Who wants to save electricity? Or from a more pragmatic perspective: Who wants to save money? By far the best first step in reducing a home utility bill is to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace less efficient incandescent bulbs. These CFL bulbs used to be quite pricey, but I just checked on Amazon.com and found a pack of 8 bulbs available for $12.69. Don’t wait for the old bulbs to burn out– grab the step stool from the utility closet and go on a bulb changing spree. The the cost of the new bulbs will be covered by the savings on next month’s electricity bill. The biggest challenge is removing the new bulbs from the hermetically sealed double-walled cocoons that General Electric uses to keep their merchandise safe during the moving process. Personally, I have found these types of packages quite easy to open by driving to my local home improvement store and a) renting an acoustic welder, b) purchasing a set of the “jaws of life”, and c) ranting like a lunatic at the poor girl working the customer service center until she successfully opens the package.
So now you figured out how easy it is to save a few bucks each month without any real long-term lifestyle change. So what’s next? CFL bulbs are the low hanging fruit on the home energy efficiency tree. Many of the next ideas, while they will consume less electricity, have a more significant startup cost. Buying a programmable thermostat can save money, but it will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100. Buying Energy Star appliances is also going to save money in the long run. Heck, replacing all the exterior windows in a house with double pained high efficiency windows will pay off ten to fifteen years down the road. Assuming, of course, that home prices will stop going down somewhere down the road. And, just a reminder, if you don’t own the building in which you live, well, none of this paragraph applies to you anyway.
For the forty five percent of the population that is renting, and the rest of the home owners who are only one quarter the environmentalist of Ed Begley Jr., the next step is to go from room to room and count how many remote controls you use on a regular basis. Here is a list of the electronic devices in my house that use a remote control: two television sets, two DVD players, satellite box, audio receiver, Playstation 2, XM Radio, and two CD players. When these devices are plugged in but not turned on they are drawing power. All these devices are consuming small amounts of electricity 24/7 which adds up to about 5% of your electric bill.
One way to eliminate this problem is to plug these devices into outlets which are shut off by a nearby electrical switch. Another solution is to plug these devices into a power strip. When you turn off the switch on the wall or on the power strip, no electricity is getting to these devices. While this solution works in a technical sense, many people are going to forget to physically disconnect these devices on a regular basis. And, let’s face it, another segment of the population won’t really understand why they need to unplug something they just turned off.
I have a much better idea.
In the future, any stand-alone electronic device that comes with a remote control is also going to contain a built-in remote control cradle to physically keep the remote control with the device. When the remote is not in the cradle, the electronic device listens for signals from the remote. When the remote is returned to the cradle, it physically activates a switch which disables the circuitry used for the remote control. The benefits are twofold: The remote control is kept with the device when not in use and the device is not wasting energy associated with the remote control. Note that when the remote is in the cradle all the non-remote functionality is still active.
A slight variation of this idea can be implemented for more complex setups such as a home entertainment centers. Often times several components are working in unison. For example, a universal remote control can send signals to a television set, a cable box, and DVD player. For this setup a stand alone cradle can be used for the single remote control. This type of cradle plugs into a wall outlet and contains space for multiple electrical devices (much like a power switch) for the television, cable box, and DVD player. When the universal remote control is removed from the cradle, power is restored to all the devices. When the user is finished, all the devices are turned off through the remote control and the remote control is placed back in the cradle. This activates a switch which completely cuts off all power to these devices.
While reducing a home’s power consumption by 5% may seem trivial, as a nation we are wasting 65 Billion kilowatt-hours of electricity which costs us $5.8 billion dollars a year. To put that in perspective, the Hoover Dam produces 565 million kilowatt-hours each year. That is equivalent to 115 Hoover Dams.