Switching off to save the planet!
Somewhere in the last century, we went from horse power to, well, break horse power; the definition of energy went from glowing bulbs to Red Bull gives you wings and the effects of energy went from “keeping the world moving” to “bringing the world to its end!”
Here is the cliff note version – most of our machineries and appliances run on energy derived from either electricity or burning fossil fuels like coal or oil. Not only are we running out of fossil fuels and energy resources, we are also gassing the earth, so to say. Burning fossil fuel releases green house gases like carbon, nitrogen, and methane into the atmosphere. While it’s good to have a healthy balance of these gases in the air, too much of these make our atmosphere dense, which acts like double glazed windows holding the solar heat in leading to global warming. Global warming, in turn, is melting ice, increasing water level, messing with ocean current and weather patterns.
So in a nutshell, we are doomed unless we do something about it. Interestingly enough, it actually takes only few small changes in our daily habits to make a huge effect. By simply switching off and following a few tenets of “Energy Efficiency” we can all be heroes and save the world from all the doom and gloom. (Spandex is optional!)
The extra perk of being energy efficient, other than saving the world we live in, is that it saves you money too! It doesn’t really cost tons of money to become energy efficient. As with charity and all other good deeds in the world, energy efficiency also begins at home.
Being total sissies compared to our Neanderthal ancestors who survived ice and volcanoes, we run for the air conditioner/heater every time the temperature moves either side of twenty degrees C! As a result heaters and coolers bite off about 60% of the energy pie. Start with getting the right size heater. While a studio apartment doesn’t need a huge heater, a small wall mounted heater is just as useless in a Victorian mansion. Follow this up by narrowing the area that needs heating. Use less number of rooms and heat/cool rooms specifically. This also makes a great excuse for family bonding. Try simply pulling a curtain over the archway or closing the bathroom door to save energy.
Hypothermia will not set in if you switch off the heater in winter! Especially if you are not at home, give it a rest. You can even get thermostats with timers which will switch the heaters on and off as programmed, say, during the work hours when you are in the office or maybe late night when it gets too hot. The most comfortable and economical heater setting is 18 – 20 degree C. Wearing socks and woolens rather then cranking up the heat can save you tons as well.
Take a page out of mega structures! As it’s being done in some of the top green buildings in the world, you can also use nature’s own force to your benefits. Situate your house so that it catches plenty of sun in the winter but has a tree to shade you in summer. Catch and keep the solar heat in by insulating your house. Install solar panels for the most energy efficient system.
Insulation is the basic tenet of energy efficiency. While newer building can be made to follow eco-friendly designs, even houses that are a few years old have poor insulation. Try re-insulating the roofs, walls and attics; install double glazed windows, draught excluders under the doors etc. and see how the bills get lower. Add to that a new boiler with winter and summer timed automatic switches, capping off the chimneys and you probably be saving around $300 a month
For warmer tropical countries, it’s the cooling that eats up the energy. Natural ventilation is the key here. Keep dark curtains or blinds shut during the hot daytime to minimize heat from the sun. Awnings or shades over windows are also good for keeping the heat down. As the outside temperature cools in the evening, open up the windows to let the heat out. Keep them open overnight to ventilate the room. If you are worried about insects, consider installing wire mesh. Sometimes opening windows on opposite walls create a better wind flow in the room. Set the air conditioner at 25 – 27 degree C, which should just enough to keep the extra heat out. Use fans which are much more energy efficient.
Boilers run on energy. So manage hot water well and try to cut usage. At home, buy timers for boilers. Set boiling temperatures at 600 C and program for winter and summer times. Electric boilers can be used during off peak hours to save costs as well. Install low-flow taps and shower heads, keep pipes and taps in prime condition to avoid leaks or drips, take showers instead of bath and run cold washes whenever possible.
The next highest energy eater is lighting. First of all, turn off lights when you leave a room for more then a few minutes. Use fluorescent lighting for long usage, timers or sensors for outdoor lights. Use the lowest wattage bulbs with lampshades for room lighting. If you need to read or write, use a higher wattage but a focused lamp instead. Install windows to catch optimum natural lighting.
All appliances are energy dependent; so buy energy efficient certificated products. Among washing machines, front loaders are better. Wash only when there is a full load, choose right programs, wash like clothes together and wash in cold water. Avoid using driers all together if possible. Instead dry clothes on a clothesline or rack outside. In winter, the room heating will dry hung clothes as well. Keep dryers clean and well maintained if used frequently. Always dry full loads to avoid wastage.
Run dishwashers only when they are full. Rinse away big food particles by hand, use energy efficient modes and turn off before drying cycle and pull door open to let it dry naturally.
Refrigerators and freezers – get the right size. Clean and defrost regularly for most efficient service. Set average temperatures. Check door seals. Clean and switch off if you are away for a long time.
A large chunk of our population spends a large chunk of the day in office. Considerably, the heating and cooling needs of a workplace are also proportionally high. No reason why any business will shun the practice that will save them thousands in dollar in utility bills!
First of all, outlaw stand-by. Keeping the machines and equipment running on off-duty hours is a waste of energy. Switching off machines keeps the rooms cooler as well, especially in summer. Flick off the switches on the wall before leaving. Stick colorfully written to-do instructions near every appliance for all users. Next, recommended are large windows for optimum natural lighting, light and bright décor to keep room well lit with natural light, low cubicles to allow enough light in etc.
In other overlooked areas, use LCD monitors instead of conventional ones; use inkjet printers rather than lasers; print in black and white, avoid using photocopiers; otherwise use energy efficient features like “sleep” when not in use. Email instead of fax, or use an internet fax service; re-use paper. As you can see, every little step is doable and doesn’t even require any major overhaul in lifestyle. You pay less and the earth will also pay a lesser price for your comfort.
By Maria Belgado