How to Save Electricity

In 2005, I declared war on the kilowatt. It started as an effort to cut household expenses, but then things got personal. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, a region that earned an “F” from the American Lung Association six years running from 2000 to 2005.

I breathe the consequences of my carbon emissions daily. By the end of 2006, I cut our electrical usage 10% from 23,113 kwh in 2005 to 20,817 kwh in 2006. At the prevailing rates, I saved the household $724.41. Here’s what I did to take those first steps toward personal energy responsibility:

1. Changed every bulb in the house to compact fluorescent. They use 2/3 less energy (about $30 in savings over the life of the bulb), last ten times longer, and generate 75% less heat.

2. Began to use more energy-efficient cooking methods. The average kitchen stove actually pulls more electricity than the air conditioner! I use the microwave, an electric grill, a rice steamer (which is great for all kinds of things including the best corn on the cob you’ve ever eaten), and a slow cooker.

3. Turn the lights off no matter what. The 15 Minute Rule is a myth. You will always save more turning off the light no matter how quickly you plan to return to the room.

4. Use fans in the summer. Fans help the air conditioner to work less and the air flow makes the house more comfortable so you can set the thermostat higher.

5. Tinted the windows that get the most afternoon sun. This was a huge step toward allowing the air conditioner to cool more efficiently. I bought do-it-yourself window film at a big box home improvement store and did the job in an afternoon.

6. Unplugged all vampire devices, especially gadget chargers. Most power cables for laptops and cell phones will continue to pull energy if left plugged in even with the device isn’t. Televisions and audio equipment do the same thing. Just look for that little “standby” light. Plug these items into a single power strip and turn them all off at once when not in use.

7. Watch TV programs on the computer. At one time this would have been a measure for hard-core geeks only, but the ready availability of streaming video over broadband has brought the option within everyone’s reach. Why have the TV and the computer both running?

I won’t lie. It takes discipline to change your electrical behaviors. Most of us were raised to be unconscious power hogs. But over time, the effort will save money and it’s definitely the right thing to do. After years of denial, we have to admit that climate change is here.

By the end of 2007, our household used 17,984 kwh. That’s a decrease of 15% from 2005. It’s an ongoing battle against the elements and the habits of a lifetime, but with simple, basic steps, you can save money and decrease the carbon footprint of your household.