November 4, 2009
It is difficult to feel responsible about something that’s relatively cheap, that you can’t see, don’t understand and take for granted. When I realized how ignorant I was about the way things work, I thought of my high school days, when girls had to take Home Economics, and learn to cook and sew, while the boys took Shop, and learned about things like electricity and plumbing. I’ve decided that this is the time in my life for a new kind of Home Economics.
Personal change is not the same as social change—and that’s what we need. Lots of political energy right now is aimed at a large-scale overhaul. But as individuals, we can still make a surprising difference in cutting carbon emissions, starting at home. Read on for some easy ways to save money on your electric bill.
Turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater. We generally make the water much hotter than is necessary; think about how much cold water you have to add to the mix to get a temperature comfortable for your skin. If appropriate, have a timer installed on the hot water heater too; most of us have pretty regular patterns of hot water use and don’t need the heater working all day long.
Wash your clothes in cold water. And use a non-polluting cold-water detergent. It really does work just as well.
Buy a drying rack. Use it in the bathroom for hanging those wet clothes. After the spin cycle on your new front loader, laundry isn’t that wet anyway. I tried using a clothesline but got turned off by the souvenirs left behind by birds. By the way, that lint in your dryer means your clothes are getting thinner. (At least throw it outside for the birds and mice to use in making their nests.)
Shut off your freezer. One day I realized that I had half an appliance running full force for one box of frozen peas and a pint of ice cream. Why? If you don’t depend heavily on frozen foods, shut off the freezer. (And just buy ice next time your friends come for Whiskey Sours.)
Buy more efficient appliances. If your appliances are old—more than 25 years—and you can afford it, the energy savings will be large. Find out about rebates and tax breaks.
Change HVAC filters regularly. Maintain the equipment you have diligently—get to know it, and care for it. Learn your way around your basement. Ask your plumber or your electrician to explain what you have; I’ve found that people are delighted that you are interested enough in their work to want to understand it.
Turn down the heat. Wear those sweaters that are piled up in the closet. And tuck small blankets around your legs when you are curled up with a book.
Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. The quality of light has improved radically in the last few years, so if you gave up on CFLs a while back, try again.
Turn off the lights when you aren’t in a room. And if you can’t get family members to remember, or cooperate, install motion detectors to do the job.
Turn off the lights when you are in a room. Try candlelit family dinners every night. You’ll be astonished at how calming—and bonding—it is. Your children might even use their restaurant voices at home.
Install efficient flow showerheads. You can cut hot water consumption by 40% or more simply by replacing your showerhead. And time your showers. Even more important: time your teenagers’ showers.
Turn everything off when you don’t need it. And watch closely. The single largest new source of electricity use in your home is all the electronic gadgets that don’t turn off, but instead stand by. Plug these into a power strip and turn it off when you’re done for the day.
Insulation, insulation, insulation. If you do one remodeling project this year, inject new insulation into your walls or replace the old stuff in your attic. Why let your precious hot or cool air leak away?
For more tips about how each one of us cans save energy, go to the EPA's Climate Change Action Steps.