Over the past 30 years, national appliance efficiency standards have helped households across the U.S. reduce their utility bills and the impact they have on the environment. The standards cover a wide variety of appliances and equipment that account for about 90 percent of a home’s annual energy use.
$62 Million in Annual Savings
While the first system for establishing standards was passed into law in 1975, it wasn’t until 1987 when the first federal law establishing minimum efficiency standards for household appliances was passed. Since that time, the number of products subject to standards as well as the standards themselves have continually been updated to push for additional energy savings. The standards are estimated to save consumers more than $62 million a year.
1980 Refrigerator = 2 Modern Refrigerators
This graph from our friends at ACEEE, a national non-profit for energy efficiency, demonstrates the remarkable impacts that efficiency standards have had over the years. While it only focuses on four of the 65 different products that have standards, it is easy to appreciate the impact it has had in other areas as well. It also demonstrates quite clearly why it is a great idea to get rid of that old refrigerator in your garage or basement and replace it with a newer ENERGY STAR model. ACEEE has an article that looks at the amazing decline in home appliance energy use in more depth.
Taking Standards to the Next Level
Now that you are equipped with a basic understanding of federal efficiency standards, it’s time to add ENERGY STAR into the mix. Most people know to look for the ENERGY STAR label when they purchase anything from a refrigerator to a computer, but they don’t know what it means. Products that qualify for the ENERGY STAR label go above and beyond the national energy conservation standards. To give you an idea of what this means, take a look at the comparison of the federal standards and ENERGY STAR standards for dishwashers:
The amount of energy savings attributable to appliance and equipment standards will continue to grow in the future. The Department of Energy is expected to begin work in 2016 on standards that will further improve the performance of one of the major sources of energy use in households, heating and cooling equipment. In addition, a number of revised standards for many common household products are also expected to be released in 2016.
Each winter, approximately 57 percent of American homes become their own power plants as they burn natural gas for space heating. By taking a few simple steps around your home, you can reduce your energy consumption, improve comfort, and protect the environment.
The DOE estimates that homeowners can reduce energy usage by up to 9 percent through proper usage of a programmable thermostat. This requires setting back your thermostat 8 to 10 degrees when you are away from home. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of American homes actually have a programmable thermostat installed. Of those homes, a majority of the thermostats have not been installed or programmed properly. The Energy Alliance has a great article on thermostats and the role they play in energy efficiency.
Reducing the amount of air that leaks into your home is a great way to cut heating costs. Most homes have gaps and penetrations to the outside that when taken together can be the same as leaving a window open all winter. The stack effect allows cold air to enter your home near the foundation and forces warm air out through your attic plane. While insulation can help, sealing these penetrations is the best way to prevent warm air from escaping your home. The DOE and ENERGY STAR both have helpful resources outlining do-it-yourself tips for air sealing.
Each winter many people look forward to sitting around the fireplace with family and friends. However, when not used properly, fireplaces can contribute to significant heat loss. Lower the temperature on your thermostat when you have a fire to prevent warm air from being pulled out of your home. Make sure that the fireplace damper is closed and sealed tightly when the fireplace is not in use. If you do not use your fireplace, then it is a good idea to have the chimney plugged and sealed.
Winter brings with it shorter days and more time spent inside. Installing energy efficient lighting is a great way to reduce electricity consumption. LED bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs while providing the same amount of light. LED prices have dropped significantly over the past several years and there are now a variety of options from which to choose. ENERGY STAR has a great infographic that explains everything you need to know about light bulbs and can help you make smart decisions the next time you venture down the lighting aisle.
Home Energy Assessment
The best way to determine how your home is using and losing energy is with a home energy assessment. It provides a comprehensive overview of your home and identifies opportunities to reduce energy consumption and improve comfort. The Energy Alliance offers basic and advanced home energy assessments for homeowners. In addition, many private companies are also beginning to offer energy assessments. Make sure whoever you select is certified by the Building Performance Institute or another certifying body to complete energy assessments. If you are feeling adventurous and want to conduct your own assessment, then the DOE has some great guidance on performing do-it-yourself energy assessments.
In addition to these tips, there are a number of other simple things you can do around your home that can help you save even more energy. By reducing the amount of energy you use, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save money without sacrificing comfort this winter.
We’re spotlighting some energy-usage comparisons developed by the Department of Energy (DOE) in their interactive online infographic – How Much to Energy do you Use? While some people may prefer to think about energy usage in terms of cars off the road or trees planted, the DOE has a little more fun with the concept. How about time-travelling DeLoreans?
2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the movie Back to the Future. In the movie, Marty McFly needs 1.21 gigawatts of power, (approximately the power of a lightning strike), to send himself back to the future.
With that in mind, the Department of Energy infographic takes a look at how much energy we consume on an annual basis and puts it in terms of the number of trips we could make back to the future with all that energy.
Ohio, Lowest Regional Energy Usage Winner
The average Ohioan uses about 154,400,000 kBtus annually (close to the national average). This is enough energy to send Marty 30 years back to the future a total of 121 times.
Taking the idea one step further, if he used all that energy for one big trip back in time, Marty would land in 1645 BC, when pharaohs ruled Egypt .
Kentucky, In a Close Second Place
The average Kentuckian uses approximately 185,800,000 kBtus annually, which is enough energy to send Marty 30 years back through time a total of 151 times.
If he used all that energy on one trip back in time, then he would land in 2545 BC, just a few hundred years before Stonehenge was constructed.
Alaskans use the most energy nationally, about 334,200,000 kBtus annually. That’s the equivalent of sending Marty through time a total of 271 times, or back to the year 6,145 BC, when wine and cheese were first made.
New Yorkers use the least energy, about 106,00,000 kBtus. That would send Marty through time a total of 86 times, or back to the year 595 BC during the Roman Empire.
What will our energy usage hold for the future?
October 21, 2015 is the official “future” date that Marty travels to in Back to the Future 2. While the 2015 depicted in the movie is very different from the 2015 of today, there have been a lot of exciting developments in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energy that will continue to change the ways we use and make energy. Whether or not the “Mr.Fusion Home Energy Reactors” will be part of that mix or not remains to be seen, but who knows what the next 30 years will bring.
Thermostats: One of the keys to a happy home
We recently came across an entertaining commercial that our friends at Michigan Saves put together that focuses on the idea of fighting for control of your thermostat.
The commercial, along with an article in the Washington Post (check out the article’s great video), got us thinking about the significant role that thermostats play in energy efficiency.
Half of Us Don’t Use our Thermostats Properly
According to the Department of Energy, home heating is the largest source of energy usage in the home while home cooling comes in third. That means taking control of those systems can lead to big savings on our energy bills. In fact, the DOE estimates that homeowners can reduce their energy usage by up to 9 percent through proper usage of programmable thermostats.
Unfortunately, only 30% of homes actually have programmable thermostats installed. Of those, a majority have not been programmed properly. You don’t have to be a mathematician to understand that such a low percentage translate into a lot of wasted energy.
Why Thermostats Aren’t Being Programmed
If programmable thermostats are so good, why aren’t more people using them? The Washington Post outlines three reasons why the vast majority of Americans have not embraced programmable or smart thermostat technology:
- Many older style programmable thermostats are too difficult to use so homeowners keep them in manual mode. In fact, research shows that less than half the people that own a programmable thermostat actually use it correctly.
- We often inherit thermostats when we move into a house, condo, or apartment. We didn’t choose the thermostat and we have no idea how to use it.
- A large portion of the general public has bought into the myth that setting back your thermostat at night or when they are gone requires more energy when it is time to heat or cool their home again. The DOE has conducted extensive research debunking this myth.
The Solution: Knowledge is Power. And Savings.
If you already own a programmable thermostat but aren’t sure how to use it, ENERGY STAR has some great resources:
- an interactive online thermostat to teach you how to use a programmable thermostat
- guidelines for setpoint times and temperatures that can help you program it properly
- thermostat buying guidance
- installation tips
A programmable thermostat isn’t always the right choice, especially if your system uses a heat pump, so make sure you know what technology is compatible with what you already have.
The Alternative Solution: Upgrade by Getting Smart
There are plenty of options out there for individuals who want to upgrade their existing thermostats to the latest technology. The next generation of smart thermostats like Nest, ecobee, and Lyric have easy to use interfaces and can be controlled remotely through an app on your smart phone. Smart thermostats offer a range of benefits from ensuring that your heating or cooling system ramps up in an efficient manner to knowing when you are within a certain distance of your home so it can bring it to your desired temperature. Before purchasing a smart thermostat, do your research and make sure that the one you select is compatible with your heating or cooling system.
The Result: Comfort, Savings, and Cool Heads
Whether you have an old programmable thermostat or a new smart thermostat, remember that taking the time to learn how to use it effectively can result in significant energy savings, and keep your household from thermostat battles.
Is Your Home Suited for Solar?
The OKI Regional Council of Governments has launched an online interactive Solar Map to help homeowners determine if their home is a good fit for solar. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, the Solar Map provides information about the solar potential of buildings in the Greater Cincinnati region.
After searching a specific address, the map can tell you:
- if a roof is “good for solar” or “too shaded for solar”
- the percentage of usable roof area
- the size of the potential system
- the potential number of kW per year that the system would produce
- an annual utility savings estimate
- the optimal areas of the roof for the panels
OKI would like you to keep in mind that this isn’t a perfect resource. The information produced by the tool is based on survey data and can’t substitute for a professional evaluation, but it is a great place to start.
Using the Map
1. Type the address of the building in question in the search bar in the upper right of the browser window:
2. Click on the building in the map:
3. See your solar potential from the results that appear on the left pane of the browser window:
About OKI: The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) is a council of local governments, business organizations, and community groups committed to developing collaborative strategies to improve the quality of life and the economic vitality of the region.
On October 1st, the Energy Alliance and the U.S. Department of Energy co-hosted the Clean Energy Finance Roundtable.
A diverse set of over 130 local professionals heard from national and local experts about the current state of clean energy finance and the benefits it can provide to our region. The event helped to energize participants and laid the foundation for what we hope will be a series of discussions surrounding clean energy financing.
Here’s some images we captured of the event and all the great participants.