Residential buildings are responsible for using roughly 20 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF). This presents a huge opportunity for home energy savings, and figuring out the best way to get homeowners to save energy is an important area of research.
A UK organization called BioRegional is looking at opportunities for home energy savings by monitoring the energy use in three homes. One home will be revamped with everything from insulation to solar panels to cut its energy use by 80 percent, another home will be upgraded with standard cost-effective retrofits, such as adding insulation and a boiler replacement, and the final home will not be changed. Meanwhile, the homeowners in all three homes will be coached on how to change their day-to-day behaviors to save energy.
While the results won’t be final until 2013, my money is on the second house. Both changing habits and changing homes play an important role in energy savings, and both have their limits, realistically and financially. Here are some ways that habitual changes can be paired with energy efficiency retrofits:
Lighting and Electronics
Installing energy efficient lighting and electronic power strips in your home is a great low-cost way to cut back your energy use, but to achieve the full savings potential of these appliances, it’s very import to change your habits as well. For example, if you plug all of your appliances into a power strip but then forget to switch the strip off when you’re not using your appliances, it’s not being used effectively. And of course, turning off a light when you’re not in the room may seem obvious, but some people still forget to flip the switch.
ENERGY STAR Appliances
Replacing outdated refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, etc. with ENERGY STAR models can significantly lower your utility bills, but there are also tricks to maximizing your energy savings. For example, keeping your refrigerator and freezer well stocked, waiting to run the dishwasher until it’s full and washing your clothes with cold water are all ways to use your appliances more efficiently. You should also consider what time you’re operating these appliances because you will pay more to use them when power is at peak demand. (See Federal and State rebates for energy efficiency upgrades)
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