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The Cheapest and Easiest Way to Lower Your Household Emissions

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As a member of the eco-blogging community, I’m always looking for ways to save energy, time, and money. Most of what I read focuses on buying fancy new gadgets, upgrading to expensive appliances, replacing your windows, or changing out every lightbulb in your house. Needless to say things like this can get expensive. I get irritated with tips like that are too expensive or overly simplistic– “turn your thermostat up or down” or “wash laundry in cold water.” I want to see tips that are not expensive or obvious.

As a zero waster my ultimate goal is to lower my individual greenhouse gas emissions, but I also have to be practical. Purchasing a $4,000 tankless water heater is not in the cards for me. As an MPA (Master of Public Administration) we are taught the 4 E’s (efficiency, effectiveness, economy, and equity). We learn the 4 E’s from a socio-economic-political perspective, but the 4 E’s can be applied to almost anything. So what is the most cost-effective and efficient method to lower my individual household greenhouse gas emissions? The answer is not fancy or exciting– it’s plain ole’ ENERGY EFFICIENCY. Saving energy is more efficient than making new energy.

Dietary habits, can also lower greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a post within itself, which I will tackle soon.

Where Does Electricity Come From?

Electricity is not a fuel in of itself but is the product of expending a fuel or an energy source. Coal, heating oil, and natural gas are fossil fuels that create electricity. Nuclear energy is the energy stored in the nucleus (core) of an atom, which is released through fission or fusion. Nuclear power plants use low-enriched uranium, which is a heavy metal. Nuclear is a clean-burning source of energy, but the waste byproduct is toxic and does not diminish for hundreds of thousands of years. Solar and wind are renewable energies not dependent on fossil fuels. Hydropower is energy from the movement of water, known as mechanical energy.

Most U.S. homes are fueled by natural-gas and coal-fired power plants. Meaning, the electricity you use has a direct correlation ==to fossil fuels burned, == which creates greenhouse gas emissions. So by lowering your energy bill, you can lower your individual household greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is you do not have to spend a ton of money on the latest gadgets or upgrade your appliances to save energy and money.

Time of Use Rates

This is one of my favorite EASY button to save money. Time of use rates is as the term implies. Your electric company can charge you different amounts for the electricity you’re using depending on the “time of use.” So if you use your dryer during peak hours, you will pay more for the electricity to run that dryer. Many utility companies have time of use rates published for their customers to see.

However, some utilities require that the customer actively signs up for the time of use rates. If you don’t actively sign-up you will be charged a flat hourly rate. So knowing the peak hours of your electric company is only part of the equation. You have to make sure you are signed up for time of use rates. This may require an email, a phone call, or filling out a form.

My utility required that I submit an online form to sign up for time of use rates. My peak hours from April 1 to September 30 are Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. Peak hours from October 1 through March 31 are Monday through Friday from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Weekends are off-peak hours. You better believe I follow these time windows to run big appliances like the dryer or dishwasher.

Change “Select” Lightbulbs

Instead of changing out all of your lightbulbs, just change out the 5 most used lightbulbs (when they eventually go out). The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR models, you can save $75 per year.

Unplug everything in your house (excluding large appliances)

I went around my house and unplugged most things that were not used on a daily basis. I did not unplug major appliances, lamps, or tvs that I used frequently. However, I went room by room and unplugged everything else. I would plug it back in when I needed to use it. Amazingly I did find a few power sucking vampires that we rarely used.


Run Ceiling Fans Appropriately

Using your ceiling fan properly will allow you to raise your thermostat by 4 degrees during summer months with no reduction in comfort. Most ceiling fans have switches that allow you to change the direction the ceiling fan turns during winter or summer months. In the summer months, ceiling fans should rotate counterclockwise. Turn ceiling fans off when you leave the room.

Turn Down the Brightness and Contrast on your TV

Unless you’re watching a certain episode of ‘Game of Thrones‘ that shall not be named, turn down the brightness on your television. This will reduce the amount of power your TV uses. If your TV is newer it may even have an ‘eco’ mode. Check your TV manual to see if your television has this option.

Refrigerator Energy Savings

  • Don’t overload your refrigerator’s airflow system. When I had a refrigerator repair person come out he told me not to overcrowd the venting area on the top shelf of the refrigerator. If you keep food packed too tightly near vents it can cause your refrigerator to work harder.
  • Let your leftovers cool down before placing them in the refrigerator.
  • Vacuum the coils of your refrigerator every 6 months. If you have pets this is a necessity!
  • Okay, this is one you’ve heard before, but it’s worth repeating. Increase the temperature of your refrigerator if you can. The optimum range is 36 to 40°F (2.22222 to 4.44444 °C) and 0 to 5°F  (-17.7778 to -15 °C) for the freezer.

Oven Energy Savings

  • Keep your oven clean. A clean oven has much shorter warm-up times than a dirty one. Don’t ask me why. My oven was dirty for a long time before I embraced this tip.
  • Pots with copper bottoms heat better. If you are in the market for new pots and pans, see if you can find copper bottoms.
  • Glass or ceramic cookware heat up faster than metal.
  • Say “no” to cookie sheets or pots with warped bottoms, because they heat up slower. Non-warped cookware has better contact with the heating elements.
  • Use the right size pot for the burner. If you use a small pot with a large burner, a significant amount of energy is being wasted.
  • A wonder bag can keep your food hot for up to 8 hours without electricity.
  • Thrift stores can be a great place to find cookware.


Washer and Dryer Energy Savings

  • I’m not going to insult you and tell you to line dry your clothes. Other than my cloth diapers– a’int nobody got time for that. If you do, that’s awesome. In the meantime, put a dry towel in your dryer when drying laundry. It will help your clothes dry faster.
  • Keep lint vent cleaned out. This is different than your lint trap. The lent hose is the flexible vent that goes to the outside of your house. The Spruce has a great article on how to clean it.

HVAC Savings

  • If you have a drafty door, try a door draft stopper.
  • Use light colored curtains or put reflective film on your windows.
  • Stay away from homes with those lovely “lawyer foyers” and super tall ceilings. Not only is a home with higher ceilings less energy efficient, it’s more expensive to heat and cool. Your energy consumption is directly related to the volume you are heating and the outside surface area of your house. If you already have a home with high ceilings, here are some tips to lower your energy usage.
  • Change your furnace filters every month. If you can afford a reusable filter, clean it every month.
  • Move furniture is away from vents.
  • Use vent deflectors to direct the air where you want it to go. I used to have vent deflectors. Then I had children, who smashed them to bits.
  • Caulk small holes or cracks near doors or windows. It’s not pretty but it works. Caulk is not zero waste, but saving emissions doesn’t necessarily mean NO plastic use. I’m not aware of caulk in anything other than disposable plastic packaging.
  • This is an awesome post about keeping cool without air conditioning. I grew up without air conditioning and I can vouch for these methods. Here’s a post on how to stay warm with low heat.
  • If you live in a home that uses oil or propane for either heating or cooking, a great way to save is by filling up your tanks right at the end of the winter season. Typically, April through September is the cheapest time to buy heating oil.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these “hopefully” non-typical energy efficiency methods to lower your household emissions. I’m sure you have some I haven’t thought of. Please share with me @fatchange101 on instagram.

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