A good number of Baby Boomers can recall conversations with their grandparents about a time before electricity, or when an "icebox" was literally a container that housed a block of ice that kept food inside cool. But my, how times have changed. We have gizmos and gadgets that didn't even exist a decade ago, and we consume energy at an alarming rate. Between 1949 and 2010, domestic energy consumption has more than doubled to about 100 quadrillion BTUs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. During that same period, consumption of coal, petroleum, and natural gas have skyrocketed — yet energy use from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, has remained surprisingly flat.
Look around your own home, and you'll find power guzzlers in both likely and unlikely places. But by making some fairly painless changes, you can see big savings: in energy, cash, and yes, saving the planet by shrinking your carbon footprint. Here's a look at some of those power-hungry appliances, and what you can do to be more efficient and economical without backbreaking hassle.
They sure don't build 'em like they used to, right? While older refrigerators may hold up better than their newer, more sleek-looking cousins, they also use up to three times more energy. Opting for a new EnergyStar-rated refrigerator can save you significant cash in the long run. The pictured LG Electronics 25-Cu. Ft. French Door Refrigerator ($1,199.99 with $252.55 s&h or free pickup, a low by at least $17) is EnergyStar-certified and has a chic 3-French door design. Plus your savings don't stop there! First, you're eligible for EnergyStar tax credits for your purchase. And some electric utilities like ComEd in Illinois will pick up your obsolete appliances when you replace them — and give you cash to boot. Want to figure out your potential savings? The Environmental Protection Agency has this handy refrigerator retirement savings calculator where you can see how the savings add up.
Every time frozen dinners go on sale, I wax nostalgic for the chest freezer my parents had at their house. But those older freezers cost about $120 a year to operate, according to the California Energy Commission. Costs like that can easily wipe out any supermarket savings, and can even put you in the hole. If your freezer's there for sentimental value, get rid of it — and consider replacing it with a more efficient EnergyStar model, or doing without one at all. Going the latter route will save you enough money in appliance and power costs that you can buy frozen dinners at full price and still come out ahead. (Of course, March being National Frozen Foods Month, you can stock up at a discount all the same.)
While the whirring and chugging of your washer's spin cycle might suggest it uses lots of energy, the dryer is the real power hog of the pair. Figures from the U.S. Department of Energy show that dryers consume between 1800 and 5000 watts of power. So 200 hour-long drying cycles could run you as much as $85. Not only does investing in a clothesline and clothespins cost you mere pennies, but avoiding the dryer will also preserve the life of your clothes, saving you money in other areas as well.
Thank goodness we're getting out of winter, as space heaters consume about as much power as a blow dryer (750 to 1500 watts), but stay on for much, much longer. One space heater might not consume a lot, but multiply that by three or four units, and you've got some real power guzzling going on. The obvious alternative — wearing thick sweaters or layers — really does work.
It's common to use the TV as a white noise machine when we're not watching, but we might as well paper our walls with dollar bills. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates TV power consumption at between 110 and 170 watts, meaning that if you leave it on eight hours a day, you're consuming close to 1 kilowatt of energy. Over the course of a year that could add up to $30 per TV set you leave on. Just as you would with lights, shut TVs off when they're not in use. It's also wise to invest in a newer television set like the Panasonic VIERA 42" 120Hz 1080p LED-Backlit Widescreen LCD Television ($649.95 with $1.99 s&h, a low by $216), which will only cost you $10 per year to operate (assuming it's on for 5 hours a day).
Personal Computers and Monitors
While many consumers now favor laptops for home and on-the-go use, it's not as if the tower computer with a separate monitor is a thing of the past. Taken together, a computer and its monitor eat up close to 300 watts of energy. Supposing you leave your computer on eight hours a day, you're now looking at more than $60 in energy usage over the course of a year. When you computer's not in use, power down. Put those extra savings toward some nifty software packages or a wireless mouse.
Swimming Pool Pumps
People who live in warmer climes might not think about their pool pumps, but the same device that circulates water also sucks wallets dry. Department of Energy statistics show that a typical pool pump costs $240 a year to operate. But in a study by the Center for Energy Conservation at Florida Atlantic University, pool owners saved as much as 75% when they used conservation measures such as downsizing their pump, or running it less.
When it comes to looking for power hogs around the house, you won't exactly have luck listening for a piggy squeal. But here's the next best thing: Consider age. Simply put, old appliances, especially the large ones, don't run nearly as efficiently as newer ones from a power-consumption standpoint. Also as a general rule, know that any appliance that has a huge power draw (such as a space heater) is going to sock your electric bill if you forget to power it off. Put these bits of wisdom to work, and chances are you'll save hundreds of dollars a year on your energy bills. Getting in the habit of shutting all your appliances and lights off when not in use is going to help that bottom line, too.