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Some Like it Hot, but Saving Energy is Cool This Summer

Posted: June 14, 2011

A couple of months ago, I visited a local fruit grower’s operation with some colleagues to conduct an energy efficiency assessment. The grower pointed out numerous changes he made to cold storage facilities, greenhouses and buildings to make them more energy efficient. Many local farmers are very aware of energy costs because they cut into their bottom line. As residential consumers, some of us are less aware of how our energy is being used.

Look at last year’s summer electricity bills and how many kWh you used.  This year, try to beat those numbers by employing some of these tips:


1. Stay cool by reducing extraneous heat.
When the temperature rises, it’s a good idea to examine ways to cut down household heat produced by large appliances.  Instead of heating food using the oven or stove, try planning meals that utilize the microwave, crock pot, or toaster oven.  Better yet, try some options like cold salads that require little preparation. 
Conventional filament lightbulbs use heat to produce light, so compact fluorescent light bulbs are a better choice – they last longer, use less energy, and release less heat. 


2. Adjust your thermostats by a few degrees.
A cold shower is a great way to cool down in the summer, so is it really necessary to continually heat your water heater at 140º?  Turn the thermostat down to 123º and you’ll save energy and not even notice the difference.   (Why 123º?  The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease can survive in water up to 122º.)
While you’re at it, why not consider tweaking your air conditioner thermostat by a few degrees?  Bump the temperature up to 78º when you’re home, and 85º when you’re out of the house.  Turn on a few ceiling fans, and the effect will be the same.  (Make sure the fan is blowing down; for most fans, this appears as counter-clockwise rotation when you stand under it and look up.)  Some people are under the impression that leaving the AC on while they’re away at work uses less energy than turning it on when they get home, but that’s a myth.


3. Use appliances more  efficiently.
Stay hydrated this summer by filling your fridge with reusable water bottles.  You’ll have ice-cold water on demand (don’t think about just running the tap – that wastes water!) and the mass of cold water in the refrigerator will help the interior temperature stay colder and run less often.  If you have a spare fridge running in the garage, reevaluate the need to keep it plugged in all summer; you may want to use it only for large get-togethers.
Newer appliances are great time-savers and generally efficient.  However, you can further boost their efficiency by running only full loads in the clothes and dish washer, washing clothing in cold water, and hanging laundry to dry when possible.  Resist the urge to run a heat dry cycle on the dishwasher, and you’ll save about 1200 watts of energy.  Also, do you really want to heat your dishwasher while the AC is running?  Didn't think so.
Even if we don’t always do it, we know we should turn the light off after leaving a room.  But how often do we turn off and unplug unused appliances?  Most newer electronics use electricity even when switched “off.”  That includes cell phone chargers, which can waste up to 95% of the electricity they consume!  Turn your computer and printer off using a power strip, and don’t think that you save energy by using a screensaver.  The computer still uses the same amount of electricity.  Turn it to sleep mode, or better yet, power down.


4. Make yearly updates to help insulate your house
Heating and cooling account for over 50% of the energy use in a typical home, so efficient insulation gives you the biggest bang for your buck, energy-wise.  Any updates you make this year will translate into year-round savings. 
You may want to consider installing new attic insulation. If your existing insulation level is R-19 or less, consider insulating your attic to at least R-30.  Also, test your ductwork for leaks; duct repairs can increase your heating and cooling efficiency by 25%. 
Window shades, including awnings, patio covers, and solar window screens, are a good idea for homes with many windows.  Consider strategic plantings of trees, shrubs and vines to further cool and beautify your home.
You can also tighten up your home’s heating and cooling efficiency by plugging leaks this summer. As an entomologist, I think this idea is the best of the list!  Heat and cold enter through cracks in the house, and so do bugs.  Take the time to weather-strip, seal and caulk leaky windows, doors, and air conditioner units, and the stink bug/lady bug/boxelder bug assault on your home will likely decrease this fall.


5. Buy local ag products
My final tip is the tastiest on the list.  A great way to save energy is to buy fresh and local produce, meats, eggs, and cheese.  Two seniors at Gettysburg College, Holly Szimanski and Jordan Krebs, recently examined the number of miles and fuel required to transport fresh foods to market (“food miles”).  By making a number of calculations, they discovered that the food miles required to transport local Adams County products to market differed from the typical supermarket stock by several orders of magnitude. 
Most local growers also argue that their products are fresher, taste better, and contain more vitamins.  Why not try your own experiment and test their hypotheses?


Katie Ellis is a Penn State Cooperative Extension Ag Innovations for Specialty Crops Extension Educator serving the Southeast Region. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce. Penn State Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County is located at 310 Allen Road, Suite 601, Carlisle, PA  17013, phone 717-240-6500, e-mail Cumberlandext@psu.edu.