Where are my kilowatts going?

OK, so I need to reduce my energy consumption.  I’ve switched all of my lights to energy efficient ones and I will continue to nag hubby and kids when they leave lights on in the flat.  I’ve even started a money-making scheme for the kids, where they get £0.50 every time they notice a light on without someone in the room and turn it off.  But lighting only makes up about 15% of a typical home.  What is using up the rest of my electricity, and how can I reduce my consumption further?  If I look around my flat at the appliances that are plugged in, most of my electricity is going towards the kitchen.  My fridge/freezer, dishwasher, washing machine, oven/hob, microwave, kettle, toaster and food processor are the main culprits.  In the living room, it’s the TV and computer corner.

OK, so aside from buying new A++ rated everything at a cost of several thousand pounds, what can be done?  As it turns out, small behavioural changes usage of appliances can actually make a huge difference in your home’s total energy consumption.

Refrigerators
Fridges operate more efficiently when full, so if you fridge is constantly half empty, you are using more energy to keep things cold inside.  If you aren’t able to downsize to a new efficient fridge, then you can consider keeping bottles of water inside in the back to help keep it cold.  Likewise, when you go on holiday and try your hardest to clean out the fridge, make sure to fill it with water before you leave.  With two kids, I rarely have an empty fridge, and often have the problem of finding food in

If you are in the market for a new fridge and want to buy one that uses the least energy, keep in mind that the colour/letter rating system for energy efficiency isn’t the only thing to consider.  Size is important, as a large a A++ double-door fridge will use more energy than a smaller A+ fridge.

Dishwashers
Energy use doesn’t change with how many dishes are in the machine, so try to only run loads that are full.  Most dishwashers have several settings for the temperature and run-time of loads, so try to wash at the more efficient setting.  I have a slimline Bosch with a setting called Eco, which for some funny reason has a runtime of 170 minutes at 50 degrees C.  It also has a setting called Quick with a runtime of 29 minutes at 45 degrees C.  It has some other even longer settings at higher temperatures, but I couldn’t tell you how they work because I never use them.  I used the Eco wash just once and had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I closed the door and it said that it would be running for nearly 3 hours!  I then tried the Quick setting and haven’t looked back since – that’s all I use now. When in the market for a new dishwasher, once again size matters, so a smaller slime-line unit will use less energy than a large unit, and you’ll be less likely to wash loads that are not full, so that’s something to consider alongside efficiency rating.  Going without a dishwasher is however the best option.  After our second child was born, we broke down and bought a small one…  Hopefully there are more of you out there who are less lazy and use a bucket to wash dishes in!  Hands down (or rather in rubber gloves) that is the best option.

Washing Machines
Am I the only person who doesn’t know what half of the settings on most washers are for?  Perhaps being a not-so-fashionable mother  of two who permanently lives in cotton means that I don’t have to think about any of many settings on the dial!  But the one thing that I understand on my washer is the temperature setting.  I love that UK and other European washers have the temperature actually written on it.  From what I can remember, all of the US washers I ever used had “cold”  “warm” and “hot” or some combination of those for pre-rinses settings, and so it never really sunk in how incrementally more energy intensive these washes are.  Needless to say, the lower the temperature setting, the less energy is needed to power the load.  Having had two babies with cloth nappies (aka diapers for you US readers), the eldest of whom is now a primary school age boy with a love of playing in the dirt, I have washed and continue to wash my fair share of laundry.  I almost always use the 30 degree C setting (coldest option) on my washer.  And I can’t honestly say that I notice a difference between the cold and hot washes in terms of cleanliness of clothing.

OK, so I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, only wash full loads to get most washing out of the energy needed per load.  I remember my mother telling me this as a teenager, and you know what, she was right!

So, I’m a big fan of German engineering and also have a Bosch washer.  Just like my dishwasher, it has a “Reduced time” button that I hit for nearly all of my washing.  It means I don’t have to wait an hour for my clothes to get clean, and I save a boatload on my electricity bill.  So check to see if your washer has this option and time the difference.  For things like sheets in particular this is a great setting if you don’t believe me that it works for mud splattered trousers too.  There is also a reduced spin cycle button that you can also hit to save some energy.  The downside for this is that there will be a higher water content left in your laundry.  But on warm days when you are putting your clothes on the line, this is a good option to use.

Dryers
I list this here, as it’s the natural thing to follow the washing machine section.  However, I am very happy to say that since moving to the UK, I have not owned a clothes dryer.  I’ll admit, that when I first moved here I strongly believed that I was an energy efficient citizen of the world, yet the first time I ever saw clothes hanging on a washing line was when I was about 27 years old.  This is despite being born and raised in Southern California, where clothes would certainly dry on a line in a few hours outside in the glorious glorious sunshine!  I distinctly remember the feeling of complete bewilderment, shock and horror when I moved to my first rental flat in the UK and found out that there was no dryer.  I had never even seen a clothes drying rack in my life, so I had no clue that this is what normal folks use in Europe.  I spent my 6 months in the UK, putting washing on the radiators, as our first flat had no communal drying green and I didn’t own, or even know, that indoor drying racks existed.  But now, after 7 years of living without a clothes dryer, I think dryers are horrible, and I can’t believe that they are the standard for all washing in the US.  If this American can live in the wet and cold Scottish climate without a dryer, I highly encourage all folks out there to give the drying rack (either an indoor one or better yet an outdoor line) a try.  You can get them at Target in the US for about 20 bucks, and it’ll pay off in a matter of months, especially in the summer.  And really, NOTHING beats the freshness of clothes dried outside on a laundry line!  Seriously.

Ovens/Hobs
Now, most folks who like to cook will say that they prefer gas hobs (aka stoves for American readers) to electrical ones.  But actually electric hobs are more efficient and use less total energy to cook.  Induction hobs are even more efficient.  So, if you are in the market for a new oven or hob and want to make energy efficiency a priority, then electric will be your best conventional option.  But assuming you aren’t going to replace your existing appliance at the moment (like me), what can you do to save energy while cooking?  One easy change is to always make sure that you use your lids!  Keeping a lid on boiling soup, pasta or even frying eggs will trap the heat inside the pan, and you’ll save cooking time, money and energy.  Win, win, win! It will also mean you don’t need to use an extractor fan nearly as much if you have one.  Electric ovens also usually have fans, which distribute heat more evenly inside the oven and allow for reductions of about 20 degrees C in most recipes.  So they’ll save you a bit of energy in that respect and you won’t need to open your even door to rotate pans, letting out all of your warm cooking air.

I am not one for reinventing the wheel, so instead of listing a bunch of tips, I’ll just point you in the direction of a great website.  Best ever top 10 tips for more energy efficient hob and oven cooking.  I’m going to go out and buy some stainless steel skewers tomorrow to try out on my locally sourced Sunday roast!!!

Smaller Kitchen Appliances
So, if you like to cook, you may have a variety of other appliances for cooking.  In the UK, kettles see quite a bit of use, and the main thing here is to only boil the amount of water that you actually need.  Those of you in the US who have no idea what an electric kettle is… it is simply my most favourite appliance in the kitchen and it makes me wonderful pots of tea and saves me loads of time when boiling water.  You can find them in the US, but since the voltage is lower there, they take forever and aren’t worthwhile.  Most Americans will boil water in a microwave. Hmmm, it should be easy to calculate energy use in a microwave vs. electric kettle to see which is better though…  Any math geeks out there who want to take a shot?  Leave your comments below!  I’ll ask my Engineering Professor brother-in-law to see if he can shed light on which side of the post is boiling water the most efficiently in another post.

Outside of the kitchen, the next biggest electricity drains will be your TV and computer.  So let’s see what our options are here.

TV
The most energy efficient TV, is no TV!  I wish this Great Energy Race was a year ago, when I could have smugly said that I didn’t own a TV, and hadn’t owned one for over 10 years.  But a few months ago, we bought one – she types while hanging her head in shame!  It’s a long story for another day that all begins with a simple Raspberry Pi, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Anyhow, we went shopping for a TV, and so settled on a relatively small A+ rated LED TV.  I flat out refused to get an energy sucking plasma TV, and all things considered, I am actually very happy with the LED.  Although in retrospect, we didn’t/don’t actually need a TV.  But I digress.  Like refrigerators, size matters, so the smaller the TV, the less energy it will use.  So if you try to resist temptations to get bigger and bigger TVs, you WILL get used to which ever size you buy.  And if you can power off your TV at the switch (not an option for those American readers without the fantastic power switches on all wall sockets) instead of simply turning off your TV that is best.  I have just installed an Intellipanel on my TV, so that when I turn off the TV with the remote, it and any associated TV-devices (like DVD players or surround sound speakers for those of you with them) also automatically get turned off at the power source so that nothing sits on standby mode.  Again, not wanting to reinvent the wheel, here’s a great link to loads more energy saving tips for TV’s and also computers.

Computers
OK,so you’ve checked out the link above with tips for reducing energy consumption on computers right?  Well then, my best advice for both TVs, and computers, is to invest in an Intellipanel or similar devise that can power down computer plug-in accessories when you turn off your computer.  The standby electricity used in many of these things, like speakers, cameras, external drives, and computers themselves are called electricity vampires for a reason.  A basic rule of thumb is that any plug that has a large box on it, uses electricity all the time whether anything is plugged into it or not.  You can often times touch one of these black boxes (usually a recharger of some sort) and it’ll be a bit warm.  Well this heat is electricity you are using by simply keeping it plugged in.

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