Thursday, March 3, 2011

Talk About It, Worry About It, Or Do Something About It

If you're anything like me you've heard over and over again how much energy the sun is producing and how if only we could harvest that energy we could stop depending on coal and oil. But the thing is, while I can write my local senator, protest mountain top removal, even stand in front of the White House with picket signs, I cannot make my energy needs go away, nor can I single-handedly change the energy grid of our nation. What I can do is be as energy efficient as I possibly can in my own little apartment. It seems like so little, but if every household were to take on the challenge of being as energy-conscious as possible, we would see a very different landscape on the mountaintops of Appalachia*.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), residential buildings use about 20% of the energy consumed in the U.S. Saving energy here is the start to making our country more energy conscious. If everyone were to conserve at home, the ideas would begin to trickle up into the business sector as well. But is my proposal realistic? What are the chances of its actually being adopted? If everyone were to adopt the energy-conscious lifestyle in their homes, the ideas would start to spread elsewhere as the same people buying the houses and renting apartments in our country that are also running the businesses here.
One of the best ways to be sustainable with your energy usage is to purchase solar panels. This technology simply captures the energy from the sun, creating no destruction to the planet at all. The reason solar panels aren't more popular than they are is that they are a large upfront investment. If you plan to live in your home for a long period of time however, they can actually pay themselves off within 10 years, and they can last for many years past that. I live in an apartment complex where installing a solar panel is not an option, but there is another completely sustainable way that I can help with our current energy crisis: use less energy!
Turning the lights off when you leave the room, running the dishwasher only when it is completely full, and turning the AC up a few degrees are all common ways to cut back on energy consumption. There are a few less obvious ways that we can implement as well. One of my favorites is coordinating laundry days. It takes a significant amount of energy to heat up the dryer, and if my 3 roommates and I all do our laundry at separate times, we have to heat up the dryer 4 separate times. If we coordinate, and all do our laundry on the same day, we can simply take one load out of the dryer, add another, and keep reusing the already-heated dryer. In doing this we only have to heat the dryer up once. Even better than this though, would be using a hanging line rather than the dryer at all.
In our modern society, it is certainly commonplace to have electronics present in every room of the house. While it seems obvious enough to turn off these electronics when we're not using them, most of us don't grant a second glance at the small lights these electronics keep on even when they are in "off" mode. These are called phantom users because the energy they are using adds up quickly and most of the time it goes completely unnoticed. The best way to deal with these phantom users is to invest in a few power strips. These strips have a switch that when flipped off, stops the energy flow at the source, turning phantom users off. Completely off.
Living in the hot state of Florida, I certainly know of the temptation to turn the thermostat down as far as it will go in the middle of the summer. It's important not to give in to temptations such as these, however. In my apartment, I try to keep the thermostat no lower than 76 degrees. Installing ceiling fans would be a good way to keep the rooms cooler without using so much AC. Another important thing to remember is that turning the AC higher or even off when you leave for 8 hours or more saves a significant amount of energy. With good insulation, your home should hold in some of the cool air so that it isn't too uncomfortable when you return home. Closing your blinds while you are gone can help with this process too as it will keep the sun from pouring in and heating up the rooms.
There are many habits that we can adopt to help lower our energy consumption, and here I have only outlined a few. This week I challenge you to brainstorm a few more and try to adopt them into your lifestyle. Once you do these things for a few weeks they start to become a habit and you won't even notice you're doing it anymore, except maybe when the electric bill comes in surprisingly low.

*The United States uses coal for about 50% of our energy needs. Mountaintop removal is one of the most efficient but destructive ways of obtaining coal and in the United States the Appalachian region is the hub of this practice. The photo below shows you the span of the Appalachian region and I have included a link to an article that does a great job of outlining the many issues associated with mountaintop removal. While this article was written in 2006, most everything outlined has remained relatively unchanged.    

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