- Use energy saving light bulbs.
- Unplug electronic appliances when you’re not using them.
- Use smaller appliances (toaster oven instead of conventional oven.)
Those are excellent ideas, but let’s not stop there. Here are some more ambitious ideas. In some cases, the technology is relatively new. It may not be practical for everyone. It may have a high upfront cost that puts it out of reach.
But prices for new technology always come down. With experience, designers and manufacturers work the bugs out and make more reliable products.
So keep these ideas in mind. If you can’t use them now, you may come to depend on one or more in the years ahead.
Residential occupancy sensors
Have you ever gone into a room at work or in a public place and the lights come on automatically? The room has an occupancy sensor.
The sensor knows when someone comes in. It knows when no one is in the room.
You can get occupancy sensors for your home, too. They don’t cost a lot, but they work well.
They help you save money on your electric bill by turning off unused lights if you forget. Your utility may even give you a rebate.
It’s easier to manage what you can measure. You can find various kinds of meters that will help you monitor and control your energy use. A meter collects data about how much energy your appliances use. Program how much your utility charges you into it, and it will tell you how much your appliances cost to operate.
You can also use a meter to control appliances remotely. And not just appliances. Some can control your window shades to manage how much sunlight comes into a room. That ability can help fine tune how much your furnace or air conditioner has to operate.
You can control the temperature in your home without having a home meter. Just use a programmable thermostat.
A programmable thermostat lets you set different temperatures at different times of the day.
You don’t need to run your furnace or air conditioner the same way when you’re at work as you do when you’re home. You don’t need the same temperature when you sleep as when you’re awake, either.
It can be difficult to use them correctly, especially if they’re mounted in the wrong place.
My thermostat, for example, is mounted in the hallway. It’s nice and warm there in the winter and cool in the summer. Unlike my living room and kitchen, where there is a sliding glass door.
It was hard to guess how to program the thermostat to make a comfortable temperature until I got a new one with a remote unit. Now I use the remote to control the temperature. I keep it within a few feet of the sliding glass door. It keeps the room at whatever temperature I have programmed.
Smart windows can also solve the problem of heat gain and loss through windows. Various technologies use electric current to control the orientation of particles or liquid crystals. When no current flows through them, they take a random pattern. It blocks light. When the current comes on, they form in straight lines. Light can travel between the rows.
Don’t worry about adding to your electric bill. It takes less electricity to power 15 windows than to run one nightlight. (Assuming a standard incandescent bulb.)
So far, the technology is only available for commercial buildings. Home use is a few years away. Replacing all your windows will be expensive, but at least one technology can be applied to existing glass.
You can accomplish almost the same results with insulating blinds. They’re easy to find, and many companies make therm.
Traditional blinds have two-dimensional slats. Traditional shades have a single layer of plastic or fabric. Insulating blinds are made of tube-shaped air cells.
They give you one to three layers of air pockets between the window and the room. The air in the cells does not conduct heat.
Like traditional blinds and shades, you can choose ones that will either block or filter light. They are heavier than regular ones. You can get insulating shades with a motor and remote control. Something else your home meter can control!
Solar outdoor lights
If a roof-top solar system is beyond your reach, you can at least investigate solar outdoor lights. They require no wiring and use LED lights. LEDs use less energy than any other kind of light. Unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.
Current technology has some limitations, but also a lot of promise.
A single LED is small and doesn’t put out much light. For anything more than a flashlight, it’s necessary to combine a number of them in a single fixture. Only recently have LEDs as bright as a 100-watt incandescent bulb been available.
In cloudy weather, solar panels work at only about 10-25% of rated capacity. Panels for outdoor lighting tend to be small, so a succession of cloudy days can keep the lights from turning on.
Despite those problems, solar lights make a great option for security flood lights. For one thing, the lights don’t have to fit into a conventional socket. That makes it easy to combine enough LEDs to equal or exceed the light of a 300-watt incandescent light.
Some people install lights and run them all night. A light that’s constantly on actually makes a burglar’s job easier. Plus, it contributes to light pollution, an underappreciated problem. A good security light operates on a motion detector. Since it is not on for a long time, its batteries will last longer during successions of cloudy days.
Solar backup generator
Short power outages are annoying. Prolonged or frequent power outages can be dangerous. Twenty years ago, natural gas-powered backup generators came on the market. They were loud, expensive, and provided only limited power. Burning natural gas produced exhaust fumes
Nowadays they’re more affordable and more powerful. They’re still noisy and produce fumes. Oh, and they require maintenance.
Solar backup generators have recently come on the market. They use batteries to store electricity and inverters to turn 12-volt direct current into 120-volt alternating current. They cost easily twice as much as natural-gas generators. They can’t power an entire house as long as a gas generator can.
But they’re quiet, produce no emissions, and require much less maintenance. Besides, once you pay for the equipment and installation costs, the fuel costs you nothing. Look for solar backup generators to become more dependable and less expensive.
Piggy bank. Some rights reserved by Ken Teegardin
Light switch. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Programmable thermostat. Some rights reserved by Advanced Telemetry
Honeycomb blinds. Some rights reserved by Blinds Online.