If you’ve never looked at your own energy consumption habits, or if you like the idea of reducing consumption but don’t know how to begin, Paul Scheckel has some manageable starting places to suggest.
Put technology to work for you, but don’t expect technology to do it all. Living with renewable energy is about living within the means that nature provides. Adopt renewable habits, such as “one person, one light,” and simply be aware of all energy being used in your home.
There are times when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, and those are times for conservation. But when nature gives, take advantage of the opportunity for abundance. For example, save your hot-water clothes washes for when the sun can heat the water.
Becoming aware of your energy habits and applying energy-smart strategies can make a big difference in the size and success of your renewable energy system. You can live in the greenest, most efficient dwelling and still use a ton of energy if you have not adopted efficient habits. Here are some tips to help enhance your renewable acumen.
Readiness tip #1: Increase your energy awareness by understanding what’s happening in your house and why.
- Are there lights on that don’t need to be?
- Do appliances have standby loads that always consume power?
- If you have a private water system, do you know when your well pump is on?
- Is the furnace pilot light on in the summer?
- Are the computer’s energy-saving features turned on?
Readiness tip #2: Assess your energy use on every level by doing your own energy audit. For example:
- Look at every outlet; know what’s plugged in and why.
- Learn to read your electric and gas meters and understand where every last Btu or kilowatt-hour is going. Examine a year’s worth of energy bills, look at monthly and seasonal trends, and think about what happens in your home during those periods.
- Try to determine how many fuel units are used for heating, hot water, air conditioning, and other electrical uses.
- Know something about everything in your home that uses energy — when it’s needed and why, how much it uses while operating, and how best to control its operation.
Readiness tip #3: Research products when replacing lights and appliances, and use only the most efficient models you can find. The ENERGY STAR website is a good resource that lists thousands of products and their energy consumption. Plan ahead by researching for future appliance purchases so you know what you want. That way, if an appliance breaks down and you need to replace it right away, you’ll know what to buy and not end up with an energy hog simply because it’s on sale.
Readiness tip #4: Adopt the most efficient practices, preferably those that don’t use any energy at all. These include:
- Hanging clothes to dry on a passive solar clothes dryer (a clothesline)
- Employing passive heating and cooling strategies
- Using solar-heated water
- Watching the cat or the kids (or the neighbors) instead of TV
- Taking advantage of nighttime air to cool your house with open windows and fans, then closing the windows and shades before the air warms in the morning
Readiness tip #5: Control what you can. This might include:
- Keeping the thermostat as low as you can in winter and as high as you can stand it in summer
- Making sure your water heater is set no higher than 120°F
- Installing low-flow showerheads and low-flow aerators on faucets
- Putting appliances with phantom loads [appliances that are appear to be off but are really using a small amount of power] on switched or automatically controlled power strips
- Turning off the water heater if you’re away from home for more than a few days
- Keeping humidity levels under control by removing moisture at its source; if you must use a dehumidifier, pay attention to the relative humidity and do not over-dry the space or dry more space than necessary
- Using timer controls and occupancy sensors for lighting that tends to get left on
- Using switched power strips that allow you to turn things off (such as an entire entertainment system or office peripherals) with ease
Readiness tip #6: Minimize optional or discretionary uses of energy, such as clothes-drying, outdoor lighting, and use of air conditioning when outdoor temperatures are not life-threatening.
Doing Your Homework
As you explore practical renewable energy options that fit your needs, location, climate, and lifestyle, be sure to research state, local, utility, and federal incentives that may be available for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Contact your state energy office and local electric and gas companies about services and incentives, and ask a tax professional about applicable federal tax credits for efficiency upgrades and renewables.
In addition, here are some of my favorite resources that can help you identify incentives and keep you abreast of developments in renewable energy and energy efficiency:
- Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy An online resource for incentives and policy information for renewables and energy efficiency improvements, including initiatives sponsored by states, local governments, utilities, and some federal programs.
- Tax Incentives Assistance Project (TIAP) Developed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, this online resource helps homeowners and businesses make the most of federal income tax incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficient products and technologies.
- Home Power magazine: An excellent resource for all things renewable. Content ranges from homeowner profiles to highly technical details on all aspects of creating and maintaining home energy systems.
- Home Energy magazine: Another good periodical and website devoted to all matters of efficiency. Though it’s geared primarily to the energy professional, interested homeowners will find lots here to chew on.