Wringing the green

Get more power from your energy dollar and help reduce greenhouse gases at the same time

Posted on Nov 17 2007 in Energy

nov07coverWe all hear of the “hanging of the greens,” especially as Christmastime approaches, and the “wearing of the green” around St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, Indiana’s electric cooperatives would like to add one more nod to green: the “wringing of the green.” That would be the act of wringing every drop of energy — every kilowatt-hour possible — out of every energy dollar. But instead of waiting for a season or a special day, it’s something we should do every day.

Being more energy efficient and wise reduces waste and lowers our energy use. That also means we’ll be saving some green: putting more greenbacks back into our piggy banks while protecting the green Earth by reducing greenhouse gases. The Environmental Protection Agency notes the average household can be responsible for nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car.

On these two pages and the back cover, we’ve collected some simple cost-cutting energy conservation and efficiency ideas and tips. Many may seem like small drops in the energy bucket, but they can all add up to some surprising savings.

nov2007 04-05-16v9Heating and cooling

Because you spend the largest portion of energy dollars staying warm in winter and cool in summer, you’ll save the most on energy by taking steps to use your heating and cooling systems more efficiently.

Set your thermostat on ‘savings’

The single best way to reduce heating and cooling costs is to set your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher in summer, and 68 degrees or lower in winter. The savings is about 3 percent for every degree warmer in summer or cooler in winter.

For example, if you’re keeping your thermostat at 72 in the summer, you could save 18 cents or more on every cooling dollar if you raised that setting to 78 degrees.

You’ll save additionally by greater adjustments to your thermostat  while you are away from home or asleep.

For maximum energy efficiency in heating or cooling, use a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the setting when you leave the house or go to bed and then turn it back to normal either just before or when you return or wake up. Programmable thermostats range in cost from $45–$100 (and up) but can easily pay for themselves in energy savings.

If you heat with a heat pump, it is most efficient in winter to find the lowest temperature setting you are comfortable with and leave the thermostat alone. Fluctuating the temperature may cause the auxiliary heating to kick on and cost a lot more to operate. Heat pumps require an incremental programmable thermostat.

Be a fan of fans

It’s a lot cheaper to move air around than it is to heat or cool it. With that in mind, consider these ways to stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer without depending entirely on your central system.

In winter, set your ceiling fan to turn clockwise to send warm air downward into the room.

In summer, set it to turn counterclockwise to circulate cool air through the room. Use other fans to circulate cooled air while you keep the thermostat at a higher setting.

Get your ducts in a row

The air ducts are the highways of your home’s total comfort system. They deliver that precious cargo — the warmth or cooling — your system is generating. Duct leaks can waste up to 30 percent of this energy before it ever reaches your living space. Make sure your ducts are delivering the conditioned air you’re paying for. Look for:

  • Obvious holes in the ducts.
  • Dirty spots on the duct insulation and around air vents.
  • Areas where connections have become separated.

If you find disconnected ducts or loose joints, seal them with metal duct tape or duct mastic. Avoid common gray fabric “duct tape” since it tends to come loose. If you find that your ductwork is very poorly insulated or has extensive leakage problems, call a service professional.

Clean your supply grilles or registers. If your registers have adjustable shutters, it’s best to leave them in the full-open position. Clean inside your ducts, too, for as far as you can reach from the register opening.

filtersChange that filter

All furnaces should have a filter installed in the return air duct to clean the air as it is drawn in from the home. A dirty filter will reduce the airflow through your equipment and lower its efficiency. It’s hard to say how often to replace your furnace filter. That varies a lot from home to home. But check it monthly, especially if you have kids or pets. Replace it at the first sign of any dirt. Make sure you position the new filter correctly in its place with airflow arrows pointing in the right direction.

Use pleated instead of mesh filters in your central air-and-heat system for better filtration.

A word of caution, though, for folks who live in mobile homes: pleated filters should not to be used in mobile homes furnaces, warn mobile home manufacturers. Pleated filters could restrict air flow too much and may damage a mobile home furnace or cause a fire.

Residents of mobile homes are advised to always read and follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance guidelines for their mobile home furnace.

Keep the air where it belongs

If you’ve got air leaks around your home’s foundation, ceilings, walls, doors, windows, fireplace or other openings, it’s the same as tossing your energy dollars right out the window. Seal, weather strip and insulate against these leaks.

Most of the air leakage in a typical home — about a third — is around the sill plate, walls and ceilings. Tackle these areas first.

If light carpet around the baseboards of outside walls is gray or dingy, that’s a tell-tale sign you’ve got air leaks overhead and where the house sits on the foundation. Warm air is rising up through cracks and holes in the ceiling, creating a chimney or stack effect. That heated air is being replaced by outside air sucked through gaps where walls meet the floors. The carpet acts as an air filter removing dirt and pollen from the outside air as it passes through.

Caulking or filling cracks and gaps in your home with insulating foam will eliminate air leakage around the foundation, doors and windows as well as in areas where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring penetrates the house.

Water heating

Water heating accounts for a sizable part of your energy bill — about 11 percent. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you have plenty of hot water without wasting energy in the process.

Start by thinking of ways to use less hot water. Take showers instead of tub baths, for example. Or install low-flow showerheads and faucets. You can also reduce your energy consumption for water heating by turning down the water heater thermostat. (A setting of 120 degrees will provide a comfortable water temperature for most uses.)

And you can insulate your hot-water storage tanks and pipes to reduce heat loss.

If you need a new water heater, check out the super-efficient, foam-insulated electric water heaters by Marathon and others. Many co-ops offer rebates if you’re replacing a gas heater, or they sell electric water heaters at their cost.


The energy costs to operate everyday appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, ranges and ovens, washers and dryers, and dishwashers account for about 20 percent of your electric bill. You can reduce these costs by using appliances efficiently and by looking for high-efficiency choices when it’s time to buy new ones.

Get your refrigerator running efficiently

  • Keep it clean. Regularly defrost models that aren’t frost-free, and clean the condenser coils of your refrigerator three or four times a year.
  • Shut the door. Don’t stand in front of an open fridge contemplating the contents. Decide what you need before you open the refrigerator, then get what you need and shut the door.
  • Fill the freezer. A freezer that’s two-thirds to three-quarters full requires less energy to operate than an empty one. If you don’t have enough food to fill the freezer, add some water-filled plastic milk cartons or plastic soda bottles.
  • Test the seals. Fold a paper towel, shut the refrigerator door on it and then pull the towel out of the closed door. If there’s no resistance, you probably need new seals around the door to keep the cold air in.
  • Maintain the right temperature. Optimum refrigerator temperature is 38 to 42 degrees. For the freezer, it’s 0 degrees or higher (although not higher than the freezing point, obviously).
  • Put old ones out to pasture, not in the garage. If you recently purchased a new, energy-efficient refrigerator, don’t keep the old one unless you truly need a second refrigerator and want to pay the price. Putting the old one in a hot garage to chill a couple of six-packs of beer will make it even less energy efficient than it was before.

Corral savings from the oven/range

  • Keep it covered. Lids retain the heat in pots and pans. A covered pan comes to a boil faster.
  • Use the right pan. Don’t waste energy by using a pan or pot that is too small for the burner, or that is too large or heavy for the amount or type of food you are cooking.
  • Turn off burners sooner. Because electric burners stay hot for a while after they’re turned off, you can turn the burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The food will finish cooking without using more electricity.
  • Use heat-conducting cookware. Ceramic, glass and stainless-steel cookware conduct and retain heat better. You can reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees when you use them.
  • Close the door. The oven loses about 25 degrees of heat every time you open the door. Use a timer to gauge doneness instead of opening the oven door every few minutes to check.
  • Consider toaster ovens and microwaves. A toaster oven uses a third to half as much energy as a full-sized oven, making it a great choice for small meals and snacks. Use your microwave instead of your range or oven when you can. Microwaves use less energy than traditional appliances, and they don’t heat up your kitchen.

Find loose change in the washer and dryer

  • Don’t run small loads. Wait until you have enough laundry for a full, large load.
  • Sort by wash temperature. Use hot water only for whites and hard-to-clean items. Wash everything else in warm or cold water to save on water heating costs.
  • Fill the dryer. Don’t waste electricity by drying just one or two items.
  • Dry heavy items separately. Dry heavy items like towels in a separate load from lighter-weight items that will dry faster.
  • Don’t over dry. Use the cool-down cycle to allow clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer. If your dryer has a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when clothes are dry, use it.

Hand over savings to your dishwasher

  • Run a full load. Don’t run your dishwasher when there are only a few items in it.
  • Shorten the cycle. Don’t use a long “pots and pans” cycle if you’re only washing plates, glasses and silverware.
  • Air-dry dishes. Skip the drying cycle and save.
  • Load up, turn on. It takes less water to wash a load of dishes in the dishwasher than to wash them by hand — approximately 9.9 gallons compared to an average of 15.7 gallons.

Buying new? Put energy efficiency first

There’s plenty of consumer information available to you today to help you make the most energy-efficient choices when purchasing new appliances.

When buying a new freezer, choose a chest-style freezer instead of an upright model. Chest-style freezers retain cold air better when the door is opened.

Appliances that receive an ENERGY STAR rating from the U.S. government are among the most efficient available today. They may cost more to purchase, but they will also cost less to operate over the time you own them.

  • An ENERGY STAR washing machine may use about a third of the energy and less water than other machines.
  • Most ENERGY STAR washers remove more water from your clothes during the spin cycle, so the clothes don’t take as long to dry in the dryer.
  • An ENERGY STAR refrigerator can save $35-$70 a year compared to older models. That adds up to $525-$1,050 during its average 15-year life span.
  • An ENERGY STAR dishwasher uses less water and energy.

Home electronics

While individual energy consumption of home entertainment systems, computers and other home electronics may be relatively low, the cost can add up.

When you’re away from home for the weekend or longer, don’t just turn off your TV, DVD player and cable box. Unplug them. As long as these and other small electronics are plugged in, they’ll draw power to operate timer displays and other functions that stay on when the device is switched off. You won’t save a fortune — from 25 cents to $3 a month per device — but every little bit counts. Unplugging them also protects them from damage caused by lightning strikes.


Lighting two compact fluorescent lamps with a bicycle-powered generator was a breeze for a 9-year-old visitor to the Indianapolis Zoo last month. But when the switch was flipped over to two standard incandescent bulbs, a lot more pedal power was needed. The “legs-on” display demonstrated how much energy could be saved by using CFLs. It was part of ENERGY STAR’s national bus tour that stopped at the zoo Oct. 14. Wabash Valley Power, a co-op power supplier, helped sponsor the event.


Go fluorescent. A 25-watt fluorescent light will generate as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb for one-fourth the energy. Fluorescent lights cost more to buy, but far less to operate. They last longer, too.

  • Turn out the lights. Don’t waste energy by leaving lights on when you’re not using them. Consider installing timers or motion sensors to reduce the amount of time your lights are on.
  • Use task lighting. Focus the light where you need it for reading, sewing and other tasks, rather than just brightly lighting the entire room.
  • Avoid long-life incandescent bulbs. They are the least efficient of all incandescent light bulbs.
  • Buy fixtures with fewer bulbs. A 100-watt bulb glows with nearly 50 percent more light than four 25-watt bulbs.

Shining their light: A letter to the editor

In response to your article “Change a Light … and help change the world,” I wanted to let you know that we have changed ALL the light bulbs in our household in Rockport.


Sister Michelle Sinkhorn, left, and Sister Ida Otto change out bulbs at their Rockport home. The Order of St. Benedict nuns are members of Southern Indiana REC.

We made the decision to make the investment and purchase some 30 new CFLs for our house. We would also like to encourage others to do the same. Not only does it use less energy, it is also more economical in the long run as well. Please do your part to save our planet!

Sister Michelle Sinkhorn, OSB
Sisters of St. Benedict
Ferdinand, Ind.

Touchstone Energy Home offers energy savings and comfort

If you’re thinking about renovating your home or building a new one, contact your local REMC or REC to find out about the Indiana Touchstone Energy Home program. Homes built to the program’s specifications, which cover insulation, ventilation, heating and cooling systems and door and window applications, will have an energy efficiency at least 50 percent higher than typical homes, meet or exceed nationally-recognized standards used by Energy Star, and would produce tens of thousands of pounds less carbon dioxide annually than typical homes.

Most of the information for this story is taken from “You have the Power!” a publication of Texas Electric Cooperatives, www.texas-ec.org. Contact your local REMC or REC for more energy-saving tips, or visit this issue’s “WIRED-hand” for multiple links to other resources.