Give your home an energy makeover with efficient lighting, appliances

Switching to energy-saving lighting and appliances, and changing your daily habits regarding energy use, are two simple ways to lower your electricity bill, advised speakers at last week’s Sustainable Edmonds meeting on Home & Business Energy Efficiency.

lightbulb“The single best thing to reduce your lighting load is to change to compact fluorescent bulbs,” said Laura McCrae of the Snohomish Public Utility District. And don’t wait for your current incandescent bulbs to burn out before making the switch, she added. The energy saved will more than cover the cost of the bulb you threw away.

According to the PUD website, a 75-watt incandescent light bulb left on for 12 hours a day costs about $27 per year in energy. Switch to a 20-watt compact fluorescent light (CFL) that will provide the same amount of light at one-fourth the energy, and that cost drops to under $7 per year. The savings? Over $20 per year for just one light. In addition, CFLs last seven to 10 times longer than incandescents.

The PUD works with several local retailers in South Snohomish County to provide discounted prices for CFLs with no coupon required. A full list of those retailers can be found here. The website also includes information on how to properly dispose of broken or used CFL bulbs, which contain trace levels of mercury.

Other energy-saving lighting tips include turning off lights when you aren’t in a room, using task lighting (targeted illumination for the task at hand, such as a light over a stove), and installing motion sensors for outdoor lighting.

‘Cash for Clunkers’ appliance program on its way

Encouraging consumer to replace their old appliances with more energy-efficient ones is a priority both for the PUD and Puget Sound Energy, the other utility represented at the meeting. It’s also a priority for the federal government, which is expected to add further incentives in late 2009 or early 2010 through a Cash for Clunkers-type program for appliances.

Details are still being worked out for the national program, which will be implemented on a state-by-state basis, but the idea is this: Eligible consumers can receive rebates to purchase new energy-efficient appliances when they replace used appliances. The rebates will be funded with $300 million from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Until that program is operational, both the PUD and Puget Sound Energy are offering their residential electric customers three levels of rebates ($50, $75, $100) for premium-efficiency clothes washers using the WashWise program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards. Natural gas-only customers do not qualify unless they are a member of one of the participating water utilities. The WashWise program is a partnership of participating electric and water utilities to offer customers rebates for high-efficiency clothes washers.

Why the focus on washer, rather than dryer, rebates? Efficient washers not only use less water to wash the clothes, they leave less water behind, speeding the drying time and decreasing energy use, McCrae explained. The PUD also offers a $35 rebate for the purchase of a qualifying resource-efficient dishwasher, which saves both energy and water.

Getting customers to give up their older refrigerators and freezers is another priority of both utilities, as those old models use up to four times the energy of newer ones. Both PUD and PSE will pick up your refrigerator and dispose of it for free. Puget Sound Energy will pay customers $30 just for giving up the old model, while PUD customers will receive a $50 rebate when they purchase a new qualifying energy-efficient refrigerator.

Why unplugging your electronics saves you money

Making smart choices when you purchase home electronics and being aware of how you use those electronics in your home can also make a difference in your energy bill. “In 1980, the average house had three electronics in it,” McCrae said. “Today there are 25 and they are plugged in all the time whether they are being used or not.”

Home electronics account for almost 15 percent of the energy use in the average home, McCrae said. And many people don’t realize that those electronics use more power when they’re turned off but still plugged in than when you are actually using them.

Here’s an easy power-conservation tip: unplug the devices, or better yet, plug everything into a power strip so that you can turn them off all at once when they’re not in use. Or buy a “smart” power strip that uses a timer or occupancy sensor to turn outlets on and off, or designates one of your electronics (such as the TV or computer) as the control device. Getting into this habit alone will save you $35 per year.

Thinking of buying a new television set? Based on five hours of TV watching a day, the average tube television set costs $15 a year in energy costs. An LCD TV runs $32 a year while a plasma TV will add $51 annually to your energy bill.

Want to learn more?

Information on how to calculate your energy costs and ideas for conservation tips, can be found on the PUD website. In addition, the PUD is asking customers to join its Energy Challenge to find 10 percent energy savings in their home or business. Participants receive monthly emails with energy-saving tips and be eligible to win quarterly prize drawings including free home energy assessments and power strips.

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