6/18/2013 7:32:04 PM

How We Measured Up

Guest Post by Stephanie Kappel, PBI Climate Alliance graduate

At end of our first week taking the Energy Challenge, we established that our baseline kilowatt-hour usage for a week is 121. This is actually quite good by American standards, with the average family using 217, according to a 2011 study! Still, we made a list of ways to improve on that. We began by talking to our son about vampire energy. When he learned that many electronics use energy even when they are turned off, he went on a quest to unplug any unneeded item in our home.

Known as vampire energy, many appliances, electronics, and computers continue to draw electricity even when they are powered down. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that Americans spend the equivalence of one month's electric bill on vampire energy each year!

We decided it would be best to unplug our phones when charges are complete, the gaming system that gets played a few times each month, a stereo we use infrequently, and our DVD player. Since starting this project, we've learned that our son also unplugs his night light every morning - "It saves some energy and I don't need it during the day."

We looked at how we do laundry and decided there is room for improvement. Between bedding, towels, and clothing for four, our family produces a lot of laundry. We rarely wash clothes with hot water, but two young boys make for some pretty dirty clothes from time to time! We are now committing to line-drying our bedding. Although we don't have a clothesline yet, our deck works just fine for now. Once we have a clothesline in place, it will be easier to dry more of our clothes outside. It's more time consuming to tote the laundry in and out of the house, but considering that 6% of the average American's home energy use goes towards drying clothes, shifting the way we do our laundry is a small change that will make a big difference in the long run.

Our final battle comes on the computer front. Since we began tracking our energy use, we discovered that our computer habits are greatly impacting our electricity use. Putting a computer in sleep mode is better than leaving it on. But we will do the world a favor to turn it off when it's not in use for extended periods of time. The Department of Energy recommends homeowners turn monitors off if they will sit idle for more than 20 minutes. They also recommend that both the CPU and the monitor be turned off if no one is using the computer for more than two hours. Although our home computer is set to go into automatic sleep mode, being mindful of our computer habits will be beneficial to our home energy use.

By the end of the first week of the challenge, we discovered that, oops, we had actually increased our usage from our baseline, from 121 to 206!  The weather had remained the same, so we knew the problem was something else. We finally figured out that the increase came from forgetting to turn off our computers a few nights that week. I was surprised that such a simple change had caused such a spike.

For the second week of the challenge, we adjusted our computer habits accordingly. In addition, we switched from using a furnace fan to individual fans in our bedrooms at night. We found that we used just 96 kilowatt hours of power during the second week of the challenge! I was really excited to see such a low number on the meter, so excited that we double-checked our math to make sure we got it right. Yep, it was right!

We feel good about the progress we have made to reduce our energy consumption. We know that changing daily habits and making improvements are most successful when done in small steps. With each new habit established, our family will be well on our way to doing our part, only better!

This is the second post in a two-part series. Read the first installment here.

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