Saving Energy, Saving the Earth
Karen Street
July 31, 2001

Here are some simple ideas for saving energy around your house. And while you're at it, tell your friends and neighbors too. Remember how social pressure changed smoking habits.

Transportation fuels cause the majority of U.S. air pollution, so reducing driving and flying is important. (And California gasoline prices may go up next year.) If this is impossible where you live, give some serious thought to moving. If you drive less than 10,000 miles/year, car sharing may be for you. Friends Energy Project links to CarShare sites in Seattle, Portland, and SF; let me know if there are other U.S. sites.

Electricity, natural gas, and fireplaces cause the great majority of the remaining air pollution. Fireplaces (except the most efficient ones), and diesel almost anything are the worst polluters.

Reduce consumption. You don't really need aluminum foil except for turkeys. Meet with F/friends to share ideas on how to cut consumption, and send me the good ones.

Air Conditioning and Heating

Natural gas uses much less energy than electricity for heating the house, water, or food.

Insulate well. Both Home Energy Saver and Home Improvement Tool give more specific advice for your home, info on recommended insulation levels for each zip code, hints on living better, etc. In most of CA, attic insulation should be R-38 or higher. Fix leaks. Better care of the ducts can reduce the loss there, up to 30% - 50%.

Energy transfer depends on the difference between indoor and outdoor temperature. If it is 90 F outside and you cool to 70 F, there will be twice as much heat transfer as if you cool to 80 F, therefore twice as much air conditioning will be needed. Consider sweating a little. Or turning on the air conditioner only after 9 PM so you can sleep better.

Smart windows are windows smart to buy for your particular location. If you air condition, buy windows that allow visible light in, but not near-IR (heat). If you never air condition, buy windows that allow near-IR in, but don't let far-IR (body heat) out. The more interesting your weather, the more useful double- and triple pane windows are. However, it rarely makes money sense to replace windows unless you need new ones anyway. Until then, you can double pane particularly leaky windows with a piece of Plexiglas or with plastic wrap (one friend recommends 3M).

Don't air condition/heat rooms you don't use—close off unused parts of the house. The air conditioner should be neither too large nor too small for your needs. Your roof should be light colored if you air condition.

Depending on your location and needs, there are other ideas: plant trees to shade your house, design eaves that keep direct sunlight out when it's high in the sky (summertime). Open drapes and windows only when you want good energy transfer between inside and outside.

When you replace your home heater, Energy Star models can reduce energy use 15%. Think about an integrated heating/hot water system next time.

Buy a smaller house next time around.

Water Use

Use a gas water heater in most areas. Turn the temperature down to medium.

Wash clothes in cold water, worst case warm, except for diapers. Wash full loads. Do not run water continuously while washing dishes. Shower should have a water saver head that also allows you to shut off water while you shampoo.

Is your water heater too large for your needs? Pay attention to First Hour Ratings (how much hot water it can produce it one hour) and energy factors when you buy a new heater.


Use incandescent light bulbs rarely. Switch to fluorescents and compact fluorescents as fast as you can. Turn off lights when you're out of the room more than a few minutes.


Most people should not use electric stoves, electric clothes dryers, or freezers. Consider a smaller refrigerator next time you buy.

Buy Energy Star appliances. Avoid buying electric gadgets, except electric lawn mowers (the fossil fuel ones are very polluting, and may be illegal soon). Buy appliances that use no or minimal standby power. Buy a smaller TV next time.

Energy saver dryers do not exist yet. Gas uses about 1/3 as much energy as electric. Best of all, hang your clothes outside. In many areas of the country, that means getting rid of conspicuous consumption laws that forbid hanging of clothes in public. Do not use dryers during times of peak use if you live where there is air conditioning (and while the majority of Californians do not have air conditioning, we share the grid with people who do), or if electricity supplies are low.

Turn your computer/printer/screen/etc. off when you're not using them; standby power is enormous.

Disconnect your microwave/TV when you're not using them, and your VCR as well if it is not programmed. Plug your TV into a strip outlet that turns off when you turn the strip switch off, and plug your VCR, if you program it, into an outlet that always has power.

Examine your habits. Preheating ovens is usually a waste of energy, as is boiling 8 cups of water for 1 cup of tea. Let dishes air dry.


Turn your water heater down to minimum temperature, or off. Unplug pretty much everything except the refrigerator and freezer.

Very Useful Web Sites

For more on home and office, see FAQ at Answer Desk. For no regrets remodeling, as well as help deciding which type of water heater, etc. to buy (definite money savers), see Making It Happen. Home pages are Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network and Home Energy. If you have any influence in  your work place, start with the ideas at Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

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