Energy Efficiency

By Catherine McNulty

May 6, 2014 4 min read

We're on the grid now more than ever, whether we like it or not. Almost everything you own needs electricity — your devices, your appliances and possibly even your car. Using this much power to keep everything charged and running can leave you with a sky-high bill, and it's bad for the environment. So what should you do?

Fortunately, there are several easy solutions. There are radical things you can do to overhaul your life, but start small and work your way up to the big changes.

First, you should turn off and unplug anything you can when it is not in use. Yes, your fridge needs to remain on, but not your computer. Even if you shut it off after using it, it will be sipping electricity if it's plugged in. The same principle also applies to other items, like your television and DVD/Blu-Ray player. What about your phone charger? Do you leave it plugged in all the time? Why? Even though it might be easiest to leave power cords in outlets, the extra few seconds it takes to plug them in before using your computer or charging your phone is worth it.

Second, try using electronics during nonpeak hours. Did you know it isn't always about how much electricity you use, but when you use it? Yes, electricity prices increase as demand does. Of course, this doesn't mean you should restrict watching TV to between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., but consider doing your laundry first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed. Peak hours for home use is usually from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Third, don't forget small changes make a difference. Sometimes it can be hard to justify paying double the amount of money for an energy-efficient light bulb. But paying more up front will save you much more in the long run. Not only do the lights last longer but they use less electricity, too.

Turning off the lights when you leave a room and adjusting your thermostat when no one is home will also add up to big savings. If you have a small child -- or a forgetful adult -- in the house, consider using motion sensors for lights so they automatically turn off if no one is in the room. Put timers on your outside lights so they automatically come on when it gets dark and go off when it is light.

Fourth, if you can afford it, switch to energy-efficient appliances. They're investments, but they will end up saving you money. Technology has advanced so much in so little time that even appliances that are only 10 years old are less efficient than what is on the market now. Look for the Energy Star government-certified label on appliances. Not only will you save money on your power bill, but you might even qualify for tax credits from the purchases. Be sure to save receipts for tax time.

Also, with your appliances, consider how much you use them. Wash only full loads of laundry and dishes, as anything less would be a waste of power and water. And do you live in a sunny area? Why not get a clothesline and air-dry your clothes instead of using a dryer? The fresh air scent will be genuine instead of manufactured. Do you bake or cook a lot? Schedule a day in the week when you do that week's cooking and baking. Running your oven for several hours one day a week is more efficient than running it for an hour every day of the week.

Finally, harness the elements around you. If you live in an area that receives a lot of sunlight, consider installing solar panels. Like almost everything else on this list, the initial cost will be steep, but the savings will add up quickly. Solar panels can add value to your home and are assets when trying to sell it. Do you live in a windy area and have some space in your yard? Install a small wind turbine.

Don't forget to contact your local power company to see what efforts they're making to be more ecologically aware. Often companies won't change unless consumers demand they do.

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