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Saving Energy on a Budget

By Veronica Manning, PennFuture Intern

It’s easy to save energy on a budget with a few practical, simple steps. Here are some easy, cost-effective ways to decrease your home’s carbon footprint.  

Switch to Clean Energy for Your Electricity

Switching to a clean energy provider for your electricity is a simple alternative that allows you to rely less on fossil fuels. Pennsylvania is one of 17 states with a retail electric program, which lets customers choose where they buy their electricity. Using renewable energy doesn’t require changing your utility company. In Pennsylvania, electricity utility companies own the distribution networks in a local area, or the wires that connect your house to the rest of the grid. The utility companies buy energy from a mix of sources, and that energy is then sent to their customers. Customers who have not chosen an electricity generator receive default electricity service, or energy that comes from multiple generators. Choosing your generation provider means that your same utility company will now send energy from your specified source instead of providing default electricity service to your home. Depending on what source you choose, this clean energy also may also be cheaper than what you currently pay for default electricity.

Switching to a clean energy provider can be done online in a few minutes. Follow our step-by-step guide here to get started. 

Reduce Your Standby Power Consumption

Standby power is a term for the energy used by devices that appear to be off. Electronics like TVs, phone and laptop chargers, streaming devices, and gaming consuls all consume a small amount of power while in sleep mode. The Department of Energy estimates that standby power accounts for up to 10 percent of the total residential energy use in the U.S.    

While standby power is necessary for the functioning of many appliances in your home, you can still reduce your standby power consumption by turning off nonessential devices when not in use. Your electronics can either be unplugged individually or grouped on a shared power strip. Some smart power strips also have an option to set a timer, automatically turning off your devices for you.  

If you’re willing to spend more, you can also consider replacing your appliances with more efficient models. Older appliances consume more standby power than their newer counterparts.  When shopping, look for models with an ENERGY STAR certification. These products meet EPA guidelines for appliances that are both energy efficient and cost-effective in the long term. You also have the option of switching to a programmable thermostat.  The EPA found that replacing a manual thermostat can cut heating or cooling costs by 20 percent or more.

For more information on standby power, check out this fact sheet from the Berkley Lab. 

Use LED Lightbulbs

If you are still using incandescent lightbulbs, consider switching to LEDs. Incandescent lightbulbs lose about 90 percent of the energy they consume as heat. Because so much energy is wasted, an incandescent bulb requires more energy to produce the same amount of light as an LED. 

Light-emitting diodes, or LED bulbs, lose about 10 percent of the energy they consume as heat, making them much more efficient than their incandescent counterparts. They are more expensive than traditional lightbulbs, but last about 10 years. LEDs are also easy to dispose of once they have reached the end of their lifespan. 

While compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are sometimes also listed as another energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs, they are much less efficient than LEDs. CFLS lose about 80 percent of the energy they consume as heat. CFLs also contain mercury and need to be specially recycled to prevent contamination. If you have CFL bulbs in your home, you should replace them with LEDs once they burn out or break. Your local waste collection service and some stores may offer cheap or free CFL recycling. Check online to see what’s available in your area. The EPA has also released guidelines for cleanup and disposal of broken CFL bulbs, which can be found here. 

Line Dry Your Laundry

Electric tumble dryers are one of the biggest consumers of energy in many households. In 2014, the National Resource Defense Council found that the typical electric dryer had seen only marginal improvements in energy efficiency since  1981. As of 2015, ENERGY STAR certified dryers are available, but these machines still consume large amounts of energy compared to other energy-efficient appliances. 

Line drying your laundry is a great way to reduce the energy consumed by drying clothes in an electric tumble drier. Sheets, blouses, dress shirts, and other items made of medium to lightweight fabric can be dried outdoors on a line. If line drying is not an option in your area, consider investing in an indoor drying rack for items like sweaters. 

Use Window Coverings to Keep Your Home at a Comfortable Temperature
Using window coverings will reduce energy loss and save money on your heating and cooling bills. Heating energy can escape through your windows and decrease your home’s energy efficiency.  Uncovered windows also allow heat from sunlight to enter your home, making it harder to stay cool in the warmer months.  

If you already have coverings on your windows, use them strategically to improve your energy efficiency. Window coverings should be opened on sunny winter mornings to allow heat from sunlight to enter your home throughout the day. Coverings should be closed on summer days to reduce heat from direct sunlight. Windows that do not receive direct sunlight can be left uncovered to take advantage of natural light.  

If you do not  already have coverings on all of your windows, use this guide from the Department of Energy to find which type would work best for you. 

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