Hello fellow Beavers,
Sorry I’ve been a little AWOL for the past few weeks. Busy times right? I hope your Thanksgiving break has been going swimmingly and that you’ve been keeping up with your mindfulness. The water pressure at our house was fixed a few weeks ago, which thankfully ended a tragic two year bend of dismal pressure. So, I admit I did take a very long first shower. However, the next day was significantly shorter! How has taking shorter showers been going for you?
Now down to business. I told ya’ll I’d be giving you advice to bring home to your parents on how to make their homes more energy efficient during the colder months. And most of these tips can be applied to you apartment owners; those lovely Victorian homes you live with aren’t going to keep themselves efficient. Brrrr.
We live in what will probably be the ‘green’ or ‘energy efficient’ era. By now, most people understand the importance of buying energy efficient products because they save money and the environment. So do a clean sweep of your home and/or apartment and see if you can start there. The easiest place would be to start looking at the lights. See if you have any compact fluorescent light bulbs, the swirly ones, or if you have regular incandescent bulbs. CFLB are more efficient than regular bulbs and can last up to 10x longer. I have one that I got during my junior year of high school and it’s still running strong.
CFLB were a lot pricier a few years ago when they first appeared on shelves. Now, the cost difference between the two is significantly closer. You could point this tidbit of information out to your rents, or you could be an awesome child and buy them some for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc. It may seem like a ‘lame gift’, but Mom and Dad will probably appreciate it over the usual cable knit sweater. And after you explain how much money (usually in the hundreds) they can save in a year, they’ll be even more excited. If you don’t have the funds to change all the bulbs, take care of the ones that are used the most. Split the costs if you have siblings. The more the merrier.
It also wouldn’t hurt to assess your dwellings energy usage. If something is plugged in, even if it isn’t in use, it’s still drawing energy from the out. These are called phantom loads (funny name right?), and they will cost you. According to the US Department of Energy “"Houses are complex and require comprehensive solutions," he says, “You should look at a house in a holistic fashion. If you do just one thing you may throw others off. For example, sealing off drafts in an attic may cause humidity buildup in other parts of the house."If you want to find out what appliances are pulling the most, you can use a device called the Kill A Watt. I used one of these during boarding school, and it was actually fun to run around and see what used the most electricity when on and off. A Kill A Watt costs around twenty dollars, however, I know they can be borrowed at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington; you could check out your local library and see if they do the same. What you do is plug in the offending appliance, press the watt button, and wait a few minutes for an accurate read. It’ll spit out a number and then you multiply that by your hourly electric rate (can be found on bills) to see how much it costs per hour to leave it on. You can relay that information onto your parents, or consider buying them an energy efficient version of one of the appliances. See, Christmas shopping is getting easier by the minute, and a new blender from son to mom will go over A LOT better than a new blender from dad to mom…just saying. Don’t believe me? Go watch Father of the Bride; it was fiancé to fiancé, but it’s the same idea.
Now back to phantom loads! Buying energy efficient appliances is a valid fix, but another one is just unplugging the machine itself. It seems simple, but it’s a new habit to break into. If the appliances are around your apartment, stick little Post Its as reminders. Ask your parents if they want the same. Computers, printers, lamps, and other devices you might find in an office space are also pulling phantom loads. This is when a Smart Strip can come in handy. These are similar to regular power strips, but some of the spots to plug in are programmed to sense when a device, like a TV or laptop, isn’t in use and turns them off.
Saving energy is an important step. For us New Englanders, having a house that’s properly heated is a necessity. Any money that can be saved on energy and put towards heat is crucial. Living in a energy efficient and properly heated house means going beyond changing bulbs. Ask your parents if they have had someone come in recently to audit the house. A good auditor will bring in equipment to survey the house and use their own knowledge. Encourage them to look into getting one. According to audit expert Von Schrader, a comprehensive audit is strongly encouraged. “Houses are complex and require comprehensive solutions. You should look at a house in a holistic fashion. If you do just one thing you may set others off. For example, sealing off drafts in an attic may cause humidity buildup in other parts of the house,” he says. To look for an auditor check out Energy Star, Residential Energy Services Network, or the Building Performance Institute. Resist the urge to be frugal; you get what you pay for.
After the energy audits, making the changes to the house can cost thousands of dollars. Just replacing the windows with more efficient ones can be equal to purchasing a used car and not a used 89…if you catch my drift. So why are your parents going to listen to you about possibly spending thousands to retrofit their homes at the urge of a college blogger? True, I don’t have a house I’m spending money on. Or even an apartment for that matter. But I know what it’s like to see my family’s financial means change with the economy. And I can imagine what it’s like trying to heat our house with prices where they are. The weight of the dollar is changing every day. So, ask your parents to use their dollars wisely while everything is ‘kinda’ okay. And now, many states have rebate programs and initiatives that can save you a few thousand dollars. Even if your family doesn’t have the means to update their house right away, encourage them to at least get an audit. Again, if you have siblings, this would be a pretty awesome Christmas gift. Then, they will at least know what they need to fix. Also, check out the Energy Star website for a “Do-It Yourself” home audit check list.
And you apartment owners, there are things you can do as well since you probably can’t retrofit your apartment without involving your landlords. Some tips for you, and everyone, require going back to the ‘small’ things. As hard as it is, try, try, and try to keep the heat down. It needs to remain above a certain temp so the pipes don’t freeze, but don’t stray too far above that number. Instead, layer up when you’re indoors. Go down to the Good Will and buy a few large sweaters that are specifically for house use. Buy a special foam jacket to insulate your water pipes. Seal plastic sheets over your windows and buy one of those draft guards for your doors. So you won’t be able to look outside at all the fresh fallen snow, and the draft guard is suuuuper unattractive, but wouldn’t you rather be warm and less broke. Two more tips: dust off your heaters so they work more efficiently, and move your beds and couches a little further away from the walls because those tend me cooler.
Being more energy efficient isn’t terribly hard. It can be as simple as replacing bulbs and remembering to unplug the toaster after you use it. Saving on heat and making a home and apartment more efficient takes time, effort, and money. However, doing what you can now while the government is still giving incentives is extremely important. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and it may not be the most stress free time to mention this to your family. But don’t be shy. It may seem bossy for the kid to advise the parent on what to do and how to best spend their money. But if you sit down with them to describe the process as best as you can, or even take the time do use the guide to conduct your own mini audit, it’ll show them that you do care about them and the house.
Nissan unveiled the Leaf, a fully electric car, a year ago. Recently, Chevy came out with its own version the Volt. I’ll be looking into the pros and cons of electric vehicles and hypothesizing whether or not they’ll become popular with the public. I’ll also be investigating hybrid vehicles and telling you how to run your car as efficiently as possible if you buying a 30,000+ dollar car isn’t in your near future. Keep on being mindful and have a Happy Thanksgiving!