Energy-Saving Tips


Put Your Computer to Sleep March 29, 2010: Learn to love your computer's power management tools, which include automatically turning off the monitor, turning off the hard drives, and putting the entire system into "sleep" or "hibernate" mode (preferably after half an hour of inactivity). Microsoft says that "hibernate" mode keeps monitors sipping just 5 watts of energy and the PC just 2.3 watts, or almost as good as shutting the computer down. The U.S. Department of Energy still urges complete shutdown at night or when you're away for long periods, if you're counting every watt. But the convenience of keeping the computer in "hibernate" is almost as good if you don't want to endure a lengthy startup in the morning. Either way, you save as much as $90 a year in power costs compared to a PC left on with a 3-D screen saver running. Source: Microsoft Small Business Center, U.S. Department of Energy

Dim Your Computer Monitor

March 27, 2010: First, take a look at turning down the brightness setting on your monitor — the brightest setting consumes twice the power used by the dimmest setting. Just make sure you can still view the computer screen well.

Still hooked on the entertaining 3-D screensavers? Ditch them. Screensavers don't benefit modern computer screens at all, and they consume more energy than having the monitor blank. You can manually switch off the monitor, or take the easier route and set the monitor to automatically shut down after a certain time period.

Finally, strongly consider replacing that aging, bulky CRT monitor for your desktop with a flat LCD screen that consumes anywhere from a half to a third less energy than the average CRT. If you own a laptop rather than a desktop, you're already a bit ahead in the energy-saving game.

Source: Climate Savers Computing

Cold Weather Window Tips

March 26, 2010: Windows let in welcome sunlight and some solar heating, but can also account for 10 percent to 25 percent of heating bills during the cold months. Replacing single-pane windows with new double-pane windows can work wonders for preventing heat from escaping, and especially if you select windows that are gas filled with low emissivity (low-e) coatings to cut back on heat loss. Make sure that the new windows have a low U-factor -- that means better insulation.

If replacing your windows isn't an option, there are other steps that can help. Seal heavy-duty clear plastic sheets on a frame, or tape clear plastic film to the inside of window frames during the winter season. Tight-fitting, insulating window shades may also serve as a backup for drafty windows. But don't forget to check with local utilities for possible rebates on window replacement, if cost is holding you back.

Interior or exterior storm windows can also reduce heat loss by 25 percent to 50 percent, but make sure they have weatherstripping at the movable joints, and have interlocking or overlapping joints.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Warm Weather Window Tips

March 26, 2010: Double-pane windows can also help homes in warmer climates, if homeowners select spectrally selective coatings on the glass that reduce heating from sunlight. Check for a low SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient) on new windows, because lower means the window lets in less solar heat.

Sun-control or similar reflective films on south-facing windows can reduce solar heating in U.S. homes. Installing awnings on the south- and west- facing windows may similarly reduce the heat.

Even white window shades, drapes or blinds can help reflect heat away from the house. Just remember to keep south- and west-facing window curtains closed during the day.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

March 25, 2010: Try using cold water for wash cycles, unless there are greasy stains on clothing. Keep in mind that lowest washer settings can use just half as much water as the highest settings. A hot water wash with warm rinse costs 5 to 10 times more than a cold wash and rinse, as far as energy costs go. Most people tend to under-load their washer or dryer, and especially with conventional top loaders. You can typically save energy by running one large load rather than two medium loads. Take advantage of auto-dry settings for dryers that have them. Over-drying can not only waste energy, but also lead to static electricity buildup and shorten the life of clothes. If air-drying by hanging your clothes isn't an option, try cutting down dryer time by drying similar fabrics together. You can also dry many loads one after the other in order to take advantage of residual heat. Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Check For the Energy Star Label March 24, 2010: About 70 percent to 90 percent of energy used by a washing machine goes towards heating the water, so washers that use less hot water also use less energy. Check for the ENERGY STAR label for more energy-efficient washers. Dryers don't fall under ENERGY STAR because they all use roughly the same energy.

Front-loading washers are typically much more efficient than the more common top-loading washers, because front-loaders don't usually fill the tub entirely with water. New top-loading designers that wet clothes with sprayers from above can also save on energy and water, but may not clean as effectively. Conventional washers use about 40 gallons of water per wash cycle, but large resource-efficient models may use less than 25 gallons per cycle. Small and medium-sized models may use less than 10 gallons. Most new machines have electronic controls that automatically adjust water level according to load. If you happen to be considering a machine without such controls, get a model that at least allows you to select lower water levels for smaller loads. Faster is better for washer and dryer spin speeds. Faster washer spin speeds squeeze out water better and cut down on the energy needed for drying -- such water extraction is also more efficient than using heat for drying. Front-loading washers and new efficient top-loading machines also spin faster than regular top-loaders. Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Cook Smart March 22, 2010: Figure out just what you need to cook a meal, depending on the size and appliances available. It's a bit of a no-brainer that a toaster oven will save energy versus using a regular oven, but you might also consider using the right-sized pots or pans for the burners on an electric cooktop -- a 6 inch pan on an 8 inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the burner heat. Buy sturdy, flat-bottomed cookware that has only a slightly concave bottom. Heating expands the metal and flattens out the bottom, but a warped-bottom pan may not flatten out entirely and could waste up to 50 percent more cooking heat. Make sure to keep the burner pans clean, too, because blackened burner pans absorb heat and reduce energy efficiency. Microwaves often represent the most energy-efficient cooking method for smaller meals, and can cut energy use by two thirds compared to conventional ovens. But as always, balance out your energy-efficient cooking methods against food quality -- cooking is a relatively small part of your energy bill. Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Go Fluorescent March 20, 2010: Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can save you about 50 percent on lighting costs compared to incandescent light bulbs, because CFLs use just one-fourth the energy and last up to 10 times longer. Use them in portable table and floor lamps. Fluorescent light fixtures can also work for ceiling- and wall-mounted fixtures that are typically on for more than 2 hours each day. Larger 4-foot fluorescent fixtures with reflective backing and electronic ballasts will help in the workroom, garage, and laundry areas. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy

Use the Daylight

March 17, 2010: Saving energy often means knowing when to turn off the lights. Take advantage of daylight by using light-colored, loose-weave curtains that let in natural light through the windows. Decorating with lighter colors also helps reflect and maximize daylight inside a room. Installing an energy-efficient skylight in the ceiling can also maximize daylight and warmth, as well as cut down on heating, cooling and lighting costs. Just don't forget to turn off incandescent light bulbs in unused rooms, too. Fluorescent lights should also be turned off if you're going to be away for 15 minutes or more.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy

Wash Dishes Thoughtfully

March 11, 2010: A properly run dishwasher requires 37 percent less hot water to clean a load of dishes, compared to washing dishes by hand. That's especially true for the highly efficient ENERGY STAR dishwashers.

But careful hand-washing still can use just half as much washer as a conventional dishwasher, as long as you don't let the hot water run continuously.

Fill up two basins or sinks —one for washing and one for rinsing — and then get the family or friends to pitch in. Use a sudsy sponge for the washing basin to clean everything off, and then transfer to the rinsing basin.

SOURCE: California Energy Commission

Run Your Dishwasher Properly March 8, 2010: Many dishwashers have internal heating elements that allow you to keep your household water heater at a lower temperature, so check your dishwasher manual.

Don't waste time soaking or prewashing dishes going into the dishwasher unless there's food stuck on the dishes, and try to scrape rather than rinse to avoid wasting more hot water. Stick to the energy-saving dishwasher cycles whenever possible, and choose the air dry or overnight dry settings if available — the latter step alone may save 10 percent of your dishwashing energy costs. Try to run the dishwasher only when full, but don't overload. And finally, check for an ENERGY STAR label when buying a dishwasher to save on both water and energy SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy and California Energy Commission

Keep the Cold Out

March 4, 2010: A flipside staying warm involves turning your home into an insulated cocoon.

Check window frames for cracks and use silicon-based caulk to fill them. Putty-like rope caulk can help line the larger cracks and save up to 5 percent on your energy bill. Don't neglect doors leading outside, either — a one-eighth-inch gap around a door is equivalent to a 6-inch-square hole in the side of your house. If you can see the light of a flashlight on the other side of the door shining through the cracks, seal them. If you can pull a piece of paper out from between the closed door and frame without tearing it, weatherstrip around the door.

Homeowners in the U.S. should keep the draperies and shades on the south-facing windows open during the day to let in sunlight, and closed at night to help hold back the chill.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy/PNM

Turn Down the Heat

Feb. 28, 2010: This commonsense step yields some of the best energy-saving results during the winter months.

Lowering the thermostat by just one degree Fahrenheit can cut energy use by 3 percent. A one degree drop in the 60-degree to 70-degree range may lower heating costs by as much as 5 percent. Get in the habit of setting programmable thermostats to about 10 degrees lower during the day when no one is at home, or at night when everyone has fallen asleep, and you could slash the heating bill by 10 percent.

A humidifier can also add moisture to the dry air and keep you comfortable despite the lower temperatures, but keep the sweater and thick socks handy.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy/PNM

Keep the Car Streamlined and Clean Feb. 26, 2010: Pack the inside of a car and use roof racks sparingly, because a loaded roof rack may reduce your fuel economy by as much as 5 percent. Regular car maintenance can also work wonders for squeezing more mileage out of both old and new vehicles. Replacing clogged air filters could boost gas mileage by 10 percent, and keeping tires properly inflated and aligned may provide another 3.3 percent increase. And don't forget to use the grade of motor oil recommended by your car manufacturer, lest you drop your gas mileage by 1 or 2 percent. Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Don't Drive Like a Maniac

Feb. 19, 2010: Road rage and impatience can occasionally take even the best of us, but don't give in to the energy-hogging monster within you.

Aggressive acceleration, speeding and hard braking at traffic lights or stop signs can cost you 33 percent in highway gas mileage or 5 percent in city mileage. Driving above 60 mph also drops gas mileage like a rock. On the other hand, just 30 seconds of engine idling on winter days is usually sufficient.

Know how much mileage idling gets you? Zero miles per gallon.

Jeremy Hsu
Jeremy has written for publications such as Popular Science, Scientific American Mind and Reader's Digest Asia. He obtained his masters degree in science journalism from New York University, and completed his undergraduate education in the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania.