Adopting an energy-efficient lifestyle will not only save you money on your electric and/or gas bills, but it also will help the environment by releasing fewer greenhouse gases and creating less of a demand for non-renewable energy resources, such as coal, petroleum (crude oil), natural gas, and propane.
According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, 84% of energy consumption in the United States comes from fossil fuels and about half of that amount comes from petroleum. The rest of the United States energy consumption comes from nuclear and renewable resources, such as geothermal, solar, and wind.* So what are some ways that we use energy?
The energy we use every day in our homes creates a high demand for energy resources and costs us a lot of money. The Energy Information Administration conducted a survey in 2001 calculating the amount of energy a household spends in a year. The average home spent $1,493 a year on energy.** What areas of energy consumption in the home cause Americans to spend so much money on energy? Seventy-six percent of the energy used in the home is for space heating, appliances, and lighting.
We also use a lot of energy resources for transportation. According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, there were 241,194,000 registered vehicles in the United States in 2005, which is up by 39,664,000 from the 1995 figures. Each time we drive, we release greenhouse gases into the air and use energy to power our vehicles.
If you are curious as to how large of an impact you make on the environment through energy consumption, you can calculate your carbon footprint. Carbon is a good indicator of how much of an impact an individual or household makes on the environment, because it's a major greenhouse gas. Listed below are a few Web sites where you can calculate your or your entire household's carbon footprint:
Carbon Footprint Calculator-Climate Change-BP
Climate Change News and Actions by SafeClimate
An Inconvenient Truth > Carbon Calculator
There are many ways, which range from the inexpensive to the expensive, to lead a more energy-efficient lifestyle and to lower your carbon footprint. Here are some tips:
No-cost ways to be more energy efficient and earth friendly:
- Arrange your furniture to take advantage of the natural light. That way when you read about being energy efficient, you won't need to use artificial light
- Set your refrigerator to 37 degrees and set your freezer to 0 degrees
- Unplug your appliances when not in use. Many appliances have an "instant on" feature that causes the appliances to constantly use electricity. Televisions, DVDs, other electronics that use remotes, microwaves, computers, and other electronics can use between 2 and 10 watts of power when even if it is turned off but still plugged in.
- In the summer, set central air conditioning units as high as is comfortable. You will save between 6 and 8 percent on your electric bill for each degree above 78, but be careful that you do not overheat or become dehydrated during periods of extreme heat.
- In the winter, wear warm sweaters and socks and set your thermostat no higher than 68 degrees and you will be more energy efficient and save money. Do be careful not to set your thermostat too low; if it's too cold for you even when you're dressed appropriate, turn up the thermostat to a comfortable temperature.
- Switch to buying local foods as often as possible. Since food grown locally doesn't need to travel a long way to reach the consumer, less energy is spent in transporting the food.
- Make sure that your car tires are properly inflated. Properly inflated tires improve mileage and are safer to drive on. Many gas stations offer air to fill your tires at no charge.
Inexpensive ways to conserve energy:
- Switch light bulbs inside and outside the home to compact florescent bulbs. Even though compact florescent bulbs are more expensive than traditional light bulbs to purchase, you will end up saving money by not buying as many bulbs throughout the years (they last years longer than traditional bulbs) and they use about 70% less energy than traditional bulbs.
- Use a timer or motion detectors for outdoor lights. With either of these devices, you will only be using lights outdoors when needed.
- Apply door sweeps to the bottom of your exterior doors and weather stripping or caulking your doors and windows. This will prevent the outside air from coming in and your cool or hot air from escaping.
- Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Individuals purchase shares in the farm(s) that are part of the CSA. Instead of receiving cash dividends like a person gets when buying a company's stock, shareholders receive fresh produce.
More expensive (in the short term) ways to conserve energy:
- Add insulation. Insulation will help prevent the flow of heat into or out of your home, thus putting less pressure on your HVAC system to maintain a constant temperature.
- Install ceiling fans. Using ceiling fans in warm weather will use less energy than air conditioning.
- When buying a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR products use less energy than most appliances. ENERGY STAR is a joint effort of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department Energy. They set strict energy guidelines, and people who bought ENERGY STAR appliances avoided greenhouse gas emissions equal to 25 million cars and saved a combined total of $14 billion on utility bills!
- Invest in renewable energy, such as solar power or wind power.
- Install solar panels for energy. While solar systems can cost quite a bit of money at the outset, they can vastly reduce the amount of electricity you will need to use. There are also incentives and rebates offered by many local and state governments for using solar energy. To find out if you qualify for any incentives or rebates, check out www.findsolar.com.
- If you are planning on building a house, consult a green architect. Green architecture maximizes the effect of natural light and uses alternative, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
Some resources available in the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living by Crissy Trask
Provides tips on how to be more energy-efficient in sections "Energy" and "Transportation" in the chapter "Eco-tips for living greener." Also, in Chapter 5, Trask provides a number of online retailers who provide products and services that can help conserve energy.
The Everything Green Living Book: Easy Ways to Conserve Energy, Protect your Family's Health, and Help Save the Environment by Diane Gow McDilda
McDilda offers great information on energy and tips on energy conservation in her chapters "Greening the Grid" and "Transportation." Especially check out the transportation section for information regarding no cost ways to improve gas mileage.
Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth by the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
The editors of E/The Environmental Magazine provide a great guide to living an earth friendly life. Their chapters on food, energy, and transportation give information on current events/legislative/political information, what you can do to help, and resources.
The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish, Green Living by John Dorfman
Dorfman provides a lot of information about being more energy efficient with transportation, energy alternatives, and electronics. He also offers information on investing in mutual funds that pursue the green sector.
Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability by Greg Horn
Horn's chapters "Sustainability in the Home" and "Energy Sustainability-Time for Renewal" offers background information on energy use in the United States and tips on how to use less energy in your home and your life.
Some Web sites with information on energy conservation:
Energy Efficiency: A Consumer Guide to Buying Energy Efficient Products for the Home
A great consumer website that offers information on buying energy efficient appliances, tips on conserving energy in the home, and additional resources for energy conservation.
A government Web site about ENERGY STAR products. It also includes sections on home improvement, buildings and plants, and people building new homes.
U.S. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE): Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
The U.S. Department of Energy provides a great website for home owners and renters on how to improve energy efficiency inside and outside the home. You can also find information on alternative modes of transportation, such as hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles (including electric bicycles), and renewable energy.
*For a table of energy consumption by primary energy source for 1949-2007, see http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/txt/ptb0103.html.
**For more information, see http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/recs/recs2001/ce_pdf/enduse/ce1-61u_hhmem_useind2001.pdf.