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Greening Your Building

How to Reduce Your Energy Consumption
Tips for conserving electricity and cutting your energy costs.

Individual Actions | Actions for Business | Links to Additional Resources

Energy efficiency and renewable energy represent the fastest, cleanest, and least expensive ways to reduce our electricity use -- and our dependence on oil. Here, some tips on doing just that, for both individuals and businesses -- along with links to other resources that will help you conserve even more.

Individual Actions:

Quick Fixes

Unplug unnecessary electricity-using devices. Are you running a refrigerator in the basement or garage that contains just a few items? Unplug it. You may save $20 a month on your utility bill.

Unplug little plastic transformer boxes. Every house is full of little devices to charge cell phones, run battery-operated radios, or power television-related equipment. These products consume almost 10 percent of the electricity in the home -- even when they aren't doing anything. Keep these little boxes unplugged until you need them. For additional savings, unplug televisions, VCRs, and similar products when you're not using them. They use significant amounts of energy even when they are turned off.

Check your computer to make sure it operates in energy saving mode. Laptop computers save energy by shutting off the hard drive and blacking out the screen during periods of inactivity. Most desktop computers have the same feature, but it isn't usually enabled. Set your computer to "sleep mode," which darkens the screen when it is not actively used. (Screen savers, in contrast, waste electricity.)

Turn your computer off when you aren't going to be using it for a long time. Computers should be turned off if you will be away from your desk or work station for more than an hour or two (and less than that if you have not enabled the energy-saving "sleep mode" features).

In the winter, turn thermostats down to 68 degrees or below. Reduce settings to 55 degrees before going to sleep or when away for the day. During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees (click here for a more detailed energy-saving tip.)

Use sunlight wisely. Close shades and blinds during the summer or when the air conditioner is in use or will be in use later in the day. During the heating season leave shades and blinds open during sunny, cold days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.

Simple Low-Cost Investments

Caulk and weather-strip. Don't just seal doors and windows. Look for other air leaks that you can seal, such as around plumbing penetrations or ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures.

Buy compact fluorescent lamps. They are now smaller and more attractive than before; they use a third or a quarter as much energy as an ordinary light bulb, and last ten times longer. Look for the Energy Star label, which identifies products that are not only energy-efficient but also perform better. Replace bulbs that burn a long time first, such as outdoor porch lights.

Install timers or motion sensors on devices that shouldn't run all the time.

During the winter, make temporary double-pane windows by using plastic sheeting over your regular windows. This reduces the amount of energy lost through your windows.

Investing in Energy Efficiency

When you buy a new appliance or light fixture, choose the most efficient model possible. Look for the Energy Star label. It tells you the product uses less energy than standard new products. See for a list of the most efficient products.

Weatherize your home. Increased insulation, leak-free ducts, and Energy Star windows improve the comfort of your home and reduce noise as well as saving energy. (Californians can go to for information on how an energy rating for your home can tell you what needs to be done, how much it will cost, and how much it saves.)

If you are buying a new home, look for Energy Star rated homes or for homes that qualify for utility energy efficiency programs.

When buying a new cooking range, clothes dryer or other heating appliance, use gas rather than electricity whenever possible. It's usually more efficient to burn gas where the heat is needed than to burn it at a power plant, convert the heat to electricity, and then send the electricity over wires to your house.

Investments in Energy Efficiency

Buy the most efficient possible appliances, products, and lights. Look for the Energy Star label, which tells you the product uses less energy than a standard new product.

If your lighting system uses a large number of incandescent lights (such as reflector lamps), or if the fluorescent lamps are one and a half inches in diameter, consider replacing the lighting. Energy efficient lighting can save 50 percent while providing higher lighting quality and better color rendition.

Ask an engineer in your company or hire an outside consultant to look in detail at lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and industrial processes to find opportunities for investing in higher energy efficiency. Most industries and buildings can cut energy use by 30 percent or more using only measures that payback all their initial costs in 4 years. Your local utility can often help in identifying opportunities and may be able to provide financial assistance for the projects.

When designing a new building, ask your architect how much energy the building will save compared to your state's Title 24 building energy standards or ASHRAE 90.1. Often, a good target is 30-50 percent savings.

Additional resources:

California Energy Commission's Consumer Energy Center - This site details smart energy choices at home, at work and on the road, and provides information on rebates, grants and loans for energy improvements.

Energy Star Home Improvement Toolbox - Choose your house's symptoms and let the Home Doctor solve your energy ills. Whether you're starting a major home-improvement project or just looking for simple ways to save energy, this site is sure to help.

Home Energy Saver - If you live in California, just enter your zip code and some details about your home and the Lawrence Berkeley Lab's Energy Advisor will show you how to save an average of $500 annually in energy bills. The site also offers the resources you'll need to make it happen.

Power Scorecard - A tool that helps consumers choose power generated from clean sources such as wind and sun.

Alliance to Save Energy's Consumers Page - Includes the Home Energy Checkup and the Appliance Olympics.

The Energy-Smart Home - Do yourself and the environment a big favor by saving energy at home.

Be sure to send me suggestions for the next In Depth segment.