Increasing energy conservation and energy efficiency are the most cost effective ways to reduce the amount of money you pay for energy.  Before you invest in alternative energy sources, you should check that your house uses as little energy as possible while still allowing you the lifestyle you want.   Of the two approaches, the simpler is energy conservation.

Energy conservation involves using less energy by doing things like turning off the lights when we’re not in the room.  There is no upfront cost to such actions, although they do typically require behavior changes.

Ways to reduce your power use through energy conservation

  • Turn all lights out when you leave the room
  • Set your computer to fall into hibernation mode when it is not in use
  • Unplug appliances when not in use, or get a power bar and turn the power bar off at night
  • Buy a timer for your home’s thermostat so that your home will be warm when you’re home and moving about and cooler at night and when you’re at work
  • Turn your home’s thermostat down a couple of degrees Celsius and wear a sweater – presuming your home is not leaky enough that you’re wearing a sweater anyway and freezing cold besides
  • Turn the TV off if you’re not watching it

Basically, if you aren’t using it, it shouldn’t be on.

Energy efficiency involves using appliances that can do the same amount of work with less energy.  It does not involve you changing your daily behaviour.  The classic example is replacing incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent, but it goes far beyond this.  The largest use of electricity in many homes is heating.  By insulating the house, the amount of energy required to heat the house is reduced.

Cheap ways to reduce your power use through energy efficiency

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents
  • Insulate your hot water heater
  • Insulate your hot water pipes
  • put plastic film over windows during winter

More expensive, but very useful

  • Buy an energy-efficient refrigerator if your current fridge is more than 10 years old
  • Insulate your ceilings, walls and floors
  • Replace single-glazed windows with double or triple glazed windows

Of course, if you really want to increase energy efficiency there are a variety of methods for passive solar heating, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

When you install that new appliance…

I once lived in an apartment where the landlord had replaced all the windows with new windows that were supposed to be much better insulated and lose less heat.   However, he had installed them badly and there were gaps between the windows and the frame.  One of the gaps was so large you could see right through it to the outside.   Because of this, the house would not stay warm despite the new windows and the landlord complained about his energy bills to us.  Meanwhile, we complained that we were always cold.

This shows the importance of installing new energy efficient objects correctly.  If installed incorrectly, the object may well work badly if it works at all, and you may have done a lot of work and spent a lot of money for no energy savings.  So do it right the first time!

First Things First: Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency

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