23 Jan 2016
The last step with energy efficiency comes from choosing the most energy-efficient appliances. You normally do this when you have to replace something, but not always.
How about your lighting needs? I wrote a lengthy post on bringing more light into your home so I won’t repeat what I wrote. There’s plenty you can do.
When you replace your roof, get the lightest-color shingles you can. Unless you live in Canada, a white or light-colored roof will cut your electricity costs for AC by as much as ten percent. How does a white roof do this? By reflecting sunlight instead of absorbing it, it makes the attic cooler so your AC doesn’t have to work as hard to compensate for the 150 degree (or more!) mass of hot air overhead.
Cooling Your Head Space
Next, make sure your attic is properly ventilated with gable vents, soffit vents, and ridge vents. All this venting will keep the attic dryer too, by allowing moist air to escape rather than get trapped in multiple layers of fiberglass bats.Another improvement involves your ceiling lights. When it comes time to replace them, consider one that comes with a ceiling fan. Moving the air around makes the room feel cooler so you don’t have to set the AC as low. This is also more energy efficient than whole-house air conditioners, because you only run the fan in the room you’re in.
When you replace appliances, look for that Energy Star logo and get the most energy-efficient unit. You may pay a little more upfront, but the energy savings will compensate for this over time.
When to Replace Big-Ticket Appliances?
Does this mean you should replace your freezer or furnace or whole-house AC? Probably not. No matter how energy efficient a new stove may be, you still have to pay back the purchase price over several years. An existing stove, like an existing house, is already paid for. A more energy efficient stove may save you a $100 a year. Since the new stove costs you hundreds of dollars up front, it will take years to pay that cost back.
In the meantime, keep up the maintenance on these big-ticket appliances. Vacuum those refrigerator coils, wipe down the gaskets, have the furnace checked every year, and so on. It isn’t energy efficient to replace an appliance that would still be working if you had taken better care of it.
When you’re looking over your appliances, think about whether or not you need them. Do you have to have that second fridge in the garage? Do you need a TV set in every bedroom, plus the family room and the kitchen (when considering the price, don’t forget that these are vampires in disguise)? The most energy-efficient alternative is to get rid of stuff.
Clotheslines are a stellar example of this. A clothesline does what a dryer does; it dries clothes. It takes more time to do this (a few hours to a full day), it requires some advance planning (you can’t dry clothes as well at night), and you’re on the weather’s schedule and not your own. Dryers are very very nice, very convenient, but you pay for this convenience on the wear and tear on your clothes and with money you send to the electric company.
Cutting Back on Appliances
I don’t have a houseful of appliances. I have a stove, a dishwasher, a fridge, a freezer, a washing machine, hot water heater, oil burning furnace, air conditioner, lamps, a sewing machine, a microwave, a coffee-pot, a TV set with its accessories (but no cable), some computers, and a few other small appliances. I don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets like bread makers, pasta machines, or counter-top ovens. I don’t use them, I don’t have the storage space for them, and I don’t have the money to buy them.
For each appliance, decide if you want to spend the money, up-front and over the long term, day after day after day of cost. If the answer is no, don’t buy it. If you aren’t using something, get rid of it.
If my energy costs rise, the dishwasher would go first. It’s damn difficult to run a kitchen without a stove and a fridge. Dishes can be hand-washed. I like my dishwasher. It’s a huge time-saver. But I can live without it in a way that I can’t live without the washing machine. I like my freezer a lot. It allows me to stock up on grocery store bargains as well as freeze garden produce.
If I had to, I’d get rid of the dishwasher and the dryer before I’d lose the freezer. I rarely use the dryer as I prefer the clothesline and the racks. The dryer would go, forcing recalcitrant family members to work around winter weather more than they already do. I could live without the microwave. It’s convenient and it doesn’t use that much power. But I could live without it.
Every appliance in your home should be thought about in this manner. Do you use it? Do you need it? Is it worth the space, mental, financial, and physical?
Every appliance should be evaluated for complexity. Do you need a fridge that makes ice and has a cold water tap in the door? Fridges that have these things cost more up front, cost more to run, take up more space, and have more things to break. I’ve had bad experiences with ice-makers and now I never buy a fridge that does fancy stuff. Less to break, less money to buy, and less money to run. I keep a Rubbermaid pitcher in the fridge for cold water and I have ice trays in the freezer compartment with a bin for ice. They work fine and take far less space than the alternative.
This is true of all kinds of appliances. The more they do, the harder they are to repair and the more prone to breakage they seem to be. And do you have to have a clock in every single appliance?
Cars fall into the same category as appliances. When you have to buy one (don’t lease them!), get the most fuel-efficient one that will suit your needs. If you do the craft circuit, you’ll end up having to buy a panel van or a truck to haul all your goods. If all you do is drive to the office, then why do you need a big pickup truck? Ranchers need big pickup trucks. Contractors need big trucks. They both have tons of stuff to haul on a daily basis. Do you?
Evaluate your fleet of vehicles. I have friends, a household of 3 licensed drivers. They have a big truck (his), a motorcycle (his), a car (hers), a car (oldest son’s), and a spare car. Five vehicles for 3 drivers that have to be insured, maintained, stored, and paid for. Do you need your car collection? Maybe you do. Think about every vehicle you pay for and make the conscious decision to keep them, know why you are keeping them all, rather than just saying, well, it might be useful.
My dear husband and I both work from home, we live in a small, walkable town, and when I do drive, I do all my errands at once. We have one car, a small sedan. I won’t deny that a van or a truck is very useful to haul sheets of plywood home, but we don’t need to do that much anymore.
Do not assume that gas prices will continue to drop. Yeah, as of this writing, gas is just over $2 a gallon. But 15 years ago, it used to be less than a buck a gallon! Gas has gone up and down in price but it has never gotten as low as it was. An fuel-efficient car will never stop saving you cash at the pump, cash you can put towards something else. When prices drop, you won’t save as much money, but you’ll still spend less than you would with a big truck. When prices climb, you’ll spend more, just like everyone else, but it won’t be as much more.
There aren’t many households that can’t cut back on their energy usage. We’ve cut back a lot, and we don’t have to break the ice on the buckets of water in the winter. We have appliances, we have a furnace and an air conditioner, we have a TV, we have a car. We also have much lower costs than most of the people I know.
Like your shopping and eating habits, your energy habits benefit from paying attention to what you do and then deciding if what you are doing is helping you to meet your goals. If they are not, then you need to change something.
Next Week: Building the Organized Home