Saving Money by Conserving Energy

Last updated 2005.11.18


Energy Conservation

Why reduce your energy use? First, it saves money. We pay for virtually all the energy we use, whether it is electricity, gasoline, natural gas, propane or the food that fuels our muscles. The heat produced by sunlight coming through the window might be one of the rare exceptions to the rule. Second, pretty much every source of energy production has an environmental impact. There is an environmental impact to producing photovoltaic panels, low-head hydro components and wind generators, even the glass for solar space-heating collectors, even if it is relatively small relative to coal-fired electric plants. Hydro-electric dams usually flood large areas to create the reservoir and vertical drop desired. If the dam blocks the entire flow of the waterway, it may prevent nutrients and minerals from reaching their natural destination by settling them in the reservoir. Dams may also disrupt the travel patterns of native water species. Conserving energy means less energy is required, less is produced and less capacity is required and built.

So much for background information, let's start saving some serious money. Let's start with energy. Where do you consume your energy? Typically in the following areas:
Transportation
Climate Control (home heating and cooling)
Water Heating
Housekeeping
Grounds Keeping
Entertainment
You can reduce energy consumption in all these areas.


Transportation

Do you want to save money and the environment? Transportation is the number one opportunity you have to do both, and it is simple. Use internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles less. Most maintenance costs for ICE vehicles (Otto cycle and Diesel) are related to the amount they are used. Short trips with lots of stops and at low speeds (typical urban driving) are harder on infernal combustion engines than longer, higher-speed trips with few stops (highway driving). Insurance premiums increase with the amount you drive annually. The resale value of your vehicle drops as the odometer reading increases. Oh, and by the way, the use of ICE engines is the single largest source of pollution on the planet; air pollution, water pollution, groundwater pollution, thermal pollution, noise pollution, production of greenhouse gases, global warming. The ICE is the big source of all of these problems, and a significant contributor to landfill with all its consumable parts (air filters, oil filters, fuel filters, belts, engine coolant hoses, spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor caps, rotors and points, gaskets, exhaust systems, etc.). The disposal of used automotive engine oil is the single largest source of release of lead into the environment.

Plan your trips to reduce the distance traveled and combine errands. This will reduce the total miles traveled and your fuel consumption costs. Your fossil-fuel powered engine works more efficiently and pollutes less when it is operating warm rather than cold.

Check the tire pressure on your vehicles. Underinflated tires increases fuel consumption and tire wear. Overinflated tires can cause uneven tire wear, and reduce the contact area with the road, and control of the vehicle.

Slow down to the posted speed limit. The energy required to overcome air resistance goes up as the cube of speed. It takes about 10% more fuel to cover a given distance at 110 km/h than at 100 km/h. Driving at 90 km/h reduces fuel consumption by 20% relative to driving at 110 km/h. (That's why the U.S. introduced the national 55 mph speed limit during the OPEC petroleum pinch in the 1970s.) Use the cruise control, if you have one, for extended highway travel. Observing the posted speed limits won't just save fuel; you can avoid speeding tickets, possibly a collision, higher insurance premiums, injury or even your life.

Make sure your vehicle is running properly. Bad ignition components, fouled spark plugs and dirty air filters will all increase fuel consumption and reduce performance.

Walk. Its good for you and the environment and pretty cheap - a pair of shoes will cover a lot of miles.

Ride a bicycle. Good, reliable, used bikes are available from bike shops, sporting goods stores, second-hand shops, classified advertisements and other sources. You don't need a brand-new bicycle with all the gadgets - you need inexpensive, reliable transportation. Use an electric-assisted bicycle if this makes using a bicycle more practical for you.

Use mass transit when it is practical, e.g. for commuting or attending popular events where parking and traffic jams are often a problem.

Take the train instead of a commercial airline flight for trips up to 400 km (about 250 miles) when this is practical. Train fares are usually quite a bit cheaper, and the difference in time from origin to destination is usually small, even with the slow trains common in North America, for trips up to this distance. Surprised? Air travel is not especially fast for short distances when you allow for time to travel to the airport (usually outside the city while the train station is usually closer to the city center), checking your luggage at the airline counter up to an hour before flight time (it usually stays with you on the train), passing through security, waiting to board the plane, waiting for your bags on arrival at the destination airport (bags are still with you on the train), and then get from the airport to where you actually want to be (train station is probably closer to your real destination than the airport is). The train uses less fuel per passenger mile, producing less pollution. Some trains are even electric, producing no pollution while moving you from place to place. Oh, and there is no cabin pressure problem (that makes your ears pop) or increased radiation exposure on the train.

Car pool. Less gas, less wear and tear, less parking cost all means less money spent. Also less air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, thermal pollution, greenhouse gases... Take note of possible insurance implications from using your vehicle for car-pooling, although many insurance companies are improving their policies regarding this practice.

When it's time to buy your next car, buy the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that is practical for you. If that is a moped or scooter or motorcycle rather than a car or truck, so much the better. Please don't buy a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). First, because of their popularity they are outrageously over-priced - the average profit margin on a North American SUV (as of mid- 1998) is US$10,000. The recipe is, take a pickup-truck chassis, stick a station-wagon body on it, then double the price the manufacturing costs would normally justify. If you still have to have one, it's your money, just don't drive it, because it is a prime environment destroyer. They consume a lot of fuel because of their weight, and they are not subject to all the same emission controls as regular automobiles. Want to see the reality on SUVs? Check out the Anti-SUV site. Consider your real needs and get the appropriate alternative. Need to haul people? Forget the SUV -seating for 2 adults and 3 small children. Need to haul cargo? What cargo space is there in an SUV? Do you really drive off-road, often? Then get a serious off-roader like an old Willys Overland, International Scout, Dodge PowerWagon, older Jeep or Bronco - not one of the current cosmetic knock-offs. You just have to look at one of the new pretenders with custom paint job, chrome accent trim, designer leather interior, power playtoys to know these vehicles are not going off-road (intentionally anyway) anytime soon.

When shopping, consider buying a "hybrid". The current offerings are electric-assisted gasoline cars, but their gas mileage can be phenomenal. The Honda Insight is rated at 3 liters per 100 km or about 70 miles per U.S. gallon. I have friends that have reported getting 90 miles per U.S. gallon with careful driving in the Insight. The Toyota Prius seats 4 adults, and boasts a 4 liters per 100 km (52 miles per U.S. gallon - city driving) fuel consumption. I have driven one of these, and can confirm these figures from personal experience.

Use ethanol blend fuels instead of normal gasoline. They may actually cost a few cents more per fill-up than the normal gasoline, but there are anecdotal reports that you will get better gas mileage with ethanol blend fuels (due a higher effective octane content), and a slightly lower fuel cost per km (or mile). Try it yourself, compare your mileage on a tank full of normal gasoline, and then with a tank full of ethanol blend. Increased demand for ethanol should result in economies of scale in production, thus eventually lowering the cost below that of normal gasoline on a per unit basis. As for the environment, ethanol blend fuels produce less noxious emissions than normal gasoline.

Whether you use ethanol blends or regular gasoline, choose the brand that has the lowest sulphur content. No direct savings, but reduced acid rain means your property that is exposed to the weather will last longer. In Canada, it appears that Esso (Imperial Oil / Exxon-Mobil) has the highest sulphur gasolines and should be avoided (see Cleanair.ca, CBC News, Life Magazine, Friends of the Earth to pick a few.) Are you prepared to drive an extra block (no additional out-of-pocket costs) to another service station for the good of the environment?

If you are a multiple car household and use at least one of those vehicles primarily for commuting, consider using an electric vehicle (car, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle) for your commuter vehicle and reserving your ICE vehicle for the longer trips on which it will operate more effectively. Reduced wear and tear on your gasoline-powered vehicle will help it last longer and retain a higher resale value.

If you commute without your car during the fair-weather seasons, be sure to tell your insurance company that, you should probably get a reduced premium for that period.


Climate Control

None of this is rocket science, you have probably seen all this information before somewhere. And none of it is particularly expensive or difficult to implement, and every one of these items will save you money in the form of your heating and cooling bills.

Insulate and weather-seal your home. This will reduce your heating and cooling energy bills.

Use passive solar energy during the heating season. It is as simple as letting the sun shine in through your windows. Use additional thermal mass near those windows to collect that solar heating energy as it is being produced, so that it can provide warmth in the building when the sun is not shining.

Solariums (sun rooms) and active solar systems require an investment, but they can pay for themselves under the right conditions. Image of our solar heating panels. The duct work is still exposed in this photo, to show how the air is moved from the house, to the panels, and back again. These are a fairly recent addition for us, so we don't have good figures on how much they are helping yet. But on a sunny day, the heat coming from the outlet duct is impressive. The blower motor was installed outdoors to reduce noise inside the house. The structure on the bottom left is the seasonal lean-to greenhouse. It is removed in the summer so we can use the deck, and put up in the fall to give us some fresh tomatoes year-round. The thermometer in the greenhouse is typically 8-10 degrees Celsius warmer than outdoors, all the time. Even at night. The greenhouse covers a set of patio doors with metal frames, which we have suspected of being a major heat loss point in our house. Much warmer when the sun is shining - up to 45 degrees C that we have seen so far in the greenhouse. The roof of the greenhouse is actually thermopane glass (recycled patio doors), and not painted white. The white there, on the deck and elsewhere in the picture is snow, a common substance hereabouts. The PV panel charges batteries providing much of the power for our computer system, providing a full-time UPS capability. The computer CPU is usually on, as it serves as our main fax unit, and runs several routines on a scheduled, unattended basis.

Use awnings on your sun-facing windows in the hot months to reduce the amount of solar heating from your windows so you will not have to spend as much energy on cooling. Budget Awnings provides an extensive listing of awning options and suppliers.

Setback thermostats. Set the temperature lower in winter, higher in summer. Consider using a programmable thermostat to do this automatically if your household schedule is normally predictable enough to make this worthwhile (e.g. everyone in your house normally sleeps from midnight to 6 a.m.).

Keep your furnace filter(s) clean - check them monthly during the heating season, and during the air-conditioning season too if your furnace fan is involved in delivering cool air (e.g. central air conditioning). Use a permanent filter instead of disposable filters, it will save you money over time, and reduce your trash volume.

Insulate the hot water heater, especially during hot weather.

Insulate water pipes, hot and cold.

Dress for the climate, not for fashion.

Plant deciduous trees to the south and coniferous (evergreen) trees to the north of buildings (in the northern hemisphere - reverse in the southern hemisphere).

Use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning to help keep you cool.

Cook outdoors in the summer (use the barbecue or for the truly adventurous, a solar cooker), or plan cold meals once in a while. If you don't heat up the kitchen, you won't have to use the energy to cool it off again. Our ancestors understood this, they built houses with winter and summer kitchens.

Use the heat or cold of water you are running anyway. After running a hot bath or shower in the winter, let the water stand in the tub until it has reached room temperature. It will warm up the house a bit, and you paid to heat that water, so why not get the most out of it? Running cold water to wash vegetables in the sink in the summer? Capture that water in a bowl or basin and let it stand until it reaches room temperature - as it warms it is absorbing heat from the room.

If you use an electric clothes dryer, vent it indoors during cold weather to get the most from that heat you are paying for, providing the moisture content does not cause condensation problems for you. Don't do this with a gas dryer, the exhaust is poisonous.


Housekeeping

Turn it off. How often are lights, televisions, stereos left on in your house when there is no-one in the room because 'you'll be right back'?

Buy energy-saving appliances.

Use the right appliance when you have a choice; a microwave or toaster-oven will usually use less energy than a full-size stove for cooking small quantities of food.

Use appliances outside electricity rush-hour when practical, such as bread-makers, washing machines, clothes-dryers, dishwashers, Christmas lights. As much as possible, turn off all devices that consume electricity from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on regular weekdays (or all afternoon during hot weather when air conditioning loads are the major energy consumer). This is electricity rush-hour, and our utilities build or buy capacity to meet this peak demand so that we will not experience brown-outs or voltage sags. If you reduce your peak consumption, then less capacity is required. If you consume that electricity at off-peak times instead of peak periods, this improves the efficiency of the utilities' power production, and could even result in lower overall electricity rates for all of us. Some electrical utilities provide time-of-use (TOU) pricing. If your utility does this, you can buy your electricity cheaper during off-peak hours than during peak-hours. Why not buy your electricity when it is on sale if you have that option?

Replace heavy use incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CF) lights. They screw right into the same standard light socket as your incandescent bulbs. They produce the same amount of lighting but use less electricity and produce less heat. There are now CF lights suitable for outdoor use, even in cold weather. And they save you money. They cost more initially, but they last longer than incandescent bulbs and use much less electricity. Over their life, the replacement bulbs and electricity you don't buy will more than pay for the CF light. And that doesn't even include the air conditioning you would pay for to counteract the heat from the incandescent bulbs during the summer. CF lights use about 25% of the energy of incandescent lights to produce the same amount of light. The incandescent lights use 75% of the electricity they consume to produce heat, not light.

If you are purchasing Christmas lights, look into the newer LED-based lights. They use much less electricity than conventional decorative lighting, and should last much longer.

By all means hang your clothes to dry if that is practical. The wind and sunlight are free. In our neighbourhood this is not permitted; I guess we can't stand to see the neighbours' undies out on a clothesline. Set your clothes dryer to turn off before the clothes are completely dry, then take clothes out and hang them while warm and very slightly damp. It can save you a lot of ironing. (I hate ironing.) You save the power used by the dryer running less and that used by the iron.

Slice small quantities of food by hand instead of using a food-processor; it is faster when you consider the time used in cleaning up, and it takes less water and energy to clean a single knife and cutting board than a food-processor.

Cook a little extra, if you can use the leftovers. You have the stove element or oven on anyway. For example, if you are cooking a spaghetti dinner, make up a single serving of spaghetti noodles and sauce in a reusable, sealable container (preferably one can be used in both freezer and microwave). (In our house, we use the plastic tubs that we get margarine, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc. as freezer/microwave containers over and over again.) Note that not all plastic containers are appropriate for use in the microwave – some can leach chemicals into the food when heated. Look for the words microwave-safe, or remove the food from that container before reheating. Then take those lovely leftovers to work for lunch, just a few minutes in the microwave (if you have access to one) to have a nice hot meal. Or give it to a single friend or relative as a nice treat.

Wash with cold water whenever it is practical, which is feasible for almost all laundry, and those quick washes of hands and face. It uses a lot of water to wait for the hot water to arrive through the pipes, and then you probably only use 15 to 30 seconds worth of it. You may have run and additional 30 to 120 seconds worth of water to get the hot water to where you are using it.


Grounds Keeping

Replace your gasoline powered implements with hand-powered or electric powered tools. The pollution impact of small gasoline engines is enormous. Check out what the US EPA has to say on the subject. Use a push-mower to mow your lawn or shovel the snow if this is practical. Lawn mowers, line trimmers, snow-blowers, roto-tillers, leaf-blowers, chippers, garden tractors, hedge trimmers all come in electric versions (often corded and cordless). Some even have solar-charging options.

Share a big-ticket yard-maintenance item with a neighbour and split the costs.

Consider hiring your child or a local student to do some of your yard-work in exchange for using your tools when doing yard-work for someone else for pay. Kids have to be one of the great under-utilized energy resources in North America. Seriously, get them involved. It gives them something constructive to do, can help them develop a sense of accomplishment and pride in their efforts. Make it a joint effort when possible; kids like to help and like the social interaction. They don't usually like to be assigned a chore and then be abandoned. Don't forget to reward them for a job well done either, including praise, a treat, payment and spending time with them. You want some really good ideas on how to save energy? Challenge your children to come up with some ideas. Wow! The power of imagination is an amazing thing to see in action.


Entertainment

If life is all work and no play, what's the point? You can have fun while reducing energy consumption and being kind to the environment. Go for a picnic by bicycle in a local green area. Leave it cleaner than you found it. Go for a boat ride, on a boat powered by people (canoe, rowboat) , wind (sailboat), or an electric boat (possibly solar powered) instead of by gasoline or diesel. You can even try out electric go-karting in some areas now. You might also consider battery-powered radio-controlled model cars, boats and aircraft.


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