One of the most profound ways that the general public can help reduce energy consumption and lessen greenhouse gas emissions is through energy efficiency. Given that an estimated 30% of all energy produced in the United States is used in heating, cooling and electricity generation for millions of homes. Despite significant innovations in new construction, many homes remain un-retrofitted and thus, inefficient. Additionally, because existing structure are primarily powered by fossil fuel production, these structures are contributing significantly to annual greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, the residential sector accounted for roughly 958 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
Difference between Energy efficiency and Energy Conservation
Energy efficiency and energy conservation are sometimes used interchangeably. This can be confusing because although they are related, efficiency refers to the technology or product requiring less energy to function and conservation refers to personal habits. Household energy efficiency measures could consist of anything from LED lightbulbs, power strips to decrease phantom loads and smart settings on your heating panel to fresh attic insulation, new windows and solar installation. Household conservation is often less expensive requiring little to no cost: Turning off lights, unplugging appliances, keeping your heat below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and hanging clothes out to dry instead of using the dryer. However, the most effective solutions are a combination of both.
The Fluctuation in Electricity Bills
When you receive your monthly electricity bill you may wonder why it fluctuates so much, month to month, year to year. This is because your bill is based not only on the price you pay for electricity but also the appliances you use and how much you use them. Even when the cost of electricity goes down, sometimes your bill increases because of the amount of electricity used and how often you use it. Kilowatt-hours, or kWh, are the basic unit of electric energy for which most customers are charged. A kWh is the same amount of electricity used by ten 100-watt lights left on for 1 hour. Customers are usually charged for electricity in cents per kilowatt-hour.
To get an idea of how much energy your appliances use and, thusly, how much they can cost you, here is a peek at some common electricity-consuming appliances and the amount of energy they use every hour: In general heaters/ AC units use 15,000 kilowatts (kw) of energy per hour; clothes dryers and water heaters around 400kw; even lightbulbs use 60kw per hour (Fun fact: that’s the same amount of energy it takes to do push-ups for an hour).
Although in Colorado we are just below the average U.S. electricity rate of 11.88 cents per kwh, you can see how these daily household items can drive your bill up. Many notable energy efficient appliances are available to consumers such as Energy Star rated appliances. The up-front costs that are associated with purchasing more efficient appliances are meant to be offset with the lowered monthly electricity bill.
Ways to Decrease the Amounts of Bills
In contrast, there are many interventions that have little to no upfront cost to the public.
Addressing the Air Leaks and Insulation Issues
Doing this through a variety of weatherization techniques can dramatically decrease your monthly electric bill. CNN Business estimated that properly sealing the attic and furnace ducting can cut your bill up to 30%. Air sealing can be as easy and inexpensive as caulk or foam installed into those leakage areas. In addition, windows lose more heat per square foot in the winter and gain more heat per square foot in the summer than any other area of your home. It stands to reason then that one-fourth of all energy used for heating and cooling in the U.S. is escaping though inefficient windows. Not everyone can afford the up-front cost of new windows, but a window insulation kit can be purchased at the local hardware store for less than $20.
Doing Energy Audits
Energy audits are an economical tool that can compile a comprehensive list for energy savings. Many local utility companies sponsor some kind of energy audit and/or weatherization programs. In general, energy audits are conducted to study the energy usage of a building, but they can also reflect personal choices. You can then prioritize how you and your house are performing and make changes accordingly. A certified rater can inspect a homes’ appliances, lighting fixtures, water heater and heating system to confirm their level of efficiency. Your home is then assigned a score on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index. The lower the score on the index the more efficient the home. A standard new home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, is assigned a score of 100. Whereas a typical house that is up for resale is around 130. That is a starting rate of 30% less efficient than a new home. Your home’s score is always rated against a similar reference home in that, a designed-model-home of comparable size and shape is used to score from.
Blower Door Test
In addition, conducting a blower door test that depressurizes the house and exaggerates the leakage points, can be a great way to confirm where the biggest loses of heating/ cooling are coming from. Largely used in the commercial sector starting in the late 1980’s, blower door tests have become increasingly popular in the residential market. While the blower door is active, smoke sticks and infrared cameras are used to inspect where the greatest losses of air are from the home. Generally, these areas end up being poorly insulated areas, attic spaces, crawl spaces and windows.
All in all, although the tools that allow us to climate control our homes and run our appliances are the largest demand for energy, they also have the greatest potential for significant savings if consumers are willing to take action to conserve and support more efficient life choices. Simple day to day habits can be embraced that support a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same is also vital. The up-front cost of new appliances and home upgrades may seem unnecessary given the relatively low cost we pay for electric energy. However, the future savings and positive environmental impact those costs could support make them worth it.