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Get Schooled on Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency 101

By Leigh Hanlon, Tribune Brand Publishing

Energy Efficiency

“Are you coming in or staying out?  Don’t just stand there! Make up your mind!”

Remember that admonition from childhood as you straddled the open door while air-conditioned air rushed past you and into the steamy Florida summer? Too many consumers are complacent about electricity, assuming that whenever they flip a switch or touch a button, this valuable resource is at their command.

Electricity is indeed at our beck and call, but it’s still important to use it wisely, because with great power consumption comes great monthly utility bills. That’s why we can all benefit from a quick course in energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency” involves embracing new technologies and new attitudes that can reduce waste and lower your utility costs. Are you ready? Class is now in session...

Technology

Smart meters — These state-of-the-art metering systems are combined with web-based tools or devices provided by OUC or your local utility that can be installed in your home. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that smart meters can display your home energy use, help you save energy and money, and even allow you to  adjust your thermostat or turn appliances on and off from your computer or smartphone. Check with your local utility to find out what’s available in your service area.

Lighting — “Lighting tends to be low-hanging fruit for saving energy,” says Kevin Burns, Orlando Utilities Commission’s conservation manager. Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs last about 10 times longer, use about one-fourth the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs, and pay for themselves in energy savings in less than nine months, the Energy Department says. Many LED bulbs use only about 25percent of the energy and can last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Some are dimmable or offer convenient features such as daylight and motion sensors — a few can even be controlled from your smartphone over Wi-Fi or via the Internet.

As with anything, cost is a factor,” Burns explains. “Wattage to wattage, CFL and LED bulbs are similar. LED can give you greater control, but at a higher initial cost.”

Programmable thermostat — According to the Alliance to Save Energy, upgrading your thermostat to a newer programmable model can save you up to 10 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Occupancy sensors — Install switch plate occupancy sensors that automatically turn  lights on  when people are present and off when they leave the room.

Energy Star appliances — The federal government’s Energy Star program independently certifies products that save energy without sacrificing features or functionality. Savings can be significant with appliances such as clothes washers and dryers, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, which traditionally consume the lion’s share of a household’s utility budget. OUC’s Burns says Energy Star appliances “are an especially good idea.”

Attitude Adjustment

Spend a little to save a lot — The U.S. Small Business Administration suggests signing up for an annual maintenance contract so that your heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems are kept in tip-top shape. “Even a new Energy Star-qualified HVAC system will decline in performance without regular maintenance,” the SBA advises.

Be a fan boy (or fan girl) — Think of when you can spare the air conditioner. Sometimes, a simple, low-energy ceiling fan can move enough air to cool you down and make life bearable.

Seasonal savings — Everybody knows that setting a thermostat to 68 degrees or slightly lower can translate into wintertime energy savings. But it’s a good idea to make a similar change during summer, when cooling your home can amount to almost half of your power consumption. Try setting the thermostat to 78 degrees. This small tweak can lead to big savings.

Turn off all lights, appliances and electronics when not in use — Of course, you’ll want to keep refrigerators and freezers on, but other appliances and electronics do not need to be consuming electricity when idle. The SBA says that contrary to popular belief, most equipment does NOT last longer if it’s never turned off. In fact, many appliances continue to consume a small amount of electricity even when switched off — TVs, stereos, computers and kitchen appliances are the usual suspects. According to the SBA, 75percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are switched off. Suggestion: Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use or plug them into a power strip that you can switch off when necessary

Wash clothes in cold water and hang them to dry — According to the Alliance to Save Energy, heating the water in your washing machine accounts for 90 percent of the energy used to wash that load. Energy Star guidelines estimate that the average household can save $30 to $40 a year by washing their clothes in cold water. The DOE also suggests waiting to wash until you have a full load — and think about saving 100 percent of the cost of drying your clothes by hanging them up to dry.