From Wi-Fi routers to dishwashers to treadmills – energy use at home has skyrocketed over the last 30 years. While ENERGY STAR-rated appliances help to conserve energy, the largest hurdle for homeowners to overcome is changing their energy behaviors.
To help you learn ways to reduce energy consumption (and lower your bill), Host Jeff recently welcomed Tom Turner, Environmental Program Coordinator-Compliance for Austin Energy, onto the vipHome Podcast.
Know your energy habits
“The best solution to saving energy is to change the way we use energy, the way we view energy, and start being aware of our use,” says Tom, who has worked for Austin Energy for more than 15 years. “We are creatures of habit. We get used to a particular thermostat setting at home. No matter where we go, we’re not comfortable unless the thermostat set point is the same.”
Temperature is just one of three general conditions that must be met to afford comfort. Humidity and airflow patterns are two other factors that contribute to the formula for comfort. Paying attention to all three factors will provide a steady comfort level while using less energy.
Another “comfort habit,” is “overdriving thermostats.” This occurs when a homeowner engages in physical activity, such as vacuuming, and becomes overheated from the work.
“We sit down and say, ‘Oh man, I’m burned up,’ and turn the thermostat down three or four degrees,” says Tom. “A drink of water or maybe just a toweling off a little bit would accomplish the same thing.”
With today’s air conditioners, lowering a thermostat two or three degrees can cause a system running at 70 percent capacity to ramp up over 100 percent capacity, wasting large amounts of energy. Later, homeowners may realize they have overcooled the space to uncomfortable levels.
“We need to get out of that habit,” says Tom. “Set it and forget it. That way, you’ll save money on that brand-new system.”
In order to change your energy habits, you must first understand them, which starts by studying your energy bill.
Know your energy bill
Many homeowners don’t understand their electric bill. Austin Energy, which serves almost half a million customers, recommends customers take the time to see where they use the most energy and seek ways to lower their consumption.
“There are a lot of online tools now by the utility,” says Tom. “There’s a lot of YouTubers that are out there that are demonstrating how to read your utility bill and how to educate yourself on what they mean.”
Homeowners should know what their home’s usage should be with regard to square footage.
“The average home uses about 1000 KWH per month, if it’s about 2,000 square feet,” says Tom. “That gives you a rule of thumb to look at your house and know, ‘Am I at 1200 or am I at 800? Am I doing good or am I doing bad?'”
The objective is to get your usage low and keep it low.
To have an accurate assessment, a homeowner should strive to understand what their usage is during “baseline months.” This is the time of the year when homeowners aren’t using their heating and cooling units. In some parts of the country, the baseline months can encompass a whole season.
“That usage gives you a baseline to understand how much energy you’re using without those outside influencers,” says Tom. “It makes you understand how much more energy you’re using with old equipment or an old furnace.”
In Austin, the circumstances are a bit different.
“It’s 40 degrees one day and the furnace is running, and the next day it’s 85 and the AC’s running,” says Tom. “We don’t have a lot of spring and fall. It’s one or the other for us.”
Easy energy saving tips for homeowners
Now that you’re self-aware of your habits and understand your utility use, it’s time to put that knowledge to work. Here are some easy energy saving tips for your home:
Turn off your ceiling fan
“We see houses with ceiling fans running all through the house,” says Tom. “It’s not uncommon to see 10 or 12 ceiling fans in a house, particularly down here in the South. But those ceiling fans do nothing for our comfort when nobody’s in the room.”
While ceiling fans make a home more comfortable with a higher temperature set point, consider investing in occupancy sensors or simply turn the fans off when leaving a room.
Plug in a smart strip
“Smart power strips monitor your use,” says Tom, “and when there’s no demand, they shut the appliance off.”
This helps prevent what are known as phantom loads, ghost loads, vampire loads, etc. – such as cell phone chargers that stay hooked up all day and all night, even when not in use.
“Not only are they drawing small amounts of energy, but they’re producing large amounts of heat back into the space. Every time you can kill that energy, you’re going to kill that demand for cooling.”
Get rid of that old unit
In general technology advancements make purchasing newer appliances cost effective. Whether it is a 15-year-old air conditioner or an older television, most upgrades will pay for itself in energy usage reduction.
“If the refrigerator is 15 years or older, it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” says Tom. “The advancements in insulation and technology make it almost mandatory to change those units out. Models from the 70’s can use five times the energy today’s units use, and energy used by the refrigerator is the number two energy hog in the house, right behind the air conditioner.”
Also, be aware of where you place your appliances. Have a refrigerator or freezer in the garage in the lower half of the country? Not a good idea. The standard residential appliance is not designed to operate in anything less than conditioned spaces, prompting your energy use to rise significantly.
Use smaller appliances when able
Larger appliances like an oven put additional heat in the house. While in wintertime, that may not be a bad thing, but in warmer temperatures, it can become an issue. The oven heats up the house, the set point on the thermostat says it’s too hot, so cooling comes on. This wastes more energy.
“Whenever possible, heat something up with the microwave,” says Tom. “You’re also cutting the time that appliance is running.”
Read the manual
Modern dishwashers use less water, allow for shorter cleaning cycles, and even have switches to allow for air-drying.
“Once you purchase a new appliance, read the information,” says Tom. “The bells and whistles come up, saving you money if you’ll just study that manual a little bit.”
When buying a new appliance
“When it comes to appliances, make sure it has an ENERGY STAR rating,” says Tom. “That’s the big deal.”
Tom also recommends using online tools and reviews when purchasing appliances.
“They’re a good way to research your choices to make sure you’re going to get what you need and what will suit your family,” says Tom.
For more information on energy efficiency programs, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy offer materials online, as should your local utility company. Tom also recommends checking with your local big box stores.
“Some offer 20-minute training sessions that are really beneficial.”
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