How to Conserve Heat / Electricity / Water


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Contents

Introduction

This is a list that I'm keeping on how to conserve energy and therefore money, adding to it from time to time in the hope that it will be helpful to people. Many of these ideas are common sense and wisdom, others are passed-down knowledge, and a few are the result of my own creative problem solving. ECTION_

Heat

  • Heat only rooms you really use. During the Winter, close off rooms that you don't really need to have heated. Remember that every cubic foot of air takes energy to heat, so you should minimize the volume you're heating.
  • Close off heating ducts for the rooms you're not using. You can buy magnetic covers at hardware stores that provide a better seal than just closing the vent.
  • In an extreme situation like a blizzard when you've lost power, consider occupying and heating only one room.
  • Use small portable heaters instead of central heating. Heat only the areas that matter. The oil-filled electric radiators seem to do a good job, but keep them on the low setting.
  • Use any residual heat in the house to hang wet clothes that need drying, rather than using an electric dryer. On a warm day, hang clothing outside.
  • Check that your water-heater is not over-heating the water, which is wasteful.
  • In some countries, it is common to see small electric water heaters next to sinks and showers that only heat the small amount that you will use. This is more efficient than a larger heater.
  • Use a timer or manual switch to switch off the water-heater during the hours when you are not at home. Some utility companies offer a reduced rate on the stipulation that they install a device that does just that.
  • Save materials during Summer and Autumn for using in a woodstove or fireplace in the Winter. Some good burnable materials include the following.
    • extra pieces of wood from projects
    • wood chips; bark; twigs
    • nut shells: collect them year round.
    • clothing: if it gets ripped, remember, it's flammable.
    • branches -- keep them on a rack outside to dry.
    • stale bread
    • non-glossy junk mail (use for starting the fire)
    • leftover McDonalds french fries (full of flammable oils)
  • If you own your house, remove trees that obscure south-facing windows. Use them as firewood. Plant trees on the north side of your house, to reduce the cooling effect of wind.
  • You can tape a layer of transparent plastic from your local hardware store or Walmart over windows to create an additional layer of insulation over windows.
  • When it's cold out, raise the window shades to let in sunlight to help heat your home. South-facing windows are especially good for this.
  • During the winter, close off north-facing rooms if possible and seal the heating duct vents in those rooms. Occupy the warmer south-facing rooms.
  • You can turn down the heat and wear more layers of clothing when it's cold. Don't be afraid to wrap a blanket around yourself.
  • If you have a woodstove, don't be afraid to use it. If you have a fireplace, consider getting a woodstove instead.
  • If you own your home, consider installing remote-source lighting, which fiber-optic based lighting, which collects light in a reflective dish up on the roof and sends it down a cable to the interior of your house. This is better than a conventional skylight, since you don't have to worry about heat leakage.
    Company 1
    Company 2
  • Insulate your water heater.
  • Put insulating face-plates on your electrical sockets, since these are spots where heat is lost.
  • Do a thermal analysis of your home. While it can be expensive to hire someone to come in with an FLIR (thermal infrared) camera, and of course thermal-infrared camera film is no longer available due to homeland-security paranoia, you might consider using a hand-held infrared thermometer (as used by professional cooks). Take it outside the house during the Winter and look for hot spots e.g. near windows. (Mind you, I have not tried this, but logically it should work.)
  • Find a way to recycle used cooking oil for heating.

Water

  • To conserve toilet water, put bricks in the holding tank, so that less water is used to fill it and therefore less to flush. You can also fill jars with water to the jars' rims and put those in there.
  • To further conserve toilet water, use the motto from summer camp: If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow.
  • To conserve shower water, put an egg timer in the bathroom to make it easier for you to limit your showers to 5 or 10 minutes.

Electricity

  • Get timers for your various electric lights so that they go out when you aren't using them. Or even get the kind that includes a motion sensor.
  • If you're going to spend $$ for coffee, you might as well go and spend it at a warm, well-lit, cafe where you will get:
    • Electricity for your laptop or for a charger.
    • Warmth in winter, which is cheaper than heating your home.
    • Water to keep you hydrated.
    ... All of which you paid for therefore you deserve.
  • Switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescent, but make sure you get the non-mercury containing kind if possible.
  • During the boring Winter months, take time to read a book rather than watching TV, playing video games, or web surfing.
  • Even better than compact fluorescent are the new LED lights, which are costlier but bright enough and they last forever. A 2-watt LED bulb produces the same light as a 30 watt incandescent. At a minimum, replace your single most-used light bulb with LED. Over the long run, they save money.
  • Borrow or buy yourself a Kill-a-Watt meter ($35, and use it to find the most electricity-hogging devices in your home. Then either replace those or don't use them.
  • Unplug unused electronic devices. Many devices draw power even when they are turned off, which sounds odd but it's often true. For instance, any device that can be turned on with a remote control need to be powered up enough so that it can be watching for the signal from the remote. You can use a watt meter to determine the "off" wattage of appliances.
  • Rather than using a clothes dryer, which uses tons of electricity, dry clothing on a rack in the warmest room in your abode. Remember, dryers are a luxury. In many countries, like Germany and China, dryers aren't even used by most of the population. They dry their clothes on racks in the warmest, sunniest room or on clothes-lines outdoors or in sun rooms.
  • If you must use a desktop computer, set the power management and/or screen saver to power off the monitor after a few minutes of disuse.
  • If you notice that some program is keeping your computer running at a high rate of activity, such as Real's stupid player program, uninstall it.
  • If you're not going to use your computer for more than a half-hour, switch it off entirely.
  • If you have a desktop computer, sell it and get a laptop. Desktops use as much as 200 watts including the monitor, whereas laptops use just a fraction of that, e.g. 35-60 watts. If you don't believe me, buy yourself a Kill-o-Watt meter and test it.

Refrigeration

  • Every time you open your fridge's door, cold air escapes, warm air rushes in, and as a consequence energy will be needed to re-cool the air in the fridge. This is wasteful. One simple way to prevent this is to fill any unused space in the fridge with bottles of water. They serve in two ways:
    1. They reduce the volume of air needing recooling.
    2. They cool the air after the door closes.
  • Another way to avoid recooling of air in your fridge is to fool the thermostat. Buy a 3 inch piece of beeswax from your local health food store or beekepper and warm it until it is flexible. Then stick it onto and over the thermostat in the fridge so that the thermostat becomes less sensitive to sudden changes in air temperature. Or check out a commercially available solution here.
  • In the Winter, put some items outside in the snow or ice, instead of in a freezer -- if it gets cold enough.

Recycling and retention

While I've never been a hoarder of materials, in fact I'm more of a minimalist, I do think that if I can recycle or retain some material in order to avoid expending energy and money later to get a new one, that's a great idea. Have an "extras" box in which additional items that you may not use for years to come can be stuffed, or good-quality items that have fallen into disuse.

Some examples:

  • Always buy the "loss leaders" at stores so that you can store up basic, useful things. For instance at Staples once or twice a year you can buy plastic 3-ring binders for 25 cents each. I bought ten.
  • Cardboard packaging such as cereal boxes is very useful. Cut it apart so that the large faces can be used as something to write to-do lists or signage on. It's harder to misplace a piece of cardboard than a scrap of paper.
  • Cut up old shirts to use as rags.
  • Use old socks to collect tennis balls.
  • Use old socks to protect delicate ceramic and glass items during shipment.
  • Reuse old jeans by cutting long strips of denim from the legs, using them to create coverings, blankets, and apparel.

Driving

  • For long highway trips, don't go faster than 55 miles per hour or preferably 50. Wind resistance is 40% stronger at 65 mph than it is at 55. I have gotten as high as 32 mpg highway in my Toyota truck, which normally gets 25 mpg, by going 55 or less.
  • When driving a stick-shift car, i.e. with manual transmission, don't be afraid to take the car out of gear and just coast whenever possible. Your engine's RPMs go way down and your fuel efficiency goes up when coasting.
  • When at a long stop light, if you'll be idle for more than 7 seconds then turn off the engine. Gasoline used at a stop light is basically loss without any gain. (Two exceptions: If it's hot out and you need the air conditioning, or if it's cold and you need to warm up the engine.)
  • Never floor it when going up a hill. Your fuel efficiency goes way down when you do that. In most vehicles (except diesels) remaining in lower gear is also inefficient. So upshift to a higher gear before you have to go uphill and then stay there.
  • Regarding errand-running, if you plan your time and route well, you can save a lot on gasoline, not to mention time.

- The end -

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