At this point, only philistines and fossil fuel companies think saving energy is a bad idea. It’s the responsible thing to do for all kinds of reasons. But though our hearts are in the right places, our energy-saving focus is often on the wrong things.
That’s the conclusion of a new study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, which finds that people tend to think that the electrical devices with which they have the most active contact are the devices that consume the most energy. We also often underestimate the amounts of energy various technologies use and frequently think there’s not nearly as much of a difference between them as there actually is.
For example, lights and screens like TVs and computers, which we’re always turning on and off, are often perceived as big energy guzzlers worthy of conservation efforts while “background” devices that operate with little involvement aren’t typically seen as anything to worry about. Yet it’s the devices we rarely think about that usually consume the most power and offer the greatest savings opportunities.
So what are these devices? Here’s a look at energy use in the average household along with simple ideas for lowering it:
- No matter how you do it, heating consumes far more energy than anything else—about 42% of total usage. Turning your thermostat down works, but the lion’s share of home heating conservation comes from sealing windows, doors, and ductwork; adding insulation; caulking cracks; and otherwise “buttoning up” your home so it doesn’t leak precious heat.
- Next comes water heating, which accounts for about 18% of your energy bill. Shorter showers, cold-water laundry cycles, wrapping your tank in an insulating blanket, and switching to an on-demand system will help.
- Appliances require some 13% of your home’s energy. Focus on your fridge and your clothes dryer, which both use 2-3 times more power than the next nearest appliance. Keep your refrigerator and freezer full (use frozen jugs of water in empty freezers) and stick a thermometer in your fridge to make sure it’s not needlessly overworked—40° degrees is good. On the dryer side, line-dry clothes when possible, keep lint traps and vents clean, upgrade to a model with a moisture sensor, and double-spin heavy loads.
- Next up are so-called “vampire” devices, technologies that constantly consume a trickle of electricity in order to offer “instant-on” performance. The average home has 40 of these items—think set-top cable boxes, power cubes, and products with keypads and LED indicator lights—and together they devour 10% of our homes’ power. Unplug devices you don’t use often and deploy power strips with a master switch that can kill the power to multiple devices in a home entertainment or computer system.
- Coming in last are air conditioning and lighting, which each use just 6% of the typical home’s energy stream. For your AC, the solution is the same as heating: seal up your home to prevent the air leaks. Where lights are concerned, switch to LED bulbs—they’ll save huge amounts long-term.
We’ve all only got so much energy to devote to conservation so make sure you put yours into targeting the really big hogs and not the little power piglets.
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!