Believe it or not, improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t require an advanced energy science degree. It’s really just a matter of being more aware of choices and recognizing whether they save or waste energy. Individually, some energy-wasting practices might not amount to much, but when you add them all together, you’ll gain a better picture of how how much you could save. To help you live Live Brighter, our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series will showcase ways you can lower your home energy usage and possible reduce your monthly energy bill.
Energy Efficiency in the Kitchen
According to the Department of Energy, 4.5% of a home’s energy use comes from cooking. Add in another 10.5% from energy associated with refrigeration, hot water heating, and dishwashing, and your kitchen consumes about 15% of you total energy use.
Very roughly speaking, that’s $30 of a $200 monthly bill. The first step in increasing the energy efficiency of your kitchen is keeping your appliances clean, in repair, and using best practices.
1) In the Refrigerator
- Keep it full BUT not packed so full that air fails to circulate properly. Even frost-free models will develop icing problems if air is prevented from circulating.
- Situate your fridge where it won’t be in full sun or have heated air blown onto it.
- Set fridge and freezer compartments to the proper temperature recommended by the manufacturer. The fridge section works best between 35 – 38° F (2 – 3° C) and the freezer at about 0° F (-18° C).
- Check the door seals for cracks and dirt. The door should seal firmly enough to trap a dollar bill. The presence of mildew or mold shows cold air is escaping. Often the fix is just to thoroughly clean the seals.
- Clean the condenser coils yearly to remove thick coats of dust and pet hair. Make sure there’s 3 inches (8cm) of clearance between the back of the unit and the wall to ensure adequate air flow.
2) In the Dishwasher
- Only wash full loads. Pre-rinse dishes in your sink if you are going to let a small load wait all day for a full load.
- Be sure not to overload the racks. You want to have the water circulating effectively.
- Turn off “heated dry.” When the load is finished, prop open the door to allow steam to escape. The dishes are already heated and will dry quickly without using extra energy.
- Dishwasher spray arms and jets get clogged with scale and soap scum build up. Clean them periodically and keep them running smoothly.
- Do a once-a-year preventative maintenance inspection to help eliminate minor problems before they become expensive repairs. Clean spray arms with vinegar and look for trapped food particles and other debris that might be causing wear on moving parts or blocking filters.
3) In the Oven and Stove
- Plan your meals with energy efficiency in mind. Use a microwave if possible to steam vegetables and heat water. Use slow cookers to prepare meals all day at low heat so they are ready when you return home. For small meals, the average toaster oven uses nearly half the energy of the average electric oven for the same job.
- Thaw frozen meat in a sink of warm water without using the microwave defrost. USDA experiments showed that room-temperature water baths can safely thaw meat in about the same amount of time or less.
- Skip the preheating. Preheating 2,400 watt oven for fifteen minutes adds 6 cents on to the cost of using your oven. That might not seem very much, but it will add up depending on how often you use your oven. Preheating works best for baking something requiring short bake times, like biscuits or cookies, or for a roast that you want to sear. Only in those instances do you need high heat hitting the food fast. Most other foods don’t need the oven preheated.
- Clean electric stove reflectors. These reflect the element’s heat energy up at your cook pot. Old warped pots and pans won’t heat up as well or waste energy. Pots and pans should have a flat bottom and be in full contact with the stove’s heating element surface to fully transfer the heat.
- Copper bottom pans conduct heat faster then plain steel pans. Matching the right size pan to the burner prevents heat waste, too.
- Turn off electric stove heating elements 5 – 10 minutes before the dish should be done and the residual heat will finish the job. Plus — if you’re cooking meat, reducing the heat allows meat to rest. Cooking forces flavor-laden moisture to the center of the cut of meat. Resting lets all that flavor redistribute itself through out the meat, making it taste better.
4) Invest in EnergyStar Appliances
If your refrigerator or dishwasher is more than 10 years old, replacing it with a newer EnergyStar qualified model will use much less energy and save you money over the lifetime of the appliance. You can also save money on your purchase with rebates from your local utility.
Except for central air conditioning systems, refrigerators are among the biggest users of energy in the home. The larger the fridge, the more energy it uses. If your current machine is no more than ten years old, you could save $15 a year with an EnergyStar Model, but if it’s at least 20 years old, you can save $30 or more. Because of new materials and improved designs, newer EnergyStar qualified models are 15% more efficient than non-qualifying models and 40% more efficient than those made in 2001.
Dishwasher design and technology now use sensors, better water jets, and water filtering to clean more efficiently while using less water, less detergent, and less electricity for motors and heat. New dishwashers use 5 gallons (19 litres) of water — half what was permitted in 1994. EnergyStar qualified models can use no more than 4.25 gallons (16 litres) per cycle, and some use as little as 2 gallons (7.5 litres) per cycle.
5) Practical Tips
In the summer, use your appliances at night. Ovens, ranges, dryers, and dishwashers all add to your home’s cooling load. By overusing these appliances, you increase the time it take for your air conditioner to cool your home and drives up your bill. Waiting until nightfall when it is cooler outside will reduce the amount of heat that can get trapped in your home.
Restless for more? In Part 2 of our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series, we’ll take you into the bedroom. You can’t take this lying down!