. Stay away from cheap front load washing machines as they are more expensive to repair.
If possible, use a clothesline (there are laws preventing this) to dry the clothes. If using a dryer, ensure that the lint screen is clean. Vacuum it after each drying. Use a drier with moisture sensor to automatically turn it off when the clothes are dry.
Dry heavy clothes separately. Place tennis balls while drying to keep them separated, resulting in faster drying. For lighter clothes (or even the heavy ones) dryer balls may be used.
Dish Washing: Dishwasher saves more water than hand washing, and some precautions can help add to this benefit. Wash with a full load.
If your dishwasher has a booster heater, then reduce the temperature setting on the thermostat. Avoid using long wash cycles and “rinse-hold” setting unless the dishes need heavy cleaning.
Clean up the scum in the dishwasher using a de-scaling liquid or tablet. After de-scaling, run a cycle with a handful of salt. Always ensure that rinse-aid compartment is filled with rinse-aid liquid. Look up the dish washer model and check the manufacturers website to find out how to properly clean the dishwasher. Unless you maintain the dishwasher clean, you are not really cleaning your dishes to the best.
If you wash by hand, use two tubs—one to clean and the other to rinse. Don’t wash under running water as it is a waste of water and energy.
Get an energy audit done. Check your energy supplier or local government programs to see if you can get the audit done for free. The energy auditors have special equipment and loads of practical advises to help cut down your energy expenses.
When buying a new product, check if it is ENERGY STAR rated. Always consider two costs—the initial cost of buying and setting it up + the operational cost to make buying decisions.
Install a solar PV panel on the roof top. If you conserve energy you may end up with a negative electric bill!
If you have more suggestions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
An art installation of green plants growing on the wall of the building next to the CaixaForum Madrid — a modern art gallery — In Madrid, Spain. The living wall was created by french botanist Patrick Blanc