Off-the-shelf products can result in immediate savings, both for you and for the environment.
• Compact florescent light bulbs: Replace all of the incandescent light bulbs in your home. Start with the lights you use most frequently (and save the incandescents for replacements in rarely used locations like closets, basement, attic, etc.). Today, compact florescents have dropped in price to about $2.50 apiece, and use one-third the electricity of old fashioned lighting.
(Note that fixtures with dimmer switches require florescents made for that purpose.)
• Dimmer switches: Use these on halogen, track lighting, bathroom fixtures, and other locations where the florescents don’t work. (The slightly bulkier florescent bulbs don’t fit everywhere.)
• Use local lighting: Reading lights, desk lamps, and other task lights are more efficient than whole-room lighting.
• Turn it off: TV sets and computer screens are big power users. Don’t leave unwatched screens on. Turn off computers when not in use. “Instant on” appliances that use a remote control are always on (at a low power level). Install a switchable power cord, or plug these appliances into switched outlets, so they are really off when out of use.
Using these strategies, I use less than half the power of my neighbors in the same size condos, with similar appliances.
• Conservation kit: The Asheville Water District sells a kit for $4.50 that includes a low-flow shower head, faucet restricters, and a toilet displacement bag. (You can pick one up at the Customer Service Office on the first floor in City Hall.) Today’s conserving shower heads include massage settings — no more half-hearted spritzing. When you replace a toilet, switch to a low-flush model.
• Fix drips: A dripping faucet can leak thousands of gallons of waters a year. You are paying for that water. Learn to fix a faucet! It is easy, even fun. E-mail me if you want a step-by-step.
• Water heater: You can significantly reduce your hot water bill with very little effort. Install a water heater blanket, available at local hardware and building supply stores. Turn down your hot water heater to the lowest level that works for you. (If you can’t take a shower under straight hot water, you are wasting money — unless you have a crowd of showerees who use hot water too fast for reasonable recovery.) Another simple strategy — for those with electric hot water — is to flip off the circuit breaker before leaving for work in the morning, and not turn it on until hot water is needed in the evening. There is no advantage to heating and reheating water all day long. (And always turn it off when you are headed out of town for a weekend!)
• Space heating: Keep the thermostat at the lowest comfortable setting. Wear a sweater if you are cool (particularly in some areas of the house — heating levels often vary within a dwelling.) Turn down the thermostat during the day if your house sits empty for hours. (Hopefully, you have already sealed drafts and installed storm windows. Heavy drapes can make a difference, as well.)
• Cooking: Use a microwave for warm ups, single cups of hot water, baked potatoes or squash, hot cereal, etc. A microwave uses far less power than conventional electrical cooking.