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How to Conserve Energy at Home

By: Zolton Cohen

Additional Tips for Conserving Electricity

You probably don't even realize it, but an energy thief is inside your home at this very moment. This thief is silent and unseen, and he's picking your pocket. His name is "standby power."

Standby power is the name given to the electricity used to power electrical appliances and devices even when they are turned off. But how can this be? Isn't an appliance "off" when you switch it off? Not necessarily.


Many electronic devices consume electricity 24 hours a day just to stay warmed up for whenever you decide to use them. "Instant on" TV sets are one example. Whether you watch TV seven hours a day or not at all, the TV is always partially on, staying ready to flicker to life the moment you turn on its switch.

Other devices that consume power constantly are those that have external or internal clocks: microwave ovens, computers, VCRs, DVD players, and cable TV and satellite TV boxes. Energy experts estimate that approximately 5 percent of residential electrical power consumption in the United States is used for standby power. That's a lot of power plants running overtime just to keep our electronics warm and ready to go.

Some of the most prevalent standby power devices are the large plug-in transformers that are used to step down power to cordless phones and answering machines.

How much do these various devices consume? Not much; just a few watts, maybe 3 to 5 each. But multiply that number over a 24-hour day, times the 6 to 10 devices in a typical home, and the scope of the savings could be greater than it may seem.

Switch Off Equipment Not in Use

For many years manufacturers had no incentive to increase the energy efficiency of electronic devices that use standby power. After all, they weren't paying anyone's electric bill. But recently, since more efficient devices have appeared on the market, any electronic equipment you purchase new will likely yield an energy improvement over something that has a few years on it.

A good solution to deal with standby power losses in existing equipment is to plug several of the devices into a power strip that has an on/off switch. Power strips are inexpensive and available at home centers and office supply stores. An entire cluster of items can then be shut off -- really shut off -- just by flicking one switch. This works well in areas like home entertainment centers, where a TV, VCR, DVD player, and cable box might already be plugged into one electrical receptacle.

However, if you want to leave some of the devices on -- for instance a VCR, to record while you're away, this scheme won't work. And it isn't worth doing on devices that have a clock feature that you depend on to tell time. But if you think it through and separate out devices that can be switched off entirely without consequence, you might be surprised by the number you can put together on one power strip.

Generally speaking, it's a good idea from an energy-efficiency standpoint to unplug anything electronic that you're not using at that moment. Lamps and toasters aren't electronic and don't draw standby power when they're switched off, but battery chargers, TVs, VCRs, DVD players, computers, and stereo systems do. Why pay for this leaking power if you're not using the item?

Check Settings for Appliances

It is surprising how involved we can get with tweaking and adjusting some things in our lives, yet remain utterly oblivious to others. We may spend hours picking out paint for a dining room, yet be unaware that our refrigerators are running too hot or too cold. That can cost money we don't need to spend and consume electricity that does not need to be wasted.

Refrigerator and freezer temperatures can be set using an accurate thermometer and the easy-to-find controls inside the refrigerator compartment. Set the refrigerator to 36 to 38 degrees, and the freezer to 0 to +5. Anything lower than that is wasted. Food won't last any longer if it is kept at a lower temperature, and some items, like lettuce and other vegetables, can even freeze and be destroyed by lower temperatures in the refrigerator compartment, wasting both food and energy.

If you run a dehumidifier in your home, be aware that most are controlled by a humidistat. A humidistat is to humidity what a thermostat is to temperature. In other words, as the humidity in the area where the dehumidifier is running drops to a certain setpoint, the machine will shut itself off until the humidity rises past that set-point again.

Turning the humidistat to its lowest setting causes the dehumidifier to run constantly, which is wasteful. And because dehumidifiers use quite a bit of electricity, running one as infrequently as possible will benefit your utility bill's bottom line. Finding a humidity level you can live with -- and then setting the humidistat to that level -- will result in the unit running intermittently, which saves energy compared to one that runs continuously.

Maximize Personal Comfort

The adjustment to a cooler house in the winter and a warmer one in the summer can be aided by the use of devices designed to increase personal comfort.

Turning down the house heat and creating your own warmth zone in bed by sleeping under a comforter or an electric blanket saves energy. Small space heaters serve the same purpose in a room setting. If you know you're going to be in one area of the house for a period of time, dialing down the central heating system's thermostat and turning on a space heater in the area where you're located can reduce overall energy consumption during that period. This works well for home offices or entertainment rooms designed for TV or movie watching.

Alternately, in the summer, installing a small room air conditioner in order to cool small areas can reduce your energy bill substantially. Dial up the thermostat in the rest of the house to keep the central air-conditioning system from running so often. The power consumed by a small room air unit is much less than that used by the larger system. This strategy can also be used at night in one or two bedrooms -- provided you can sleep with the noise created by a room air conditioner.

Combining the many simple steps we've outlined can make a dramatic difference in your energy bills. It just takes a small commitment on your part to conserve energy and put a stop to wasteful energy use in your home.

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