- Turn off lights when not in use—lighting accounts for nearly 50% of the electric bill in most schools. There’s no reason to leave lights on if a room is empty for more than one minute. (And, yes, this applies to the new energy-efficient fluorescent lights.)
Form a student energy patrol to ensure lights are out when rooms are empty (check classrooms, the cafeteria, the auditorium, etc.).
Have students make signs and stickers to remind people to turn off the lights when they leave a room.
Put light switches where people can find and operate them.
- Remove unneeded light fixtures near windows, especially in unused corners or along banks of windows.
Have students conduct an experiment in classrooms by turning off selected banks of lights and surveying occupancy comfort at different lighting levels (often, occupants prefer working under natural light).
- Use energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
Have students calculate the energy savings achieved by:
- Replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs
- Changing incandescent lights in Exit Signs to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs
Heating & Cooling
- Save on energy costs without sacrificing comfort. It’s expensive to heat and cool school buildings, but indoor temperatures must be comfortable so teachers can concentrate on teaching and kids can concentrate on learning. A rule of thumb: Consider setting thermostats at 68 degrees for heating and 78 degrees for cooling. Using fans can make people feel degrees cooler, at much less cost than air conditioning.
- Where classrooms or other areas are uncomfortably cold or drafty, find out why and fix the problem. Custodians, teachers, and students should work together to increase building comfort.
Don’t block the airflow around vents. Keep bookcases and other bulky items away from the heating and cooling units so they don’t block and/or absorb the warm (or cool) air that should be coming into the room.
Install programmable thermostats in areas like the cafeteria to minimize operating hours of the heating and cooling systems during low occupancy periods.
Turn down heat in the hallways. And—keep classroom doors closed. Otherwise, the heat runs down the hall and outside—where it is wasted to the outdoors.
Clean furnace filters regularly.
- Stop leaks!! Look for simple draft beating strategies.
Have students determine areas of energy loss by using “draftmeters” made from plastic wrap and pencils to study where drafts are coming in.
Avoid infiltration in conditioned spaces.
Have students help replace insulation and stuff energy loss “holes” through innovative measures, such as making translucent window quilts to hang in classrooms and “insulation snakes” to put at the bottom of doors and windows.
Work with facility staff to install permanent weather stripping, caulking, and insulation.
- If your school computers have power-management features, make sure controls are set so they will go into the “sleep” mode when not in active use. (Screen savers don’t save energy—only the sleep mode does.)
- Students should turn off monitors that will not be used for the next class period. All computer equipment should be turned off at the end of the day and on weekends, unless your network technicians specifically instruct otherwise.
Form a student energy patrol to make sure monitors are off when computers are not in use and to turn computers off at the end of the day.
- Is your school purchasing new equipment? Save 50% on energy costs by using Energy Star computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, copiers and other equipment. (Visit www.energystar.gov for more information.) Have students calculate potential savings from the use of Energy Star equipment and present the results to school administrators. If your school purchases the equipment, make sure the Energy Star features are enabled.
- Maintain appliances and replace old appliances.
Have students use a watt meter to study how much electricity a device uses. This is useful in determining which appliances are outdated and less efficient.
Have students conduct a survey of the number of appliances in each classroom and encourage teachers to take away unneeded appliances.
- Clean refrigerator coils regularly.
Involve the Whole School
- Get the entire school involved. Energy savings add up when the entire school joins together in conservation efforts. Schools with effective conservation programs have reported reductions of as much as 25% in utility bills.
- Publicize energy costs and savings. When people know how much it costs to power their school, they can see why it’s worth some extra effort to avoid waste.
Involve the Whole District
See if your district administrators would be willing to return a percentage of the dollars saved from your school’s no-cost energy efficiency changes.
More than a dozen states have adopted ambitious goals to cut back on energy use. My home state, Maryland, has one of the most aggressive plans.
This spring, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a law that calls for a 15 percent reduction in electric use, per capita, over the next seven years. If successful, Maryland will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve a cleaner environment. These efforts also will reduce the state's need to build new power stations and transmission lines. While no one will be rewarded for making that 15 percent reduction, or punished for failing to meet it, it is an important effort.
To reach the goal, local utilities are being asked to come up with conservation plans. Public education plans will also be initiated to encourage the state's 5.6 million residents to cut down on electricity use in their homes.
I asked an energy-efficiency expert to come to my 100-year-old clapboard house in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and show me what I can do to cut back on my electricity use. Jennifer Thorne Amann from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy cheerfully took up the challenge. Here is what she found on a walk through my house:
Insulation And Cracks
A lot of energy goes out of the cracks around doors and windows and through poorly insulated walls and ceilings. Thorne Amann suggested that I use a stick of incense or a candle to look for wasteful drafts by following the whiff of smoke. She told me that for less than $20 I could buy sealants to stop those drafts and save on heating and cooling.
She also said that for $250 to $500 I could hire a contractor to attach a gizmo called a "blower door" to my front door. This device sucks air from the house and helps identify the big leaks.
Lights consume about 10 percent of the electricity in a typical home. I replaced a lot of my incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs). These energy-efficient bulbs use one-fourth the amount of electricity that incandescent bulbs use. But I also have about 10 fixtures that are on dimmers — and standard CFLs do not work there. Dimmable CFLs are $17 apiece at my local hardware store. These light fixtures are not used all that much in my house, so I may not recoup the cost of those bulbs. Thorne Amann said prices should come down, because a new federal law will eventually phase out incandescent bulbs. I'll wait.
My refrigerator is 11 years old. It seems like a good candidate for replacement, because refrigerators built after 2001 are in general 30 percent more efficient than older models. However, we ran the numbers and found that my old fridge was actually pretty good. I would save a bit in energy costs, but not enough to make up for the purchase price of a new fridge.
The old freezer in my basement was a different story. If I traded it in for a new model, I would save $100 a year in electric bills and reduce my household electricity use by 6 percent. To see these savings, however, I would have to spend $450 for a new freezer — a painful move in the short run but worth it in the long run.
Electronics often consume up to a quarter of a home's electricity. In particular, appliances such as televisions and cable boxes are always drawing energy. Since I do not have a television or cable box, I avoid these are expenses. However, upon visiting a neighbor's house, I found that an ordinary TV draws around 60 watts, even if it is turned off most of the time.
Also drawing "phantom power" is anything with a charger that stays plugged in – from cell phones to laptops. So Thorne Amann suggested that I unplug those "bricks" when they are not actually doing work. It is even worthwhile for me to unplug my electric toothbrush stand, which draws two watts of electricity. That may not sound like much, but it is more energy than the lights in my bathroom use.
Heating And Cooling
Heating and air conditioning units are typically the biggest home energy users. My system failed last fall. When I bought a new one, I spent a few extra thousand dollars to get the most efficient model on the market. That probably was not a sensible investment from the standpoint of strict dollars and cents, but I did it anyway to reduce my family's "carbon footprint." Thorne Amann said even with a new system, I could save energy by making sure the ducts were taped up tightly (not with standard "duct tape" but with specialized metallic sealing tape). I might also consider insulating my ducts to save energy.
My electric water heater turned out to be the bogeyman in my house. It consumes a shocking 35 percent of my home's electricity. (Thorne Amann figured out its consumption by researching my model's specifications, which is not easy for most people to figure out. This is one reason why it may be worthwhile to use the services of an expert.) I could buy a marginally more efficient electric heater, or I could save a lot of electricity — and carbon emissions — if I switched to natural gas. Thorne Amann told me I could save by switching to low-flow shower heads and washing my clothes in cold water.
Thorne Amann said my family and I could also change some everyday behaviors around the house to reduce electricity consumption. For example, we could hang our laundry out to dry instead of using the electric dryer. I could set our thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter. And I could remind the kids to turn off lights and computers when they are not using them.
The Bottom Line
I can make a difference with simple steps, such as installing low-flow shower heads and compact fluorescent light bulbs. But if I want to get to the Maryland goal of a 15 percent reduction, I will have to invest a few hundred dollars in a new freezer. I can go further, and even cut my electricity bill in half, by replacing my water heater. In four to six years, those investments will probably pay for themselves. The power bills will also remain low after that.
Tips for Reducing Your Home Energy Use
Here are a few specific ways you can drive down your home energy use, reducing both your monthly electricity bills and your environmental impact.
Unplug Cords: Unplug anything with a power "brick" (the box on the power cord) if you are not using it. This includes cords like cell phone chargers and laptop chargers. Bricks consume power even when your gizmo is not plugged into it. Televisions and similar devices also draw power when off, so unplug those if you do not use them often. Large televisions can consume as much electricity as a refrigerator.
Change Your Bulbs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs provide quick and easy savings. Over the past few years, the light quality has improved, but you may need to try a few brands before finding the one you like best.
Measure Your Use: Buy or borrow a watt meter. Using this inexpensive device, which can be purchased for as little as $20, is an easy way to figure out how much electricity your plug-in appliances are consuming. If you find that an appliance is hogging too much energy, it might be worthwhile to invest in a more energy-efficient model.
Look For The 'Energy Star' Logo: Shop for home appliances with the Energy Star logo, which means the product has met standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Appliances bearing this logo are more efficient than base models.
Consider Gas: Switching from an electric water heater to a gas water heater will conserve energy, generally leading to lower bills and less carbon dioxide in the environment.
Seal Your Ducts: Make sure your ducts are tightly sealed, since energy can be wasted out of cracks. Insulation on ductwork can also help.
Use Fans: Use ceiling fans instead of turning down the thermostat, and only turn the fans on when people are in the room.
Source: Jennifer Thorne Amann, co-author of "Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings."