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Climate and Energy Blog


C&E Blog: Smart Energy Choices Start at Home

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:13pm -- Chelsea Chandler

At the Wisconsin Academy, we’re constantly exploring practical ways to build a sustainable and healthy future for our lands, waters, and communities. As we outline in our Path to Cleaner, Greener Energy web portal, there are many ways that we all can play an active role in Wisconsin’s electricity system. But there’s also a lot that we can do at home to reduce the amount of energy we use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas and other polluting emissions.

In this edition of our C&E Blog, Cool Choices executive director Kathy Kuntz explores how much energy we really use (compared to what we think we use) and outlines a number of accessible and sensible ways to reduce our energy usage overall. 


How Much Electricity Are You Wasting?

While studies show that most of us presume other people are wasting energy, most of us tend to think our own usage is average or even less than average. For example, in 2012 the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, with funding from the Joyce Foundation, conducted a nationally representative household survey of 1,008 adults in which just 9% of respondents said that they used more energy than other households in their community—everyone else thought their usage was average or below average. 

In reality, most of us have at least some opportunities to reduce our electric usage and some of us have big opportunities to do so. In Wisconsin, for instance, household electric usage varies from as low as 2,000 kwh per year to as high as 25,000 kwh per year—which means some households use as much electricity in a month as others use in a whole year!

Since both the size of a house and the number of occupants can affect electric usage, it can be useful to find out how your usage compares to similar homes in your area. Several Wisconsin utilities provide an online tool where you can enter an address and see a home’s annual energy usage (unless the resident has opted out of the system). Even if your utility doesn’t offer that feature they may offer online access to your usage data and some level of comparison information along with the data. Visit your utility’s website and set up an online account so that you can take full advantage of the real-time information utilities provide to their customers.

Understanding how you compare is a first step to managing your usage because it lets you know the scale of opportunities you’re looking for—if your usage is higher than average then it’s likely you’ll find major issues whereas lower usage might mean that you can still benefit from a few tweaks to your usage patterns.

Take Inventory

To find wasted electricity, walk around your home and assess how you are currently using electricity. For example, is the thermostat programmed to save energy when no one’s home or everyone’s asleep? Look around to see what’s plugged in and using electricity but not being used regularly. You might be surprised. In a recent Cool Choices program our participants reported an average of 25 items plugged in, with a few people reporting more than a hundred items plugged in and others less than ten.

Various online sites can help you estimate the energy usage of various appliances. Additionally, at most Wisconsin public libraries you can borrow a watt meter which will enable you to measure the electric usage of specific appliances. As a rule of thumb, appliances that are warm to the touch use more electricity than appliances that are cool to the touch and typically older appliances are less efficient than newer models. Also be aware that lots of appliances—anything with a remote or a clock, for example—use electricity even when turned off. 

Reduce Waste

Once you’ve got a sense of which appliances are the big electric users you can reduce the waste. In some cases you might just unplug the item until it’s needed whereas in other cases you’ll want to recycle the item. For example:

  • The television in the guest room isn’t used much so unplug it for now. You can plug in when guests are en route and save electricity in the interim.
  • The second refrigerator in the garage is likely costing you about $100 per year. More, Focus on Energy will haul away that appliance and pay you $35!
  • Cable companies now offer very efficient cable boxes and they’ll replace your older boxes at no cost—so upgrade those.
  • The frosted-over dehumidifier in the basement may use a lot of electricity even though it’s not doing much about the humidity any more. You can replace it with an ENERGY STAR model that will use less energy and work better.

Then, for the items you use more regularly, reduce waste where feasible.

  • Program your thermostat to heat or cool less when no one is home or everyone’s sleeping. 
  • Set computer monitors, computers and game consoles to sleep after 10 minutes if there’s no usage.
  • Make sure all the lights you use regularly have LED bulbs rather than older, less efficient options.

Reducing electric usage at your home is a great way to engage with our electric system and to lead by example. So start reducing your waste today!

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As the Director of the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change, Kathy aims to make it easy for local residents to make choices that help achieve our ambitious climate goals. Kathy has almost 30 years of experience helping businesses and residents adopt sustainable practices.

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