Most modern homes are filled with all manner of appliances and devices that use electricity. These appliances help to make life easier in some respects, washing our clothes for us for instance, or make life more comfortable, such as cooling our homes when the weather is hot. They also provide entertainment. However, given that the vast majority of electricity supplies are generated by the burning of fossil fuels, it is in the interests of the planet that we seek to minimize our power usage wherever possible. This will have the added benefit of reducing our energy bills as well. Here are some ways to reduce the energy consumption of some common household appliances.
As a general rule, wherever possible, switch appliances off completely when they are not in use. Many appliances, such as televisions and air conditioners, have standby modes where the appliance is not active but is ready to be reactivated at the touch of a button. However, being in standby mode still draws on power. This power is often used to light clock displays. Indeed, some estimates suggest that appliances such as DVD players use more power over a year to keep their clock display running than they do actually performing the function they are designed for. So switch off appliances at the wall wherever possible. You should also do this when you are away from the property for an extended period, on vacation, say.
It is doubly important to be energy efficient with washing machines as they use both electricity and water. In permaculture design you may be able to recycle the water through a greywater system, but anyone can make some changes to reduce power and water usage. Firstly, only run the washing machine when you have a full load – the machine will use the same amount of energy and water however many or few items are in the drum. If you group clothes in full loads by similar weight or dirtiness, this can make the cleaning more effective even with lots of items in the drum. If you must run the washing machine on a less than full load, select a suitable program. Modern appliances have a wide range of running modes, such as quick wash for a few items and economy, which uses less water. Indeed, many machines have options to select the appropriate water level for the size of the load, some even having an automatic detection system so that water use is minimized. You could also consider washing your clothes in cold water – there is typically an option for this on the machine. Some estimates suggest that doing so could reduce the carbon footprint of your washing machine use by as much as 80 percent.
Clothes dryers are pretty energy-hungry appliances. So whenever possible, dry your clothes outside in the sunshine or on a clothes rack indoors (although don’t then use an electric heater to try and dry the clothes on the rack faster). These methods are not only more energy efficient – using no electricity – they are also free. If you do need to use a clothes dryer, there are some techniques you can use to reduce energy consumption. Firstly, always use the spin cycle on the washing machine at the end of the washing cycle. This means you can run the clothes dryer – the less efficient appliance – for a shorter time. Do not overload the dryer, as this will mean you have to run it for longer, and try to put clothes of similar weights and fabrics together for maximum efficiency. Consider running the machine on a medium rather than high setting, an keep it well maintained – emptying the lint filter regularly, for example – so it runs at optimum performance.
Air conditioners can seem like a godsend, but they do use a lot of power. Try to turn the conditioner on before the temperature gets too hot. Air conditioners work more efficiently when the outside air temperature is cooler; if you wait until the house has already heated up, the conditioner has to work harder and longer to get the temperature down to the desired level. Keep windows closed when running the air conditioner to concentrate the cooling effect on the interior rather than letting the cool air flow out the window. If you have an air conditioner that has adjustable louvers, angle them upwards when using the appliance for cooling, as cool air falls, and downwards when using it to heat, because warm air rises.
There are also some things you can do to minimize use of the air conditioner altogether. Closing the curtains on hot days and during cool nights can help regulate the temperature indoors, while designing your permaculture plot to include some shading of the property can mean you need to use the air conditioner less. For instance, a deciduous tree located near the house can provide cooling shade in the summer and then, when its leaves drop, allow winter sunlight through to warm the building.
Appliances such as televisions, computers and games consoles are the prime candidates to have standby options. As noted, these should not be used whenever possible. The screen saving mode on a computer may save your desktop in the way you were last using it, but it doesn’t save power; instead, it continues to draw on electricity. The same goes for TVs, video players and consoles. Where multiple devices are used in conjunction with one another you could also consider using an energy efficient power board. These devices are plugged into the main appliance and when that is turned off they automatically turn off the linked devices. So, you could plug the television into a power board and when it is turned off the board automatically turns off the Blu-ray player, games console and DVD player that are attached.
Always switch off lights that you do not require, and where possible use lamps or spotlights rather than the room light, as these use less energy. You should also consider switching you bulbs to energy efficient versions to save energy and money.