As the “back to school” season reaches full tilt in St. Lawrence County, students and their families are being urged to consider energy efficiency and safety as a way to better improve one’s living space.
Whether living in a dormitory or apartment, the lesson from electricity distributor National Grid is that applying energy conservation and safety measures can be both simple and cost effective, according to.
If you are shopping for a new computer, you might to select one with an Energy Star rating to save both energy and money in the long term. Energy Star computers are up to 70 percent more efficient than their un-rated counterparts. A list of participating manufacturers and models can be found at www.energystar.gov. Choosing a laptop or a tablet rather than a desktop model can save you as much as $40 per year, and can increase efficiency by up to 85 percent.
Below are additional energy efficient tips to help people select the best back to school products and reduce energy consumption throughout the year:
• Consider investing in a ‘Smart Strip’ that allows you to leave power flowing through selected items such as computers or DVRs, but powers down everything else while not in use, preventing energy loss.
• Switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. For each standard incandescent bulb you replace with a CFL or LED, you can save $10 or more on your electric costs over the life of the bulb. You get more hours of illumination at one third or one quarter the electricity use. And CFLs have a life expectancy of eight years, and LEDs have a life expectancy of 21 years, compared to one year for standard incandescent bulbs.
• Many consumer electronics continue to use power, even after turned off. Unplug cell phone chargers, laptops, video game consoles or anything with “instant on” features, and you can save up to 29 kWh and as much as $4 a month.
• Turn off lights, appliances, TVs, stereos and computers when not in use or while you are away from home to save up to 58 kWh and as much as $9.
• Cook with lids on your pans. For example, cooking spaghetti without a lid on the pot can use three times more energy than if the lid were left on.
• If you will be coming home after dark or in bad weather, consider buying timers to attach to your light fixtures. This way, you can turn your lights off when you leave, and have them already on when you come home.
Electric safety tips for students:
• Avoid the danger of overloading electrical outlets with too many appliances such as computers, TVs, DVD players and video game consoles on the same circuit in homework or entertainment areas.
• Invest in LED or solar powered desk lamps. They provide softer task lighting and use far less energy.
• Use surge protectors to safeguard against voltage changes during a storm.
• Use a power strip to safely organize and connect appliances to wall sockets and circuits with the appropriate voltage to accommodate the electric load.
For more information you may visit www.nationalgridus.com.
For more tips, here’s a North Country This Week story from 2008 about a Pierrepont family that cut it’s power use in half:
PIERREPONT – So you can’t afford to put a $30,000 solar water heating system on your house, or you can’t put up a windmill in your backyard.
Doug Welch and Ginger Storey Welch of the Irish Settlement Road say there are still things you can do to cut home energy use in half without spending a lot of money to do it, and they’ve proved it.
“We have made progress in the last two years cutting our electric use,” Doug says. Indeed they have. It’s less than half of what it was in 2006.
He brings out his tally: in May 2006, they used 275 kilowatt-hours, and this May the bill showed 122 kilowatt-hours used.
“And we had already started low,” he says, averaging 400 to 500 kilowatt-hours a month before they began their serious effort to cut power use.
“Now we’re on pace to use 1,800 kilowatt-hours for all of 2008,” Doug says.
He and Ginger gave a presentation on the idea at the recent North Country Sustainable Energy Fair in Canton. “I didn’t think the workshop would appeal to people, but we had more than 50 people show up. And people at the workshop left saying ‘I can do that.’ There is a great deal in our control.”
Doug is a librarian at SUNY Canton on a year’s leave, and Ginger teaches fourth grade at Colton-Pierrepont School.
The things Doug and Ginger have done are things we might have heard and thought about before, and maybe even have done, like using a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer in the warmer weather (“except for our professional clothes, or if it’s been raining for 10 days”). They use a drying rack indoors in winter.
Not Spending to Save
The idea, of course, is to cut energy use and to save money. So that means not spending a lot of money on things just to save energy.
They spent about $100 on compact fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs in the house, where for a quarter of the electricity they get the same amount of light an incandescent bulb would provide.
The clothes drying rack, a big one, cost $89, plus shipping.
They bought a new Energy Star-approved freezer. Energy Star is an official US EPA and Energy Department designation of superior energy efficiency. That cost $500, but is saving them 55 kilowatt-hours a month, Doug says.
“Those are the main things we’ve done,” he says.
“You can see we live simply,” he says, and there isn’t any extravagance, but there are no apparent radical measures being taken, either.
The couple has also heated with wood for 30 years. But lots of people heat with wood. What else can we do?
He points to the December lines in his electricity-use tally. December 2005, 587 kilowatt-hours. December 2006, 388 kilowatt hours. December 2007, 181.
Not all of the reduction is due to new Christmas lights, but you might consider what Doug and Ginger found out: a standard string of Christmas lights might be rated at 120 watts; a similar string of LED lights uses less than a watt, Doug says.
And here’s where the small things begin to add up.
No More Indicator Lights
He points to a CD player/radio on a window ledge. It’s not plugged in. When they want to use it, they put the plug into the socket. “If it was plugged in all the time, it would be using about a watt. That could amount to almost a kilowatt-hour over the course of a month.”
He shows how they use the microwave oven. It’s plugged into a power strip with a switch; the switch is off. If they want to run it, they turn on the power strip switch.
“You don’t need the display on the microwave to be on all the time.”
It starts to sink in: anything with a clock or an indicator light on it and anything with a remote control is using up electricity whether it’s “on” or not.
“These are things people can do,” he says.
In order to keep track of their progress, the Welches keep an eye on the electric meter – “not every day,” Doug says, “but several times a month. Part of it is being aware, keeping track.”
If you want a more accurate usage figure than a monthly number, Doug suggests you might take a month’s usage and divide that by the number of days in the month. That will give you a daily figure that is better than just dividing every month’s usage by 30, for instance, because the number of days in a month varies.
Calculate Each Appliance’s Usage
Another tool he uses is a wattmeter that you plug into a wall socket and you plug your appliance into the meter. The meter will keep track of the electricity the appliance has used. Some models sell for as little as $20.
“That way you can see what’s using electricity and how much. You monitor the meter, and you build awareness.”
Being aware of what you are doing that uses electricity, and making note of those things that are using electricity whether you do anything or not, will make decision-making more informed and easier, he notes. And if you begin to think more about saving electricity, you’re likely to do more about it.
Doug and Ginger live in a 1,500-square-foot house in a shady spot. As you approach, you can see the Prius hybrid-drive car and a nice pile of firewood. Even though the price of cut and split firewood has certainly gone up over the past three decades, it still beats more conventional fuels.
The Prius, of course, was a big expense. The advertised retail price is in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. But that is looking more and more like a worthwhile expense as gasoline prices top $4 a gallon.
Doug had called a local fuel oil dealer to get a current price for comparison with heating with wood.
“I spent $500 for 10 face cords of wood, the equivalent of 660 gallons of fuel oil. At $4.50 a gallon for oil, that’s $2,970, so if you’re looking to cut, there’s where we’re saving 85 percent.”
Why bother with all this? In one of the handouts they offered at their Energy Fair presentation, it states simply: “1) Saving $$$ now and in the future. 2) It is the right thing to do. 3) If you are thinking about alternative energy, the first step is to cut current use to save on the cost of solar panels or wind turbine. 4) Reduce greenhouse emissions.
Doug says it helps to make the whole process a game: How Much Can We Save?
More Energy Savers
Next on their list of ways to save is to get a new washer that extracts more water from the clothes to reduce drying time, and to replace a desktop computer with a laptop.
“I’ve heard a desktop CPU can draw 300 watts, while it’s only 60 or 70 for a laptop,” Doug says.
Ginger also notes that “a lot of people have an idea that if you shut down a computer, for example, or other equipment, that it uses more power to start it up again than just leaving it on. This is something I’ve heard several people say.”
She has tested the idea by measuring it with her computer. “Emphatically, I say it does not take more to shut it off when you’re done and to turn it on when you want to use it again.”
She said the wattmeter showed a surge “for about 40 seconds” and then settled down to its normal rate of consumption.