PULLMAN, Wash. – The laws of physical science teach us we can neither create nor destroy energy. But it’s also a simple fact that we can surely waste it. And that raises the possibility of saving money by refusing to let energy slip through our fingers.
Time for a Change
In a typical household, heating and cooling account for 43 percent of utility bills. Your refrigerator and other kitchen appliances likely account for around 17 percent of your bill. Hot water and lighting chip in around 12 percent each and computers, TV and other electronics account for an impressive 9 percent, while other miscellaneous uses fill in the rest.
Fixing the Problem
Anything that penetrates an outer wall or ceiling that’s below an unheated attic, is a place you should check for leaks. For example, electrical outlets and light switches can let air from the interior of your home leak into outer walls and from there, to the outside world. Hardware stores sell pre-cut foam insulation you can simply pop into outlets and switches.
For myself, I know I should check the crawl space at the back of my house. It’s an ugly job in the dark, but I want to address it because I can’t keep my back room warm in the winter. I wonder if the insulation that’s in there has sagged or come entirely unmoored. My plan is to hire someone with better knees than I have and hand him what he needs through the unreasonably tiny door of the crawl space. I did a similar job myself about seven years ago for my previous house, then stupidly moved across town and now must face this unpleasant chore all over again.
Crawl spaces and basements pose moisture issues that can shape what’s a good decision about insulation. Check with professionals or home guides for more information.
Then there are the simple things. Programmable thermostats cost as little as $25-30 and mean you’ll never forget to turn down the heat at night. When you buy a new appliance, look at its energy efficiency. What you pay to take delivery on a refrigerator, for example, is only a small fraction of the total cost of running it over the years, so buy an efficient model and you’ll come out ahead in the long run. Ditto for front-loading clothes washers that can reduce energy bills and water bills at the same time.
We can’t win the fight against the first law of thermodynamics. But many of us can seize the day to save energy and money at home.