Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fun with home electricity WEEK

First of all, sorry for the delay in posting this week's theme. It won't happen again. And then I bring you such a compelling topic...I know, I know. Home electricity isn't half as exciting as reusable bags or recycled toilet paper, but it's an essential stop on our journey towards a greener lifestyle. The facts are pretty basic on this one, but we often forget that electricity has to actually be generated, don't we? Where do our computers, ipods, tvs, phones, electric can openers, treadmills, hair dryers, electric screwdrivers, waffle-makers, etc, etc....get their life-force? You guessed it--mostly from fossil fuels! According to the Department of Energy, at least 70% of our electricity is produced by the burning of fossil fuels--coal (52%), natural gas (16%), and oil (3%). Only 2% of our electricity is powered by renewable resources, such as solar and wind power. (The rest is from nuclear (20%) and hydropower (7%), in case you're wondering). So there's a pretty simple solution: Use less electricity, burn fewer fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Easy, right? Actually, there are some really basic measures we can all take to drastically reduce our electricity usage, and I don't mean walking around the house in pitch-black. The first 2 are one-time actions...can it get any easier than that?

1. Sign up for "Green Power". If you live in LA, this is so easy. Just call LADWP at 800-342-5397 to make the switch and voila...your electricity will now come from solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass energy. Isn't it more pleasant to imagine one of those cool windmills (wind turbines, I guess they're officially called) working hard to brew your cup of coffee, rather than some nasty coal factory emitting black plumes of smoke to help get your day going? Call DWP with your account number and make the switch today! Read more about the Green Power program here. (photo credit: Wagner Christian).

If you're not in LA, there is a chance that your area has a similar option, so look into it! And if not, start a campaign for one!

2. Replace your most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. (Or go crazy and replace all of them!) Here's another one of those handy "If every American household replaced an earth-hating product..." facts, from Energy Star, the government's energy efficiency-promotion program:

"If every American home replaced just one light bulb with (a compact fluorescent bulb), we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars." I'm convinced!

I'm going to continue quoting Energy Star here, because last night was a late one and my brain is fuzzy...

Compact fluorescent bulbs:
"use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer...Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime."

I bet some of you have considered buying a compact fluorescent bulb, picked it up, but have been dissuaded by the price, which is slightly more than standard bulbs. But now you know that you'll undoubtedly make that initial investment back by saving on your electricity bill, and by rarely having to replace these amazing bulbs. Now that I think about it, I have NEVER replaced a fluorescent bulb...don't know exactly how long that's been, but I know I have a couple that have outlasted at least 4 apartments! Funny...the one constant in my life: fluorescent light bulbs. A word to the wise: When you sign up for Green Power, they say they will send you 2 fluorescent bulbs, but don't wait around for those to make the switch, because I still have never gotten mine, and it's been about 6 months. Also, compact fluorescent bulbs make great stocking stuffers!

3. Reduce your electricity usage. We all know we could be better on this front.

--Just like Dad insisted, turn off lights when you leave a room. A good rule of thumb I use when I'm cleaning or doing something between rooms is turning the light off I leave the room for more than a minute. Also, I know this is home-energy week, but PLEASE turn off your office lights when you leave work. I drive through downtown cringing as I see floor after floor of office bldgs lit up all night long! Who are they leaving the lights on for?! The cleaning service will undoubtedly turn on the lights as they reach each room, so I don't buy that argument. Don't these companies know they could save thousands of dollars a month in energy bills? And of course if they're leaving the lights on, the computers and copy machines are probably not being turned off either. It's enough to give me apoplexy....If you work in a building like this, start a movement to turn off the lights at night. You'll be simultaneously doing your employer a favor AND starting a revolution!

--Turn off your computer when you're not using it. This includes laptops too. Somehow a few years ago a rumor started circulating that it takes more energy to turn the computer on and off, so you might as well leave it on all the time. This is wrong! And nonsensical if you think about for more than a few seconds.

--Unplug cell phone, ipod and other chargers when they are not in use. Yes, they are still drawing energy even if the device is not connected. (Photo at left is not staged. Scene found in real-live coworker's office.) Also, make sure your ipod isn't wasting energy getting tossed around in a bag--that's what the lock switch is for.

--This one is new to me, but I'm getting pretty good at remembering to do it. Apparently, your TV is still drawing power even when it is off! That's what enables it to be turned on by a remote, which makes sense. Likewise, if you have a stereo like I do that can be turned on by a remote or still has lights on when it is "off", it too, is sucking energy even when not "on". So...and I know this is going to sound extreme to some of you...unplug them when not in use. An easy way to do this is to plug your TV, DVD player, and stereo into one surge protector (which they likely already are all on) and just power that off when you leave the house in the morning. The exception is your TIVO, which, of course does have to stay plugged in to do its job. Ah, TIVO, I knew someday I'd see your warts...

--I rent an apartment, as do most people I know, and as my dad recently reminded me, there's a whole world of house mainentance that I'm oblivious to. But if you are a homeowner, there are several other measures you can take...such as buying energy-efficient appliances when it's time to replace yours. Lots of lists exist for reducing energy-usage in a house, so look it up.

--Think. Just start noticing how you might have become accustomed to leaving random electronics on unnecessarily. Start changing your habits, little by little. I've started turning off my internet router when I'm not home. It doesn't need to sit there waiting for me to come home all day. Of course, the added bonus in using less electricity is that you'll be saving a few dollars on your bill every month--money better put towards movies, coffee (in a reusable mug, of course), cheap Trader Joe's wine...just about anything beats paying to burn fossil fuels!


amanda said...

hey sara,
thanks for another great and informative blog. This is a dumb question but when I'm unplugging my items, tv and etc. do I need to leave my cable box plugged in and my tivo? And will me tv then need to stay plugged in too? This is when going green get's confusing.
love a holiday gremlin,

Sara said...

yes, you need to leave your cable box and tivo plugged in but you can unplug your tv since it really isn't doing any work until you're watching what has already been recorded. does that make sense?

Laura W said...

The compact fluorescent bulbs are dangerous if they break, they have mercury in them or something. Might want to add something about that. They shouldn't be thrown in the trash when they die.

Anonymous said...

I live in BC and our hydro company office building is always lit up at night!!! Then they make these commercials telling us to turn lights off to save power....