Every single day, about 20 appliances, gadgets and electronic devices quietly suck cash and electricity from the American home.
Left plugged in, these “vampires” leak energy even when they’re switched off, draining consumers of at least $3 billion a year, says energy expert Mark Pierce, a Cooperative Extension associate in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. According to Pierce’s research, you and I and everyone else we know pay an extra $200 every year, unless we unplug unused devices.
That’s a good chunk of change! And if you’re like the average American, you’re already shelling out at least $110 each month for your utilities, helping to make the U.S. the second largest energy consumer, right behind China—despite the fact they have a billion more people than we do. The reasons Americans use so much more energy per capita are simple: We’re wealthy and wasteful. Can we as a society shrink our wasteful ways and do more good for our planet? It’s easier than you think.
EPA data shows that slightly less than half of the total energy the U.S. gobbles up is used to generate electricity. That means that if you want to save energy, your wallet, and the planet, then electricity is the place to start—regardless of ongoing debates about which type of energy is best. By the way has anyone tried those new electron-stimulated luminescence light bulbs?
Fortunately, the most effective ways to use less electricity are incredibly basic. For example, turn down the heat. This one simple step makes a huge difference. If every American turned the thermostat down a couple of degrees, we’d save 500,000 barrels of oil each day.
Here are four more super simple steps you can take to become a smarter energy consumer. Try one—or better yet, try all of these strategies to slash energy waste.
1. Slay The Vampires
A whopping 75 percent of the electricity consumption in the average home comes from those vampire devices that are turned off but still plugged in. The list of most frequent offenders includes coffee makers, cell phones, toasters (you’re not still eating that evil wheat, are you?), and computers. Additionally, constantly charging your cell phone and MP3 player not only spikes your energy costs, it can also damage your chargers. Paying for these “vampire” appliances can total up to 10 percent of your monthly utility bill, so unplug ’em already!
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2. Flip The Switch
According to John Bender, a supervisor with Pacific Gas & Electric Company, simply turn off lights, fans, and electric appliances you don’t need on and reduce your utility costs by 15 percent. Presto, change-o! “Controlling your energy usage is key to reducing costs,” he says. Customers who selectively controlled their energy usage told Bender that they saw “a dramatic decrease in their monthly utility bill.” Bender also recommends using light switch timers, motion detectors and fluorescent bulbs whenever possible to subtract even more from the electric bill.
3. Seal Your ‘Shell’
It’s hard to conserve energy during the winter, but if you haven’t taken the time to seal your home’s exterior “shell,” you may be paying to heat your front yard as well as your living room. Properly sealing the exterior of your home (outer walls, ceilings, windows, floors, and doors) prevents air leaks, one of the top sources of heat loss. Experts say a good seal job can take up to 10 percent off your annual heating bill, meaning you stand to save more than $200 each year.
4. Get Smart
You don’t need fancy technical upgrades to save energy. However, one nifty new invention can substantially curb your electricity usage by solving a long-standing dilemma: heating an empty house. Thermostats automatically adjust based on outside weather conditions, so even if you’re out of the house, your heating or cooling systems are hard at work. Enter the “smart thermostat.” Ronnie Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, says the smart thermostat can save users up to $180 a year. Smart thermostats offer a range of costs and features. The most useful are the “super smart” models that can be controlled by your smart phone. You can program these so that your system won’t kick in until it knows (based on your phone’s proximity) that you’re heading home.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your smart phone or laptop and locate the nearest dealer of “smart thermostats.” On your way out of your well-sealed and insulated door, double check that you’ve flipped off all those switches and unplugged those pesky “vampires.” Congratulations, you just protected your wallet and the world.
Photo by Orange Steeler/Flickr.