Americans spend around $1.25 trillion every year on energy, and although your contribution to this humungous bill may be quite small, you're probably just as keen to cut the cost as the nation as a whole. That's for two reasons – you want to save money and you realize it's the wise thing to do for the sake of the planet.
The fact is that even though appliances are more energy efficient than ever, we now have more of them – think of computers and air conditioners for instance – and just maybe we're in too much of a hurry with our busy lives to think about switching them down or off.
But, with a little thought and effort, there are many things you can do to cut your own personal energy bill as well as contributing to the drive to reduce our dependence on oil and our contribution to pollution. Here are some ideas to get you started:
On The Road
Does it make sense to replace your gas guzzler with a hybrid or electric vehicle? Well, that depends on your driving habits as well as your attitude towards burning oil. We'll leave the second part of that argument to you, but on the cost side there's a straightforward financial calculation to do: home much you'll save on fuel costs versus the higher price tag of the vehicle.
Fortunately, someone's already done the hard work by putting together an online calculator where you just key in the numbers. In fact you'll find several online but a good example is at http://tinyurl.com/hybrid-calc because it allows you to add in any state or federal tax incentives that happen to be in force.
Even without buying a hybrid or electric car, you can reduce your fuel consumption, and therefore save money, just by improving your driving habits and vehicle maintenance. The US Department of Energy reckons you can save up to a third of your fuel cost this way. For example:
1) Following your auto's recommended maintenance schedule will keep the engine running at peak efficiency.
2) Staying within the speed limit, and braking and accelerating gradually rather than sharply.
3) Removing heavy stuff you don’t need from the trunk or elsewhere. (Hold on, don’t throw the kids out – joke!)
4) Using cruise control and overdrive gears if available.
5) Minimizing the amount of idling, especially in larger vehicles.
6 ) Car-pooling and combining trips – arranging multiple visits on one journey.
For more helpful hints, visit the Energy Department's www.fueleconomy.gov website.
Savings in the Home
US households spend almost $2,000 a year on home utility bills, and pretty much everywhere you look around your home, you could be making savings – for example simply by lowering your heating thermostat overnight when you're tucked up under the blankets. Pushing down your overnight thermostat setting so it's 10-degrees lower than during the day can cut your heating bill by 10%. Reducing it one degree during the day will add further to the piggy bank.
You can also lower your water heater thermostat (120 degrees is recommended), while upping the temperature at which your air conditioning kicks in, installing a solar-power attic fan and using room fans instead of the whole AC unit. Other ways you can make energy savings in the home include:
1) Switching off lights in unused rooms, using fewer lights in rooms you are occupying, replacing old-style incandescent bulbs with the new fluorsecnt bulbs, and replacing low-power outdoor lighting with solar garden lights.
2) Switching off extension leads and devices you normally leave in stand-by mode. Unless they're disconnected, they're using energy. What about computers? Turn them off if they'd be idle for more than two hours (and the monitor off after 20 minutes).
3) Improving insulation. Drafts, single-pane windows, uninsulated attics, roof voids and wall cavities, all add to your heating bills. You can save up to the equivalent of two months' worth of bills every year by having your home properly insulated.
4) Replacing appliances with energy-efficient alternatives. Most kitchen and laundry appliances (but not stoves) must have stickers showing where they rate on the energy usage scale and how much they cost to run. Compare different models and makes. Get more information, including details of available tax credits from the Government's www.energystar.gov site.
5) Reducing the amount of time and water used in showers and baths.
6) Visiting www.energysavers.gov where you can also download a fantastically useful 36-booklet crammed with energy saving information (click on the "TIPS" link). Also available in Spanish. Or order from 1-800-472-4549.
It's a good idea to conduct your own informal energy audit of your home, going from room to room, inspecting appliances, insulation, lighting and thermostat settings, so you can identify the best opportunities to make big savings.
Being energy-wise is often a state of mind. It's easy to overlook opportunities to save. There are two important things you can do that can make a big difference. First, post sticky notes by switches, appliances and in your car to jog your memory. Second, and perhaps most important, educate others, especially your children – you'll be teaching them a valuable lesson for the rest of their lives.