Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Seriously lower energy bills: A philosophy of Air-Conditioning

Despite the risk of sounding like a braggart, I feel impelled to boast for a minute about my last electric bill. For the month of June we used only 575 kWh, down from 630 kWh in May and 759 in April. For the month we hit what must be our lowest daily average ever, 18 kWh per day. That is less than half our average of 38 kWh/day from last June. I should add that I was working from home that month and we were not away on vacation.

In case you have no idea what your own usage is, the average American household uses 800 kWh per month. According to the EIA, the middle-Atlantic region, which includes my home city of NY, averages about 650 kWh/month; presumably that number is higher in the summer because of A/C.

How did we cut our electricity use by half? Since I started boning up on all things electrical, I have made the following changes:

1. I have continued to switch our remaining incandescent bulbs to CFLs
2. I do not leave any lights on in rooms I am not in or when I leave home
3. I avoid turning on our halogen sconces (450 watts) as much as possible
4. I have become much more careful about turning off things like fans in rooms that are not being used
5. I set my computer to go to sleep after 5 minutes of inactivity
6. I set up surge-protectors so I can easily turn off my computer, modem, and printer at night
7. I replaced our oldest (12+ years) air-conditioner with an Energy Star model
8. We were lucky with the weather--I don't think there were any days in June where the temperature went over 90.
9. MOST IMPORTANT: I DID NOT USE THE AIR-CONDITIONER UNLESS IT WAS REALLY HOT--during that billing period, I think I only turned it on twice and only for a short time.

There is no question that the final three made the biggest difference.

If you are serious about cutting your electricity use, the quickest and most dramatic way is to rethink your air-conditioning. In my case, this is not about suffering for a good cause. There is a reason people love air-conditioning. I can't stand feeling hot and sweaty, and when I overheat, my productivity and sense of well-being take a dive.

Here is the Green Factoids environmental philosophy in a nutshell:

we are going to have make changes, but I prefer not to think of them as sacrifices; I genuinely see them as improvements.

So with air-conditioning here is my new philosophy:
1. fans work amazingly well, especially ceiling fans in your bedroom and T.V. viewing room; I rarely feel uncomfortably warm with a fan blowing directly on me

2. if the temperature is below 85, you probably don't need A/C--again this is not martyrdom; you will adjust to this a lot quicker than you think

3. 75% of the air-conditioned homes or stores I spend time in are much too cold--(I think we should complain--it is one way to get businesses to be more responsible; congratulations to Starbucks for leading the way by seriously rethinking the appropriate use of air-conditioning)

4. when you do use A/C, blast it for a few minutes and then turn it to the lowest possible setting and hit the energy-saver button--usually when you turn the A/C on, you are overheated; once you cool down, you don't need it on high, or sometimes even at all

5. test how high a temperature setting is comfortable for you

6. this one should be obvious, but never leave the A/C on when you are not home; there is absolutely no efficiency advantage to running it all the time--quite the opposite it is a massive waste that luckily is simple to eliminate

7. if you feel you must leave it on for a pet, keep it to one room, with the door shut, on the lowest possible energy mode--your dog does not need it set to 68; the low 80s should be fine; make sure your rooms are shaded and that your dog has access to plenty of cold water

8. don't beat yourself up for using it when it is really hot

As far as the final point goes, instead of feeling like we have to quit A/C like some sort of evil addictive drug, I think we should be looking to change our assumptions about when and how we use it. The closest parallel I can think of is seat-belts. When I was growing up, I don't think my parents ever once told us to wear a seat-belt. They would do things like ride with a baby in their lap in the front or let me and a bunch of friends smush into the front passenger seat--no one ever wore a seat belt. Now, seat-belt compliance in the U.S. is above 90%--far higher than Europe by the way. My kids have never ridden in the front seat. I don't even back up my car without a seat-belt on. Attitudes change. 20 years from now, I may be marveling with my grandchildren about how you needed to wear an overcoat in the supermarket in July because they kept the temperature so darn low--now we know better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good for people to know.