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By some accounts, last weekend's Earth Hour was the largest voluntary action for the environment in history. Nearly 6,500 cities and towns in 150 countries went dark to send a message about the need for change. It was a huge success, but now the lights are back on, and they're illuminating a key question: What's next on the home front?
Because most environmentally aware households have already picked the low hanging sustainable fruit. We've swapped our incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents. We've bought organic and gone for the biobased cleaners. We've lowered the thermostat, recycled our cans, and taken our names off the mailing lists. What's left?
The short answer is plenty. We just have to look a little harder to find the next steps to take after we've taken all the easy ones. Energy conservation, for example, offers lots of "hidden" ways to save that most of us probably haven't considered. Here are some of the simple strategies that have surprised me through the years:
- Use your TV's master switch to operate it. Today's TVs come instantly on because a master switch left permanently in the "on" position" keeps them partially energized while they wait. Locate that button (see your manual) and use it to kill this stand-by power waste until you're actually ready to watch something.
- Plug TVs without a master switch and other instant-on electronics into a power strip that you can use to cut off the stand-by electricity they're using when they're not supposed to be using any at all.
- Lower your TV's brightness. Factory settings typically crank it up so TVs look luminous in showrooms. But at home you probably don't need your screen to be visible from space.
- Unplug all your chargers and power adapters when they're not charging or adapting. They're using juice even when they're sitting there tricking you into thinking they're not.
- Use a humidifier in winter. Moist air holds heat better than dry air, the kind found during cold months. Humidifying your home's desiccated winter atmosphere will let you lower your thermostat further without feeling like a human popsicle.
- Clean your refrigerator coils. They're where the heat from inside gets dissipated into the air. Dust inhibits this process. Removing it makes your compressor work less and can save up to 6% of the power this appliance consumes. How cool is that?
- Finish cooking with the heat off. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there's enough usually heat in ovens and stovetop pots to keep things cooking for the last 5, 10 or even 15 minutes without using additional energy.
- Similarly, keep your tea kettle barely full so you only heat what you need for the cups you're pouring right now. (Really the only thing surprising about this suggestion is how long it took me to realize it!)
- Seal all unused outlets with safety plugs to zap one of your home's leading sources of air leaks.
- Compute on your lap not at your desk. Laptop computers need only around 1/6 the energy required by power-hungry desktop behemoths.
These are all little things, but they can make a big difference. Give them a try, and you'll tap into a new power to not only conserve energy but save money doing it.