Energy—it’s hard to think of life without energy these days. Phones, internet, cars, and the dozens of appliances within our house all consume energy. The purpose of these devices is often a simple one—to save our own energy; or rather, make our lives easier although more sedentary. We have come to value comfort, convenience, and time so much that our lives have become entirely dependent upon energy, energy that most often comes from fossil fuels at a price that affects both our wallets and our environmental health. At the SENS House, everyone is conscious of energy consumption. Though the house was built to conserve energy, without energy minded inhabitants, the house could easily become as inefficient as any other household in the nation. In many cases saving energy means changing the way we do things while realizing that a little bit of personal inconvenience can go a long long way towards fixing many of the problems our society faces today, problems such as but not limited to: global climate change, water and air pollution, economic dependency on energy, and increasing energy rates. There are also many positives to such changes including: helping us to regain a bit of resiliency during energy disruptions, it will help us to save money each month, and I think we can all agree that clean water and air are very important, not only to us, but for future generations.
Here are some of the many low cost/no cost ways of conserving energy employed by students living within the SENS House.
- Clothes Drying- All clothes are air dried using either the outside clothes drying rack, or the inside clothes drying rack.
- According the Energy Star Website “Residential clothes dryers are significant energy users. According to the Energy Information Agency, they account for over 4% of total residential energy use in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that all residential clothes dryers in the U.S. annually consume about 43 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 445 million therms of natural gas, leading to carbon dioxide emissions of 32 million metric tons.”
- Lights – Lights are kept off unless absolutely needed. In most cases the shades are left open within the house to make use of sunlight.
- Entry/Exit – Rather than using doors that have direct access to the outside, students enter and exit through the utility room which acts as an airlock.
- Coffee –No coffee maker exists in the SENS House. Instead water is boiled and then filtered through coffee grounds.
- Coffee makers require 1000 watts (yup, 1 entire kilowatt) and continue consuming a lot of energy to keep the coffee pot one. Investing in an insulated coffee thermos or carafe and transferring fresh coffee into it after the coffee maker has done its job can save you up to 30 KWh of electricity a month (or more)!
- Community Meals – When possible, residents will cook a large meal to reduce individual use of cooking appliances and bring the household together to enjoy one another’s company.
- Showering – Rather than leaving the water running during an entire shower, water is turned on only to get wet and to rinse.
- Energy Data Logging – By keeping tabs on day to day gas, electric, and water use, residents can recognize excess consumption and adjust to compensate.
- Shopping –Some residents have personal vehicles. Rather than running out to the store many times throughout the week, the residents consolidate their trips and plan to go shopping together.
- Walking – Residents walk to most nearby locations and keep vehicle use to a minimum.
- Vampire or Ghost Power – Many of our appliances and gadgets (to include cell phone chargers) use electricity even when not in use. When appliances and chargers are not being used, they are unplugged to reduce vampire power consumption.
- Clothes! – SENS house residents aren’t found wearing summer attire during the coldest days of winter. Long sleeves and pants go a long way to keeping comfortable and reducing the need to consume firewood or natural gas within the house. While many people in the nation crank their thermostats up to gallivant around the house in their skivvies
As mentioned before, taking steps to save energy isn’t just good for the environment—it’s good for the wallet as well. The best way to reduce energy is to be conscious of it. Know what appliances use the most energy and figure out ways to reduce their impact.
For instance, one of the largest consumers of energy in most households is the hot water heater. Shoved away in some nook or cranny within a house (or completely walled in in some mobile homes) it silently turns on and off its 4,500watt element or natural gas burner to keep the water at optimum temperature when you need it. The problem is; how often do you need hot water?
There are many options out there that have tackled the problem including on-demand hot water heaters, or even solar hot water heaters which heat water all day, but who cares—it’s the sun and it doesn’t cost a bit to heat water with it! Unfortunately, if you are like me, forking out the cash for the latest and greatest technology in hot water heating isn’t very easy. Even the more efficient electric heat pump type hot water heaters are way out of our budgets. Hopefully demand for these will go up and prices will slowly come down, but, until then, there are ways to reduce the energy consumed by your current hot water heaters.
The installation of a digital hot water heater timer is one way of reducing energy consumption. Similar to a programmable thermostat for home heating and cooling, water heater timers can be programmed to turn off the water heater at night and during other portions of the day when there is little demand for hot water. Being that water heaters are typically well insulated and water has excellent thermal mass characteristics, interruptions in hot water are minimal even when the water heater is off. Add in the human element and you can take the savings ever further. If a family were to schedule all of its laundry duties and showers to be within certain time windows, the thermostat could be programmed to only turn on for a couple hours a day. When smaller amounts of hot water is needed but not available (for instance, washing dishes) water can be heated using a kettle at a fraction of the energy cost (ie 1000-1500 watts as opposed to 4500 watts). The only cost to you is giving up the convenience of hot water any time and all the time.
Energy adds up and little changes in behavior can have a big impact over time. There are many more low cost/no cost ways of saving energy and money that can be found in books and webpages all across the internet. So why not get started conserving today?