Conserving Energy

By Diane Schlindwein

June 20, 2012 4 min read

When you were a teenager, your parents probably not only told you to "turn down that music" but to also turn off the lights when you left a room. You may or may not have listened then, but now as an adult, you really should pay attention to what experts have to say about conserving energy.

"It's amazing what a difference simple behaviors can have on your comfort -- and energy bills -- in your home," says Barbara Buffaloe, sustainability manager for the city of Columbia, Mo. "Just something as simple as opening and shutting curtains or blinds can really affect the temperature in a room."

In the wintertime Buffaloe says it's best to keep the curtains open on the east, south and west sides of your home to allow those rooms to soak up the sun's free solar heat. "At night, you can close those curtains tightly and keep all of that warm air inside to keep the room more comfortable," she says. "Insulated curtains also help because they act as an additional layer of insulation." In the summer you'll want to close the curtains during the day.

Paul Frantz, chief marketing officer of the energy supplier Energy Plus, advises that you "take control of home temperatures." "In winter set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the daytime and 55 degrees before going to sleep -- or when you're away during the day," he says. "During the summer set thermostats to 78 degrees or more."

Frantz also suggests using appliances efficiently. Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 F, while your freezer should be set between zero and 5 F. "Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly," he says. "You can check this by making sure that a dollar bill closed in between the door gaskets is difficult to pull out. If it slides easily between the gaskets, replace them."

The upcoming fall and winter holidays will have you spending more time in the kitchen. Frantz says to avoid "peeking" inside the oven more than necessary. "Check the seal on the oven door and use a microwave oven for cooking or reheating small items," he says.

When meals are finished, use your dishwasher wisely. "Wash only full loads in your dishwasher, using short cycles for all but the dirtiest dishes," he says. "This saves water and the energy used to pump and heat it. Air-drying, if you have the time, can also reduce energy use."

Buffaloe says some appliances even use energy when they are off. Small electronics with LED lights and/or clocks on them are constantly pulling electricity. "The little red light on the DVD player and television doesn't have to be on when you're not watching television," she says. "Even some cellphone chargers pull electricity when no phone is plugged in.

"The energy used by these electronics when not in use is called 'vampire load,' and it's a waste of energy that can add up over the course of a year," she says. Instead, Buffaloe suggests plugging in small electronics and chargers to a power strip that allows you the ease of turning off multiple 'vampire loads' with the click of one switch.

Following last year's warm winter, this year is liable to seem even colder. Buffaloe says to remember to control "the power you have on your own comfort." "Your grandmother was on to something when she said, 'You're cold? Put on a sweater.' Every blanket or layer of clothes adds an additional layer of insulation to your body -- making you more comfortable in your own home or on the go.

"You know that adding more insulation to your attic is good for your home energy bills," Buffaloe concludes. "Put that into practice with adding an additional layer onto your own body and you won't have to turn up the thermostat as high -- and thus heat more space than you're even occupying."

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