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A Young Person's Guide to Energy Conservation

August 9, 2016

Energy has long lost media attention; so we no longer think about ways we use energy and its effect on national policy or our pocketbooks. However, problems of energy supply we deemed a crisis in the 1970’s are still with us.

Energy has long lost media attention; so we no longer think about ways we use energy and its effect on national policy or our pocketbooks.  However, problems of energy supply we deemed a crisis in the 1970’s are still with us.  U. S. warships still protect Persian Gulf supply of Middle East oil which accounts for one-quarter world’s oil production.  Conflicts in North Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine involved energy supply.  Poverty in Sub-Sahara Africa and ever-present medical crisis are due to 70 percent its inhabitants not having access to electricity.

On an individual basis, stringent energy conservation helps postpone future crises and reduce cost of living.  After costs of home mortgages or rent, energy is the greatest expense for the average individual.  

Energy is purchased in forms of gasoline, oil, natural gas, propane, and electricity.  Over one year, a family spends $6000 or more for energy.  In order to achieve significant energy cost savings, one must think about how energy is used and ways to reduce consumption.  The attitude--I want to keep my money and not give it to oil companies or utilities –must be developed.

The use of energy can be broken down into several broad categories—transportation, heating, air conditioning, water use, and miscellaneous.  These categories are listed in decreasing order of expense.  By use of these rules, I reduced energy consumption by one-third of prior use.

TRANSPORTATION

The average home spends more than $3000 annually on gasoline—savings are achieved as follows:

  1. Drive like a brake job cost $100,000.  Every time you use your brakes, you convert gasoline energy into heat which consumes brake linings.  Don’t follow cars closely.  Anticipate traffic lights blocks ahead and coast to stops.  Information about changes in traffic signals is found watching walk-stop flashing signals on traffic lights (when a signal is about to change, signals further down the road are probably red).  Don’t accelerate fast and avoid making quick stops. 
  2. Drive as fast as safe in city driving because efficiencies of motors improve with higher speeds up to 40 miles per hour or more.
  3. Keep your car perfectly tuned.  Determine car’s miles per gallon every time you add gas and if mileage falls, realize some type of maintenance is in order.
  4. Don’t drive!   Walking is good for your health and saves on gas consumption.  It’s foolish driving around parking lots looking for close-in parking spaces.  Park the minute you enter a parking lot and walk to store’s entrances—this also saves on dents from parking between cars.
  5. Use radial tires and make sure proper air pressure is maintained at all times.  Keep a tire gauge and check tire pressure every month.  Don’t forget the spare tire.
  6. Avoid driving during periods of traffic congestion if possible.  Also avoid making senseless shopping trips.   Plan ahead and make several stops on the same trip.
  7. Consider car mileage when purchasing new cars.  Mileage for new and old cars is found at the website “fuel economy.com”.
  8. Use the cheapest gas available in your area.  The price of gasoline at all fuel stations is also found at “fuel economy.com”.
  9. Use air conditioning sparingly because it requires substantial engine power.  However, at high speeds close all windows to reduce air resistance and use air conditioning if needed for comfort.
  10. Help other drivers save on gasoline by letting them make left turns or into traffic flow when exiting from driveways or side streets.

HOME HEATING

Heating accounts for about 40 percent of the energy use for homes with air conditioning and 50 percent of energy use for homes without air conditioning.

  1. Seal all holes leading into homes with caulking.  This stops outside air infiltration and loss of heated air in the winter.  Holes may be found around window frames, door frames, and ceiling beams that extend outside.  This is by far the cheapest means of energy conservation and is quite effective.
  2. Weather strip all exterior doors and windows.
  3. Make sure homes are insulated to Building Code Standards.  For Atlanta, GA the minimum standard is 3 ½ inches of insulation (R-11) in exterior walls and 6 inches of insulation in exterior ceilings (R-19).  I prefer fiberglass batts for insulation because they hold their shape permanently, non-toxic, and cheap.  In addition, I recommend 12 inches insulation for attics.   For older homes without insulation it may be cost prohibitive to install wall insulation; however, attics are usually open and placing 12-inch batts is not expensive if homeowners do the work.
  4. Install storm doors and storm windows.  Because of expense hiring proper installation, this may not be cost effective.  Benefits are great in energy savings and also reducing outside noise.  Keeping drapes closed can accomplish some of the effect of storm windows.  Double pane windows are also effective energy savers.  These are available at reasonable cost from building supply stores and if self-installed the payback period may be only ten years.  I properly installed double pane windows and storm windows giving me triple pane windows that made big heating improvements and almost eliminated outside noise.
  5. Insulate all supply and return ducts in the heating system if they are located in attics or crawl spaces.  In addition, make sure all duct joints are properly taped to prevent leakage.
  6. Clean and replace air filters for blowers on a regular basis.
  7. Heat rooms only in use.  Don’t shut off returns to heating systems; but you can shut off supply ducts as long as they don’t exceed 30 percent of supply lines.
  8. Installing programmable thermostats allows temperature settings dependent upon home use.  Late night temperatures can be set to 60 degrees that allows big savings—for every degree in setback the fuel savings may exceed 2 percent.   Set daytime temperatures according to home occupancy.
  9. During the winter, avoid using exhaust fans in kitchens or bathrooms.  Their use sends hot air outside and brings in cold air from the outside.
  10. Let the sun help heat the house in the winter by opening drapes of south facing windows during daytime.

AIR CONDITIONING

Homes with central air conditioning use 25 to 35 percent of their energy by this means.

  1. Employ items a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h described under home heating.
  2. For central air conditioning systems, clean outside condenser coils every spring because this helps increase air conditioner efficiency by 10 or 20 percent.
  3. Set thermostat temperatures as high as comfortable.  Each degree increase may reduce energy use by 5 percent.
  4. For many states with high air conditioning use, utilities have summer peak demands from 5 to 7 on weekday evenings as homes switch on air conditioners upon return from work.  Utilities are trying to reduce this load by offering variable pricing to discourage electricity use in peak demand periods.  Instead of charging 15 cents per kilowatt-hour for summer electricity, utilities may charge 28 cents per kilowatt-hour from 2-7 p.m. weekdays and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour the rest of the time.   Programmable thermostats are used to lower utility bills by adapting this type of pricing.  Air conditioners are most efficient late at night when outside temperatures are at their lowest.  With programmable thermostats, air conditioners are set for 70 degrees from 11 p.m. until 8 a.m.  For weekdays from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., thermostats are set for 73 degrees, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. thermostat are set for 80 degrees (air conditioner never comes on), and then from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. thermostats are set for 73 degrees.  On weekends thermostats are set for 73 degrees from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.  Don’t use dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and swimming pool pumps during weekday peak hours.  Half the states have residential summer peak pricing programs for which summer electric bills are reduced by 20 percent.
  5. When replacing air conditioners, make sure units are not oversized for the job.  Contractors like to specify one ton of air conditioning for every 500 square feet of living space.  If techniques described in part “a” are employed, you can probably get by with one ton of air conditioning for every 800 square feet of living space.  Smaller unit runs longer and keeps humidity low which adds to comfort.
  6. Make sure there is ventilation in attics.  If attics are properly insulated, attic fans may not be economical in reducing power costs.
  7. In daytimes pull drapes over Southern and Western facing windows.  I placed movable shutters on Western windows that totally block out summer sun and allow winter sun.
  8. Avoid excessive summer use of exhaust fans because they pull outside hot air into houses.  However, use exhaust fans when taking showers because they add to humidity in houses.
  9. Air conditioners are a source of water during droughts.  Water is taken out of the air by cooling coils and pumped outside by a small pump.  For every ton of air conditioning, you may produce 5 gallons of water per day.  This water can be collected and used for watering plants.

WATER

Water is becoming expensive across the country due to shortages and repairs of old water treatment and sewage plants.   In Atlanta, GA the average home uses 6000 gallons per month that costs $138.  Marginal rates for last gallons used are 2.5 cents.  In addition to water costs, there are heating costs for personal use, food services, and clothing.  Water heating can be 10 percent of home energy use.

  1. Use low flow toilets in homes that use1.6 gallons or less.  Toilets built before 1986 are usually 5 gallons per flush or more.  In Atlanta flushing new toilets costs 4 cents; while flushing old toilets may cost more than 12 cents.  The Atlanta water system pays $100 each for replacement of old, high flow toilets. 
  2. If you kill a bug and throw it into the toilet; don’t flush the toilet, it costs too much.
  3. Use water saving shower heads and faucets.  This may cut water heating costs in half.
  4. Use dishwashers because they save on water and make sure they are full upon use.
  5. Use washing machines only when they are full of dirty cloths.
  6. Set thermostat temperature on water heaters to the low setting of 120 degrees.  This reduces heat losses from water heaters and associated plumbing and also reduces chances of scalding from inappropriate application of hot water to humans.
  7. Insulating hot water pipes can save energy; however, cost benefits may be marginal.
  8. Heat losses from gas water heaters are matched to energy outputs of pilot lights.  So standby losses of gas hot water heaters are zero when thermostats are set to the lowest setting of 120 degrees.   Gas water heaters with pilot lights are convenient because they work during power outages.  So forget buying a gas water heater with electronic ignition.
  9. Some electric water heaters are made to operate with heat pumps.  They are very expensive; but reduce energy demand by two-thirds.  If a home requires large amounts of hot water, this type of water heater may be economical; otherwise gas water heating is far cheaper.
  10. In the design of new homes or remodeling, locate kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas that use hot water close to water heaters in order to have short lengths of hot water plumbing.

MISCELLANEOUS ENERGY SAVINGS TIPS

  1. Save on lighting energy use by employing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) or LED bulbs.  These lights reduce energy use by 80 percent or more compared to incandescent light bulbs.  CFLs are sold in home improvement stores for about $10 an eight-pack; while LED bulbs are about $10 each.  IKEA sells two-packs of LED lights for $3.50 and some home improvement stores sell package of LED lights for as low as $2.30 each.  LED lights last many years longer than CFLs and produce a superior light for reading so lower wattage can be used—they are best economical choice.
  2. Buy and use energy savings appliances.  Microwave ovens use far less energy than stoves; so use them at all times when practical.
  3. New stoves and refrigerators are far more energy efficient than models sold ten or more years ago.  When buying gas stoves, consider types without pilot lights and self-cleaning because they are better insulated and use less energy.
  4. Improve efficiencies of refrigerators or freezers by cleaning their condenser coils annually.
  5. Keep refrigerators and freezers full as possible and avoid excessive or prolonged opening doors.
  6. When cooking on stove tops use covered pans to save energy.
  7. Place furniture around interior walls of rooms in order to have increased comfort in both summer and winter.
  8. Cloth’s dryers suck in outside air during operation.   Arrange times of use so they do the least demand on heating or air conditioning systems—dry cloths late afternoons in winter and early mornings in summer.
  9. Turn computers off when not in use for extended periods like overnight.
  10. Flat screen televisions (LCD or LED) use substantially less energy than older models.  LED models use one-quarter the energy of LCD.  If TV sets are used a lot, replacement with LED models may be cost effective.  Turn televisions off when not in use.

Employing these tips can save hundreds to thousands of dollars annually.  Always keep energy in mind during daily activities to have money for savings or other activities.

Author
Professor of Nuclear Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology (ret.), Climate Change and Energy
media@heartland.org