The year started out extremely cold, so many people are looking at higher energy bills and looking for new ways to manage and limit their energy usage.
Elizabeth Gall, a University of Tennessee Extension specialist in energy and youth education, recommends everyone conduct an audit of their household energy consumption. "Through the use of an energy audit, you can track how much electricity each individual item uses and re-evaluate your home energy needs," she said.
An energy audit can also help you identify sources of phantom load. Phantom loads are caused by items that continue to use electricity even after you have turned them off. They account for "wasted" electricity and can cause incremental increases in energy bills. "You may choose to turn off more lights or unplug appliances when they are not in use," Gall said. "The largest sources of phantom load are items that have a clock or a light that stays lit, such as TVs, DVD players, DVR/cable receiver boxes and coffee makers. Chargers for cell phones and computers can also cause phantom loads."
The energy expert recommends that everyone participate in the family energy audit. "Have your children write down all the appliances and electronics within your home. Then sit down with all members of your household and try to estimate how many hours during the day each item is either in use or on standby, that is plugged in but not in use. Based on the hours per day you can calculate energy usage in hours per week, month or year."
"First, record the wattage of the item using the electricity. Wattage can be found on the UL label on appliances and electronics. Using an approximate cost of electricity of 10 cents per kilowatt hour ($0.10/kWh), the yearly cost of operating an appliance can be calculated with the following equation:
Hours used/year x Kilowatts (Watts/1000) x Cost of Electricity (kWh) = yearly cost
Laptop Computer (standby, plugged in but not in charging, 15 hours per day)
5475 hours/year x 0.01 kW x $0.10/kWh = $5.47
"Once you've identified energy usage, then you can decide on an energy management plan, such as unplugging items when they are not in use. Enlisting the help of your children and other members of the household will increase the support of your energy management plan. "It is important to consider what factors are most important to you and your family and convey those to all members of your household. In doing so, you will increase the likelihood that everyone will be invested in the energy management plan and want to do what they can to help," said Gall. "Motivations may include many factors such as a desire to save money or concerns for the environment."
"Knowing how much overall energy you use and how much each appliance or piece of electronic equipment is using may help trim home electric bills and is becoming more important to individuals concerned about air quality from fossil fuel plants, other environmental impacts from non-renewable energy sources, uncertainty in international supplies of energy and unpredictability in energy prices," said Gall.
Additional steps to save household energy may be identified during a simple walk through the house, noting other sources of high energy waste or use such as drafty windows, that old refrigerator in the garage that only contains a few items or old incandescent lights.
Many companies also provide professional energy audits.
For more information on conducting energy audits, visit the UT Extension energy education website: https://ag.tennessee.edu/solar and choose "What is an Energy Audit?" from the "Determine your energy needs" pulldown menu.
UT Extension operates in each of Tennessee's 95 counties as the off-campus division of the UT Institute of Agriculture. An educational outreach organization, funded by federal, state and local governments, UT Extension, in cooperation with Tennessee State University, brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.
Carla Y. Bush, MVTE
UT Extension, Cannon County
Family and Consumer Sciences
614 Lehman Street
Woodbury, TN 37190