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Monday, June 27, 2011

No Impact Man Columbia Week Three-Energy Usage

      In writing about how to reduce my carbon footprint I was not planning on going to the extent that Colin did in his efforts but to try and determine how much impact you could have by more conservative measures.  Energy conservation week ideas proved to be an example of this approach.

     We had already signed up for the BG&E Energy Savers program in which they would install new programmable thermostats that permits BG&E to cycle your air conditioning at peak demand times during the summer.  That is when the power company has the most demand for power and we sometimes get the “brown outs”.  This program is an attempt to limit the use of brown outs.  We had already talked about getting digital thermostats to replace the old sliding lever type that came with our house 33 years ago so this way we got them free.  A yearly credit on your electric bill also comes with program. I also signed up for the new Howard County Energy Audit program that seems to be very popular.
The heating and cooling use is the biggest part of an energy bill.  Thankfully new heat pumps and furnaces are much more efficient that older models.  But you can save considerably by just learning to turn down your thermostat to 68 in the winter and no lower than 78 in the summer.  We take things a little more extreme and set our thermostat at 65 in the winter and 80 in the summer.

            A second attempt to save energy is just the old approach of turning off things that you are not currently using.  We all remember our parents telling us to turn off the lights when we leave a room.  Paying an electric bill helps us do this and most of us go around after kids turning off lights that they leave on.  What our parents didn’t have to pay for was all the things we use that are never really turned off when not in use.  The “ready on” feature of most of our appliances keeps them using electricity even when not on.  TV’s, portable phones, electric toothbrushes and computers are the best examples of these.  We have all become accustomed to having a TV come on instantly than in the past when it took time to “warm up” to come on.  Speaking of TV’s the new plasma TV’s use considerably more power than the older models we have used until recently.  I guess I am probably one of the few people who have not yet bought a plasma TV.

            With the power usage of computers I am very guilty of energy use waste.  I never turn my computer, printer or speakers off.  It just seems to take so long to boot everything up every time you use your computer.  My printer is also my fax machine so turning it off would cause me to not get a fax someone wanted to send me.  I have tried to turn my speakers off and printer off when I don’t need them.

            A few years ago I bought a new freezer and looked for the most energy efficient model.  I found one that had dramatically better energy efficiency than other models.  And the price was right too.  Feeling good about getting a good price on an energy efficient appliance I didn’t realize why I could get these two things together until I had it home and found out that it was a model that wasn’t an automatically defrosting model.  Remember the days of defrosting the freezer?  Well now I experience that every 3 or 4 months.  And since I bought the freezer I feel obligated to be the one to do it.

            In a couple of years we may not be able to find any of the old incandescent light bulbs and will only be able to buy the compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Most people think that the switch to florescent bulbs was the only type that will be allowed but that is not the case.  What is mandated is to only sell bulbs that meet stricter energy use standards and right now only the florescent bulbs meet those standards but there are companies working to see if other types similar to the incandescent bulbs might be able to be developed.  I have been making the shift to the new bulbs gradually over the past few years mostly because of the cost of the bulbs and the fact that you have to get used to the bulbs taking a fraction of a second before they come on.  This week I bought more bulbs to install and was pleased to see the prices have come down considerably, that the newer ones come on quickly and the light is more natural than the old fluorescent. 

       I made reference earlier to the electric toothbrush and this week I noticed how many contrivances we now have that use electricity that we didn’t have 40 or 50 years ago.  What did we do before having electric hair dryers, dishwashers, knives and can openers?  I am not sure our lives have been markedly improved by these contrivances but they all contribute to our use of power.

            The last way I want to mention is usually the second biggest energy user---hot water heaters.  Setting your hot water thermostat to 120 degrees rather than the 140 most are set at works just fine.  Putting an insulating blanket around the hot water heater also helps and when you need a new hot water heater think about installing an on demand” model.
       Next week----meatless week.

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