by Miranda Boutelle, Contributing Columnist
Q: I want to lower my energy use, but I don’t know where to start. How can I find out how much energy I use? What are some ways I can save energy without spending a lot of money?
A: You can change your energy use by changing your behavior. When looking at electric bills, many people focus on the total dollar amount of the bill. When trying to manage your energy costs, I suggest changing your focus to energy use.
While you don’t have control over the cost of energy, you can control how much energy you use.
Instead of thinking about your bills in terms of dollars, think about them in terms of kilowatt-hours. A kilowatt-hour is the unit of energy used for most electric bills. Review your monthly kWh use to get an idea of how much you use every month.
Once you’ve reviewed your energy use, set goals for the next month. Try to use less energy than the month before and check your results on your next bill.
KNOW WHEN TO USE LESS ENERGY
Some electric utilities offer time-of-use rates, which means electricity costs are dependent on the time of day. This pricing structure more closely reflects the cost to electric utilities and helps consumers understand that energy costs more when the demand for it is higher.
Even if your electric bill does not include time-of-use rates, it can be beneficial to delay energy-intensive chores or tasks to when demand is lower. Peak hours are typically in the morning as we prepare for work and in the evening when we get home and start preparing food and turning on entertainment devices. Doing laundry
and running the dishwasher are easy activities to delay until after peak hours.
POWER “OFF” FOR ENERGY SAVINGS
When looking for energy savings, remember that “off” is the most efficient setting. Turning off lights is a classic strategy, especially if your lighting is incandescent. Consider switching to energy-saving LED lightbulbs.
Computers and gaming systems can waste energy even when in sleep mode. The higher the wattage and the more hours the device is on, the more energy used. Laptops use the least energy, followed by personal computers at about 200 watts. Gaming consoles typically use less energy than gaming PCs. Don’t forget to turn off your monitor as well.
You can lower your energy use even more with smart power strips, which cut power to devices that are not in use. Many electronics continue to draw power even when they are turned off. This could add 5% to 10% to your monthly bill, according to the Department of Energy. Installing smart power strips is an easy way to ensure devices are completely turned off and not drawing power.
Ensuring the filters in your heating and cooling system are clean is another easy way to keep your system maintained and operating efficiently. Adding annual servicing by a professional maximizes efficiency and can lengthen the life of your system.
Understanding your energy use and making small adjustments to your routine will help you reach your energy use goals.
Miranda Boutelle writes on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.