Thursday, March 26, 2015

5 Energy Conservation Myths That Could Be Sabotaging Your Efforts

Energy conservation is an important goal, both because it will help you bring down your electric company bills and because it benefits the planet as a whole. In the U.S., electricity use in 2013 was 13 times greater than in 1950; even with greener electricity generation methods, that consumption has a negative impact on the environment. That’s why it’s so important that we all join in and try to reduce our energy usage. But in your conservation efforts, it’s important you don’t get drawn into some popular myths. Here are five of the most common that need busting:
  • Myth #1: It’s better to leave the light on than turning it on and off several times.It’s often said that it’s best to just leave the light on if you intend to come back to a room in a minute, but there’s no evidence to back that up. Your best shot at reducing consumption is to always get in the habit of turning off the lights when you leave the room.
  • Myth #2: Keeping your thermostat at a constant temperature takes less energy.Since the largest portion of residential electricity use in the U.S. goes to air conditioning (19% of total residential electricity consumption), it makes sense for energy conservation efforts to focus on AC. But you shouldn’t fall for the common myth that it takes more energy to cool a room back down than it does to keep it at a constant temperature. If you’re looking for energy savings, it’s best to only cool a room when you’re actually using it.
  • Myth #3: Turning your heat/AC to the most extreme setting leads to a faster result.Turning your thermostat all the way up or all the way down won’t heat or cool the room any faster or save you any energy. In fact, it’s far more likely to just stay on longer, heating or cooling the room beyond what you need for comfort. That’s why a programmable thermostat is often worth the initial cost.
  • Myth #4: Using hot water from the tap before boiling it saves energy.This myth might intuitively feel true because if you fill a pot with hot tap water before putting it on the stove, it will take a shorter amount of time to boil. But heating water takes energy no matter what. In this case, you’re just moving the task to a different appliance, your water heater, and then running hot water through the pipes so that there’s a greater chance for heat loss and waste. Heating water is actually one of the largest energy expenses in average homes, accounting for between 14 and 18% of utility bills. The most efficient choice is simply boiling cold tap water in a pot with a lid.
  • Myth #5: When you turn your appliances off, they’re off.Even when you hit the off button, your appliances and gadgets are still drawing electrical energy. Depending on the appliance, this might be a very small amount of energy, or it might be a very large amount of energy. You can look back at some of our previous blog posts for more on which household appliances are the worst offenders.
Have you heard any other common energy conservation tips that need fact checking? Join the discussion in the comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What You Should Know About Space Heaters and Energy Savings

With a frigid winter showing no signs of abating, many Americans are probably looking for some energy savings when it comes to their heating costs. One of the easiest ways to find some savings is to have a professional energy audit that can tell you where your home is losing energy -- and what you can do to retain that money. In deregulated markets, homeowners can also consider switching their gas and electricity providers in order to get better rates. You might be surprised to know that the prices of energy aren’t necessarily fixed by generation costs; while in 1995, power generation accounted for approximately two-thirds of what electricity cost, actually generating electrical energy now accounts for less than half of electricity prices, according to the Edison Electric Institute.

But if you’re looking to change your heating habits to garner some energy savings, one very small investment is worth considering: a portable space heater. Here are the pros and cons of such an appliance.

Space Heaters Vs. Central Heating

If you’re looking to save some money, you’ll need to figure out when using a space heater is more efficient than using your home’s central heating system. Almost all central heating is more efficient than space heating in terms of energy consumption versus heat output. However, if you’re using a space heater to heat one small room rather than your whole house, it’s likely you’ll save quite a bit on your overall bill. You should make sure that you’re turning down your thermostat in order to compensate for turning on your space heater; one reason some people see their bills increase with the use of space heating is that they use portable heaters for “comfort heat” on top of their regular heating system.

Choosing the Right Space Heaters

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t currently certify any space heaters as being worthy of the Energy Star label, but you should pay attention to efficiency nonetheless, comparing heat output and power usage for any models you’re considering. There are basically two types of space heaters: convection and radiant. The former rely on circulating heated air around rooms, while latter work because radiant heat moves in straight lines to heat whatever or whoever is in front of it. This means radiant heaters can be a more efficient choice if you’re looking to simply warm yourself up for a short period of time before moving into another space.

Important Safety Considerations

You’ll also want to keep safety in mind, both when choosing a space heater and when using it. You should ensure that you're purchasing a vented heater rated for indoor use, that your heater has an automatic shutoff in case it tips over, and that it carries the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label. It’s very important that you not plug space heaters into extension cords, and that you never leave them on when you’re away from the house. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, space heaters lead to over 25,000 home fires every year, and are responsible for about 300 deaths. Space heaters offer opportunities for savings, but absolutely must be used safely to avoid these tragic outcomes.

Where are you looking for energy savings as the heating season drags on? Share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why Efficiency Must Be Central to Discussions of Energy Conservation

In more than one of our previous blogs, we’ve discussed the concept of energy efficiency and how it can fit into energy conservation efforts. To catch you up, energy efficiency is defined as using less overall energy to provide the same or better services; for individuals consumers, that would mean using all the same conveniences but getting a smaller bill from the electric company. For example, even though refrigerators sold today in the U.S. are 20% larger and 60% cheaper than their counterparts sold in 1975, they use 75% less electrical energy. For this reason, energy efficiency has been called the “fifth fuel” (the other four being coal, petroleum, nuclear power and green energy sources).

But here are the two big questions: What kind of financial and environmental benefits could be derived from energy conservation achieved through the implementation of more efficient products and practices? And if they are so significant, then why don’t more businesses and individuals take advantage of them?

The Impact of Efficiency
New York Times column by David Bornstein published earlier this month provides some useful statistics on the impacts of energy efficiency. Striving for energy efficiency simply by retrofitting buildings in the U.S. could lead to stunning $1 trillion savings over the course of a decade, a study performed jointly by Deutsche Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation found in 2012. And if that figure isn’t convincing enough, the aforementioned study also found that retrofitting could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 10% and stimulate job creation.
Buildings that have already been modified with efficiency in mind are seeing results consistent with those predictions. Initial investments are often paid back within just a few years of lowered energy usage, and (barring the destruction of buildings) the savings continue for many years after the principal is recovered. This means businesses, universities or government entities with large campuses would likely see a better return by improving their own buildings than they would by putting their money into other investments.
Money for the Taking
So why, if retrofitting for energy efficiency could lead to such significant financial and environmental savings, is it not happening on a mass scale? A classic joke relayed by Bornstein illustrates at least part of the problem: Two economists are walking down the street. The more junior of the two sees a $20 bill on the sidewalk and asks his senior colleague if he should pick it up. The experienced economist replies, “Don’t bother. It can’t be real. If it were, someone would have taken it already.”
“The idea that money is available for the taking defies economic logic,” Bornstein explains. “But sometimes it’s true.” And that’s certainly the case when it comes to energy efficiency, both on the large scale discussed in his column and for individual consumers just looking for some modest energy savings each month. Investing in efficiency, even when that simply means replacing an old refrigerator, must be thought of as a vital component in the future of energy conservation -- the numbers bear out that the returns on energy efficiency aren’t too good to be true.

What have you been doing to improve your energy efficiency? Share your thoughts in the comments.