Electricity and Energy in Your Home
Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Urban Sustainability Agent
Energy consumption in our homes has grown significantly in the past ten years. We now own more electronic devices than ever before, items that must be charged or kept constantly on to support our modern way of life, e.g. washing machines, refrigerator, television, air conditioner, computers, and cell phones. We rely on our home’s electrical system to provide us with the power where and when we need it. Managing the demand that is placed on our electrical system and our wallets can be addressed by changing home energy behaviors and conducting regular maintenance.
One of the most overlooked systems in the home is your electrical system. You probably remember where everything was after the initial home inspection but chances are you were overwhelmed with the purchase of a new home or have forgotten along the way. Over time, the energy demands in your home have changed and it’s good to re-acquaint yourself with your electrical system.
Here are a few tips to get you started –
- Locate the Main Service Panel: The main panel is the connection point between the incoming service and the house wiring.
- Identify the Circuits: Know what house appliances, fixtures and receptacles are serviced by each circuit. This will help determine how you can use the system without causing an overload.
- Overload Protection: Fuses and circuit breakers are safety devices located in your electrical panel to prevent system or circuit overloading; they stop the flow of electric current if it exceeds a safe level for the circuit wiring.
- Circuit Breakers: Safety devices that must be reset at the main service panel with the hand control after the problem has eliminated.
The most frequently used system in the home is the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. It accounts for 40% or more of your electric usage, a fact that homeowners know well as electric bills peak in the summer and winter because of heating and cooling needs. Here are some simple tips to ensure maximum efficiency and reduce strain on household budgets due to costly repairs.
- Schedule periodic maintenance – It’s best to do this when seasons change to take advantage of any maintenance specials offered by companies.
- Change filters regularly – This is especially important in homes with pets and for those residents with allergies.
- Evaluate your system – It’s always good to ensure that the system you have is the best fit for your home. If you’re in an older home, upgrading might be an option and if you’re in a newer home, make sure you know the system you’re inheriting (e.g. age of the unit, SEER rating, maintenance records if available). For more information on HVAC in your home, check here.
Heating water is another major user of electricity in your home but your electronic plug load actually consumes more energy. Yes, all those cell phone chargers, coffee makers, toasters, laptops and printers continue to consume energy even when they are “off”, hence the term “phantom energy” or “energy vampires”. Easy ways to reduce your electronic plug load include:
- Simple survey – Walk around your house and count the number of electronic items that are plugged in that are not actively being used. You may borrow or buy a Kill-A-WattR meter to help identify the largest users of “lost” energy.
- Power Strips – Use a power strip or “smart” power strip. All of your extra devices can be plugged in here and then switched off when you are not using it.
- Change your habits – It’s very easy to leave the cell phone charger in the wall unit when you grab your phone but that extra 2 seconds it takes to unplug it will save you 8 to 10% on your electric bill.
Take charge of energy consumption in your home. If you’re planning to upgrade your HVAC; add an on/off switch for your water heater; or switch to solar or tankless water heating options, you should be familiar with your home electric system. Always hire licensed professionals to do any work in your home; after all, your home is your biggest investment.
Attend a Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project class during October as we celebrate Energy Action Month. For a listing of upcoming classes, visit Sustainable Living.