Home Energy Diet

January 2011

By Tracy Bauer, Co-Founder, Sustainable Danville Area

Like most people, I tend to declare New Years resolutions that focus on self-improvement: kicking bad habits, living healthier, exercising moderation, learning a new skill, et al. Although when I was paying my record-breaking utility bill last month, I found myself wondering what resolutions my home would declare “if those walls could talk.” This lead me to an epiphany: my home and I both overindulge at the holidays every year, yet I’ve never applied the same self-improving goals for my home that I discipline myself to achieve. Turns out, my house wants to drop a few pounds – errh, I mean kilowatt hours.

Each month the power company sends us a bill, which is also a reminder of how much we enjoy the conveniences and comforts of modern life (to the penny). And every January after the holiday season, that bill gets a bit more bloated (just like we do!)… a reminder of all the home-cooking, party-hosting and channel-surfing that our family did in December. Accordingly to U.S. government’s ENERGY STAR® program:

  • The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills – nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling. American homes consume six times the energy of the world average.
  • Programmable thermostats can save $180/year
  • Air ducting within U.S. homes averages at only about 50-70% efficient
  • Refrigerators with ENERGY STAR labels use 40% less energy than models sold in 2001
  • Incandescent light bulbs only use 10% of the energy they consume to generate light, so 90% is wasted as heat
  • Top-loading washing machines require much more energy than front-loading models

In reflecting upon how proactive I’ve been to make my home “more efficient” in recent years, I now find myself asking, “how can I measure my savings?” And then that’s when my house whispered its New Years resolution from its poorly-insulated ductwork: “I need to go on an energy diet.” Yes of course, why not approach my home energy savings goals like a results-driven weight loss program?

Fortunately there are various “tools” available today that can help anticipate, control and measure energy demand. Just like calorie-counting folks have heart rate monitors, pedometers, food logs, GPS-driven route maps and endless other gadgets to track their health goals, kilowatt-crunching homeowners can utilize wattage meters, weather stations, occupancy sensors and smart power strips. Watt meters can be helpful in gauging the “phantom” power used by electronics in standby mode. Consumer Reports measured the electricity consumed daily by a refrigerator and a computer with both the Kill-A-Watt ($25) and WattsUp ($96) brand meters and confirmed readouts matched those from a calibrated watt meter in their labs.

Another exciting advancement to watch for is in home energy management software for PCs and mobile devices. Until that hits its stride, homeowners in our region who have had their utility meters replaced with PG&E’s SmartMeters can track their nearly real-time energy consumption online. A downside to this technology is that now PG&E can (and does) charge demand-based rates for incremental consumption (rather than calculating total monthly consumption first and then multiplying by tiered rates based on volume). PG&E also offers an outstanding Energy Efficiency Class program that is free to all of its customers. Their Fall 2011 schedule is posted on their website (www.pge.com).

With a few modest efforts, I will be curbing my home’s appetite for power this year (without reducing enjoyment and comfort of my home):

  • Cut off power to devices when not actively in use
  • Eliminate and/or consolidate redundant devices and appliances
  • Switch to more efficient models/technologies that demand less energy
  • Offset unavoidable/fixed demands of power consumption by generating alternative energy sources
  • Keep appliances tuned up
  • Seal leaks throughout to maximize heating and cooling

To learn about how to implement specific changes to lighting, insulation, heating/cooling and water that can save money in your home, don’t miss Sustainable Danville Area’s monthly forum on January 20th (7pm): Ten Ways to Save Energy in 2011 – Energy Resolutions for your Home & Wallet. This session is being hosted at the Danville Public Library. For more information, visit http://www.sustainabledanville.com

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today: