Does opening your blinds to direct sunlight actually warm a room? What exactly should you be looking for, energy efficiency-wise, when buying or renting a home? Do you need an energy audit – and what is that? These types of questions are rarely answered in typical energy efficiency tips.
For each month of 2022, OPPD’s Energy Advisor Eric BenSalah will provide insight into some of the lesser-known aspects of energy efficiency.
This may be one of the most common efficiency tips you’ve heard or read: Be sure to unplug all unused electronics to save energy and money.
So, does doing that really make a big difference? The short answer is yes and no. (How’s that for clarity?) If you have seen our video on “phantom” load, you understand that answer. If you haven’t seen that video, be sure to check it out, and read on.
Unplugging unused electronics (including appliances) does reduce your energy usage, but by a very small amount. As an energy-saving (and bill-reducing) measure, it is not very effective. You are better off simply turning the power off, or if you still want to unplug an appliance or device, connect it (and other electronics) to a power strip and turn that off. A few examples, based on eight hours of use a day:
The numbers that are often cited in terms of savings when it comes to phantom load are calculated by the amount it costs to use the item and multiplying that by however many hours it is not in use. For example, let’s take a space heater. When operating on high, it uses 1500 watts or 1.5 kWh (kilowatt hours). At a cost of 8.63 cents per kWh, that’s about 13 cents per hour. But if you unplug the space heater for six hours, you will not save 78 cents (13 x 6).
The amount of energy an electronic device or appliance uses when it is turned off is significantly lower than when it is in use. I used a watt detector to determine just how much energy a space heater uses when it’s plugged in, but not in use. The amount might surprise you: 60 watts in 24 hours, which adds up to roughly a half cent per day, or about 16 cents per month.
So, back to unplugging the space heater for six hours. If you unplug it, you’ll actually save one-hundredth of a cent per day. At a maximum, if you left the space heater unplugged 24 hours a day for an entire month, you would save yourself 16 cents.
To look at your possible savings more broadly: You might save about $1-3 a month if you unplug everything in between uses. So why is that tip so popular?
The short answer is that one household following this process might reduce their energy load by 2.5 kWh in a day. But, especially during peak energy use situations – like a scorching hot or bitterly cold day – if 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 customers do this for a day, the energy reduction across OPPD’s service territory drops by 25,000, 50,000 or 75,000 kWh.
In closing, yes, phantom load is real and you can make a difference. The reality of phantom load, however, is that is works on a larger scale, when we all work together as needed. On a smaller scale (e.g. in an individual home), it’s all up to you: How much effort do you want to put into reducing your energy use, cost and carbon footprint? Simply turning items off, or shutting off a power strip (or better yet: using smart plugs) will produce nearly the same effect for that effort.
Energy tips come from a variety of sources: your local utility, the Department of Energy, a parent, a neighbor or maybe even your child. Many of those tips are oft-repeated: open your curtains to direct sunlight to warm a room or close them to help keep a room cool; or replace your light bulbs with LEDs to save energy and money.
Today, I am going to address those two particular tips and what the actual results are, along with some additional information to keep in mind.
Can you really warm a room by opening your curtains to direct sunlight or cool a room by closing the curtains to direct sunlight? This is probably the number one tip mentioned whenever EE tips are given out. But, does it actually work?
Using an infrared thermometer, with the curtain open, I checked the temperature of the window facing the sun, the wall next to it, and the floor on which the sun was shining. I also used a regular thermometer to determine the ambient air temperature (like your thermostat does). Here is what I found:
Outside temp: 88 degrees / Thermostat: 74 (set on cool) / Location: Living Room (about 10’ from the thermostat)
Summary: Every home is different. The home I tested this in did not have adequate insulation in the exterior walls. However, from the data above, there is a change in temperature which affects our comfort from a radiative standpoint. In other words, if you’re close to a hot wall or floor, you’ll feel hotter and the same goes for a cold wall or floor. Opening or closing curtains to use sunlight to your advantage can work in most situations. Sunlight can warm a room by as much as 7 degrees depending on the design of the home, the time of year and other factors.
The concept is simple: Replacing any incandescent or CFL light bulbs with LEDs will save energy, money and trips to the store to buy replacements. So, I have to ask: Is that true?
To understand part of the why, we have to understand how incandescent bulbs and LEDs create light. An incandescent bulb has a tungsten filament that gets superheated once an electrical current is established in the base of the bulb. The heat the filament gives off is so hot it glows which produces light. That energy is broken down to roughly 10% light and 90% heat energy.
An LED bulb has an electrical current that passes through a microchip which then illuminates tiny light emitting diodes (LED) to create visible light. That energy is broken down to roughly 90% light and 10% heat energy.
When LEDs first came on to the market, they were pretty expensive – as much as $5-10 per bulb! Now, you can buy a 6w (60 watt incandescent equivalent) bulb for as little as $2. Let’s break this down:
In doing the math, you will have purchased 6 incandescent bulbs for the lifespan of the average LED. Meaning you would have spent $6.00 when you could have spent $2.00 by purchasing an LED. And the usage difference? This is called the payback period.
On average, LEDs that replace incandescent light bulbs have a payback period of three months. Meaning, after 3 months, the savings from the LED (compared to the incandescent) will have paid for itself. After that, it’s all savings!
Due to the nature of LED bulbs – which use newer, improved technology to produce light versus the tremendous heat used by an incandescent – they can be prone to failing in a short amount of time or right out of the box. However, on average, an LED will last 10 years or even longer.
There are many other tips to put under the microscope and analyze; be on the lookout for more in the coming months.
For most of us, a home is the largest purchase we will ever make. A home needs regular maintenance (preventative and otherwise) just like we do, our cars do and so on. An energy audit is a great way to better understand your home as a system.
Energy audits are essentially inspections of a home with a focus on energy efficiency. Certified energy raters perform the audits and will inspect, test and measure various parts and aspects of the home. They will use the results they get to help the homeowner decide what energy-efficiency measures and/or retrofits (replacing an old technology with a new one) will work best or are at least cost-effective. An energy audit can also help ensure that the home is operating safely as it relates to combustion safety and air quality.
Certified energy raters have a mission to conserve energy, increase energy efficiency and help you save money. Also, they are there to help protect the environment from byproducts of energy consumption, increase the comfort of the home, improve the health and safety of the home, and increase the public’s awareness of energy-efficiency measures and services.
The recommendations the energy rater will make can be as simple as behavioral changes in the way you operate your home. Or, a rater might recommend expensive retrofits, such as replacing a furnace or air conditioner, or making some upgrades.
In order for the energy audit to be complete, a handful of tests generally will take place, including:
Once a complete picture of the home, how it operates, how you operate in the home, and other tests and variables are completed and evaluated, the energy rater will provide recommendations to the homeowner.
The recommendations will include (but not be limited to) items such as:
The energy rater will provide a written (on paper or digital) record of all recommendations and the report of the home.
For more information regarding a home’s HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating, see About the HERS Index.
In the energy efficiency world, health and safety are just as important as efficiency and conservation. Whether you’re making energy conservation modifications and improvements to a current home or building a new one, health and safety hazards must be top of mind to avoid potential exposure to toxic and hazardous substances and situations.
By keeping some basic and important things in mind around the home, you can help to ensure you and your family are safe.
Below are some common possible hazards to be aware of and steps you should take to prevent or address them.
So, outside of installing some detectors and regularly changing filters, what else can can you do to keep your home environment healthy and safe?
Homes now contain more and more energy technology than ever before. Even “updated” older homes can contain a smart thermostat or new HVAC system. All of this new technology means homebuyers need to assess all of their energy options when choosing a home if they want to be energy- and cost-efficient and safe.
There are plenty of things you have to do and think about when choosing a house or apartment. You can find a number of “walkthrough checklists” online to help you evaluate your next home. The tips below can help you ensure your home is in good working order – add them to your checklist.
Learn more about OPPD’s Energy Advisor program here.
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