Monday, October 15, 2007

A little conservation goes a long way

I went back up to Connecticut for the weekend. My God, you can tell three boys live in that house now. Most of the furniture was mine, so the house looked pretty docile while I lived there, but now when you walk in you see a hulking entertainment center and the hulking "man table" (coffee table). And there is art all over the place that I can only describe as...appealing to male senses. Ahem.

I can't complain though because they let me do my laundry. I packed my biggest suitcase full of hamper, took the bus to Grand Central and hogged a two-bench for myself. Once I got to E-No, I walked to the house. Nice workout to say the least. P was upset that I didn't call him for a ride from the train station.

Last time I was up, I had made fun of P for having a window A/C unit. He and I argued over their effectiveness vs. central air (which the house has) until I accused him of being wasteful. He'd refused to concede at the time but I must have made a dent. Though the window unit was still in (P is firm that it saves energy...) I noticed the house's light bulbs had been changed to CFLs and they'd finally replaced the old thermostat with a modern, timed unit.

That wasn't it, either. The house plays host to a lot of parties on our awesome deck, so the boys had installed new lights like these that stored solar energy from the day to work at night. That was pretty impressive and now I want a set for my backyard. When I started my laundry I was happy to see that they'd started cleaning the lint trap more often and P said they'd switched to cold water.

In NYC another conservation-killer are the window A/C units. A lot of people are switching to Energy Star units, which is a great start. I also keep my A/C set at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a little less cool but it saves 18% more energy than setting it at 72 degrees, and up to 32% more than setting it at 70. I also use a fan to move the air around, and I kind of wish I had a ceiling fan to help my cause. In college I lived in a house with ceiling fans and learned that turning the fans on counterclockwise can actually push the air back down into a room, helping heating bills in the winter.

It adds up - last winter when I was in the house our heating bills were ridiculous. B and I figured out that our drafty windows were the culprit. The entire front of the house is lined with them and we were losing tons of heat. So we'd sealed them with a $4 kit. That started pushing us into conservation mode. In the bathroom, B had even unplugged his shaver. I was so proud of my boys!

It started making me feel a bit wasteful. Sometimes at night the blue glow from my laptop's power plug illuminates my whole studio. I should probably unplug it. At my last job I helped research a column about how much power technology wastes and learned some crazy stats.

For instance, you know your DVD player that is always on standby? It can push up your energy bill by as much as 8%! Same deal with your TV, your cable box, your window air conditioning unit -- pretty much anything that you can use a remote to turn on. And while it may not make practical sense to unplug these items on a daily basis, if you're going on vacation or even away for the weekend, it helps to unplug them while you're gone.

Then there are things like your cellphone charger, your electric shaver, your hairdryer or your toaster. Even though you may not be using them, if you leave them plugged in they are drawing power; costing you and the energy company money. I try to unplug these things when they aren't in use. The biggest household offender these days are the rechargeable battery, um, chargers. Rechargeable batteries are great, but when you leave the charging unit plugged in that baby continues to suck power from the outlet even if have no batteries in it. It negates the advantage.

All this technological goodness can add 35% to your energy bill over the course of the year. And it adds up - it can add $315 to the average American household bill of $900/year. It's effects roll to everything - the brownouts during the summer, rising gas costs, etc. Even tiny studio dwellers like me can make a difference.

Con-Ed has some great energy-saving tips for city dwellers. Even though summer tends to draw the highest electricity usage, winter brings its own draws from natural gas and oil. At the very least, I turn the lights off when I leave for the day and turn off my A/C. A little goes a long way.

In support of Blog Action Day.

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