Here at Green Building 101, we’ve looked at many ways that you can design, build, and renovate your home with more attention to your health and the environment. This is the tenth installment in the series, and now that you’ve been thoroughly educated, we’re going to dig into the nitty gritty details. Get ready for glamour; we’re talking today about plug loads.
Ah, plug loads! Very exciting, you say…but what are they?! Let’s simplify. We’re talking about everything and anything that you plug in—major appliances, task lights, consumer electronics, home office products and a variety of miscellaneous tools and devices. Minus the lights, which Jill featured two weeks ago, we’re left with nearly 50 percent of an average home’s electricity bill. Lighting commonly adds another 15-20 percent. Space heating and cooling, cooking, and water heating make up the rest, and also comprise your natural gas bill. So let’s investigate the primary energy suckers.
Pay up-front for quality appliances.
Some call these white goods, but they come in all colors and buying the right models can save you lots in energy costs over time. Refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and stoves and ranges will cost you plenty to purchase and even more to operate. But manufacturers are bringing more efficient models to the market all the time, so choose wisely.
The easiest way to identify the most energy-efficient products is to look for the ENERGY STAR label. EPA continues to improve their product specifications to ensure that industry is staying aggressive with energy efficiency. Among major appliances, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers and clothes washers are all labeled. Also look for “Energy Guide” tags, which show a model’s expected annual energy use and how that ranks against peer models.
ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers will save both energy and water, but remember to use cold water as much as possible and wash full loads of laundry. Clothes dryers are not labeled by ENERGY STAR because most models use about the same amount of electricity. But consider choosing a dryer with a moisture sensor so that it will shut off automatically when your clothes are dry.
Room air conditioners fly off the shelves in summer months. We covered these two weeks ago, but remember to choose the correct size and opt for a high SEER rating.
Consumer electronics and home office products continue to dominate our homes as we try to satisfy our entertainment and networking interests. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that the average home has more than 25 consumer electronics products. And many of these devices are left on 24 hours a day. We have evolved into an always-on, always-connected society and CE products highlight this fascination. Remember that many devices continue to draw power even when they are “off.” ENERGY STAR has addressed this by requiring qualified products to use minimal energy while in stand-by mode. So look for the ENERGY STAR on televisions, DVD players, audio components, and telephony products.
Speaking of being connected, more of us work from home these days, and having a full cache of networked home office products—computer, monitor, printer, fax, scanner, Internet router—is not uncommon. So look for the ENERGY STAR and also remember to check your power management settings on your computer. Screen savers were okay for your Apple IIe, but we don’t need them anymore—they prevent the computer and monitor from going into a low-power sleep mode.
Many products, such as TVs and computers, are attracting attention for their active power use as well. Large screen plasma TVs, for instance, use much more energy in active mode than older, smaller analog models. Screen size and display technology (CRT, plasma, LCD), and resolution (HD) are all key factors, so be sure to compare before you buy. A moderately-sized LCD model should suffice.
Tools, toys and toasters
Our drive for connectivity also means cell phones and PDAs, and that’s just the beginning of our many digital toys. These products use chargers called external power adapters. Problem is, most of us leave these adapters plugged in even when we’re carrying our phones around town, and these little black boxes suck bits of energy all day and night. Some of these devices are being made to operate more efficiently and ENERGY STAR now labels the best.
There’s also toys that we leave at home. Better keep your XBox and Play Station in check. They use a lot of energy, too.
Lastly, be aware of all the small appliances and electric devices around your home: humidifiers and dehumidifiers, toasters, coffee makers, microwaves, fans, hot tubs, waterbed and pool heaters, air cleaners, battery chargers and rechargeable tools, to name a few. Each only uses a small amount of electricity, but it all adds up. Of this list, dehumidifiers, battery chargers, and air cleaners are labeled by ENERGY STAR.
Unplug devices when possible and use power strips to make disconnecting easier.
See past articles in the series here:
Location & Community
Materials & Resources Part I and Part II
Indoor Air Quality
Heating & Cooling
Choices for Green Power