Try This!

Efficiency upgrades that make sense
By Brian Sloboda
Try This!

Efficiency upgrades that make sense

Surveys show that only about 15 percent of folks actually take steps to enhance the energy efficiency of their home. In most cases, people feel that energy efficiency improvements are too complicated or too expensive to tackle.

However, there are several simple upgrades you can consider that won't break your household budget. Following are a few:

Lighting

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) may look odd, but more and more homeowners are installing these energy-efficient lights. One CFL uses about 75 percent less energy and can save more than $40 over its lifetime compared to a traditional incandescent lightbulb, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. Some people initially did not like CFLs because of their color or light quality, but CFLs have improved. In most lamps and fixtures, you probably won't notice a difference using a CFL.

Heating and air conditioning

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that heating and air conditioning account for 22 percent of a typical home's annual electric bill. While an air-source heat pump or a geothermal heat pump can be 20 percent to 45 percent more efficient than an existing central heating and cooling system, up-front installation costs are often a barrier.

Simple solutions such as changing air filters when needed will increase airflow to rooms, increase the life of your central heating and cooling unit's motor, and improve air quality. Sealing and insulating ductwork can be done in a weekend and result in energy savings of up to 20 percent.

To lessen the amount of work that heating and cooling systems need to do, it's important to find and fix air leaks in and around your home. Also, simple acts such as cooking outdoors on a hot summer day and drawing curtains closed to block the summer sun will keep the interior of your home cooler and reduce the amount of time your air conditoning units need to operate.

Appliances and electronics

Gadgets and equipment that make life easier are also some of the largest electric users in our homes. When buying a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. Energy Star products will use 10 percent to 15 percent less energy than non-certified items. Some states, including North Carolina, have adopted Energy Star holidays during which sales tax is waived on the purchase of qualifying Energy Star-rated appliances. (Carolina Country magazine publishes information on these when they are held.)

To keep appliances running more efficiently, try these tips:

  • Clean lint traps on dryers and don't over-dry clothes.
  • Replace worn refrigerator door gaskets to stop cool air from seeping out.
  • Clean refrigerator coils and keep refrigerators away from heat-generating appliances such as an oven.

Many home electronics, like computers, TVs, and DVD players, consume power even when turned off. Called "vampire" or "phantom" load, the average home loses 8 percent of its monthly energy consumption to these devices. In fact, a full 75 percent of the power used to run home electronics is consumed when they're turned off, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Plugging these items into a power strip or a smart strip and turning off the strip when not in use remains the best way to stop this loss of energy.

About the Author

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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