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Easy ways to save electricity

You may have heard that unplugging electronics could save electricity and save you money on “standby electricity” – the electricity that runs to your devices even when they’re turned off. This is true, but some people don’t feel the savings is worth the hassle, when plugs are hard to reach, or turning off computer peripherals means at least a 5 minute wait for them to warm up (a pain when you need to print directions from MapQuest before dashing off somewhere in a hurry and your wi-fi printer has to go through a period of abstract humming and buzzing before it’ll actually put ink on paper).

Closeup of fluorescent bulb in metal light fixture

Worth Knowing: while unplugging may not save you enough money to seem worthwhile, it’s estimated that 5% of all residential electricity in the US is wasted on devices using standby power. If everybody conserved that electricity, it would make a significant difference for overall consumption.

That said, I’m a big fan of not making yourself miserable to be frugal or green. There are simply too many ways to save money and/or reduce your carbon footprint for you to suffer through the ones that are a headache for you. So here are some alternatives that should save you at least as much, and might match your lifestyle better.

10 simple ways to reduce your electricity usage

  1. If you use a desktop, turn off your monitor when you leave for twenty minutes. If you’re taking lunch, going out to run an errand, or answering a phone call you expect to take a few minutes, turn the monitor off. It’ll come back on pretty quickly, so this is a very low-irritation option. It should go without saying at this point that turning monitors off overnight is a good way to save some standby electricity.
  2. Choose the most power saving options on your computer or laptop that you can stand. This means you’ll have a longer time waking it up whenever you come back after leaving it alone a few minutes, but it’s not that big a deal. Local Cooling can help with this.
  3. Turn computers and laptops off overnight. Yes, it takes a minute to boot up the next day. So, work it into your normal routine. I turn mine on immediately after dinner (when I typically use it), then go do a couple of daily chores and come back – it’s ready to go when I am.
  4. Use only car and USB chargers. If you only recharge your cell phone in the car, you’ll never use home electricity for it (or standby electricity for your charger), and it won’t significantly reduce the life of your car battery. Charging devices like MP3 players via a USB port in your computer still uses home electricity indirectly, but avoids the standby electricity issue with chargers plugged into outlets. Also, if you have a laptop and charge your devices while it’s unplugged, you won’t use any home electricity at all.
  5. Reduce brightness on your TV. The brightness setting uses a lot of power, so the less you can deal with using, the more electricity you’ll save.
  6. Wash clothes in cold water. This also makes clothes last longer. While you’re at it: if you only ever wear clothes once before tossing them into the hamper, or you do laundry every day, you are almost for certain washing clothes more often than necessary, which wastes a lot of electricity, water and money.
  7. Find your ideal dishwashing method. While dishwasher manufacturers claim their products use less water than washing by hand, hand washing doesn’t use any electricity. The electricity used by dishwashers produces something like 840 pounds of carbon dioxide (or around 350 for Energy Star appliances, which is still a significant amount). As for water, dishwashers do reportedly use less water than the typical hand washer, but the typical hand washer fills a basin completely with water (2 inches should do it) runs water the whole time they’re washing, and this isn’t necessary. Particularly in a small household that barely owns enough dishes to fill a dishwasher, I still believe hand washing can be more water efficient when it’s done right, and it certainly saves electricity. (Also: if you’re rinsing and scraping dishes off at the sink before using the dishwasher, then you’re almost surely going to save water doing it by hand instead.)
  8. Line dry your clothes. This is definitely not convenient, or even remotely practical, for everybody. But if you can line dry clothes, it’ll save a noticeable amount on your electric bill. Unless you have a gas washer – then the savings may be less significant, but it still impacts your carbon footprint.
  9. Embrace the microwave. Microwaves use about 1/3 the energy of stoves. I know some people think microwaves are dangerous, but if you don’t, feel free to use them whenever practical.
  10. Energy Star makes a difference. When you’re buying appliances, table lamps, anything that uses electricity or gas, in my experience Energy Star technology does reduce your energy bills significantly. Refrigerators are the biggest culprit, and buying an Energy Star one can drop your electric bill significantly. But be aware, they’re not made as solidly as they used to be – expect the motor to die in about five years, and a new one to cost around $300. I’m not sure Energy Star really saves you any money, given that major issue – but it would still be more green.
  11. Been wanting to switch to a laptop? Laptops are generally more energy-efficient than desktop computers, using only about 10-15% of the electricity desktops use, so if you’ve been wanting to switch, this might be just what you needed to hear.
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