Sensible Ways to Save Power (and Money) at Home

Save Power and UnplugSouth Africans, as a whole, are a cash-strapped people, and that strap is getting tighter. The petrol price seems intent on setting new highs month after month, inflation doesn’t know how to quit and the price of electricity only knows how to go in one direction – fast. The middle classes are starting to seriously reconsider their spending; even the upper-middle classes are trying to decide if they need to do all of their shopping at Woolworths.

It’s understandable, then, that people are looking for any tricks to reduce their energy consumption and expenditure. After all, the amount of energy you use is one of the few things you can actually control. Household energy consumption is also one of those fabled areas where many little changes can add up to big savings. You already know some of the tricks because they’re tried and tested, and because they’re Energy Saving 101. So we’re not going to tell you to change all of your bulbs to energy savers and to switch off your geyser for 23 hours a day. Instead, we’re going to give you five sensible tips that you can start implementing today.

1)     Don’t wash your jeans

That priceless advice comes courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger, who caused a bit of a stir in the fashion (and laundry) world last year when he announced that he never washes his jeans. Apparently he’s not alone because TV show host and journalist Anderson Cooper says he washes his jeans every six months – at most. Studies have been done which show that wearing jeans for months and months (and months and months) between washes does no harm. Provided you wipe off any spilt food and other dirt with a damp cloth, unwashed jeans don’t hoard masses of bacteria and germs, so they’re not a health hazard, although you probably wouldn’t want to feed anyone in ICU off of them.

In truth, we live in a germ-obsessed society where no one is happy until every last one has been killed dead. Are we healthier for it? No. In fact, it’s been suggested that we actually compromise our immune systems by not allowing them to cope with a peck of dirt. So rather than wrinkle up your nose at the thought of wearing the same pair of jeans for six weeks solid, consider what else do you over wash?

(Definitely not underwear, socks or your sports kit.)  

Dr. Lygia Romanach, research scientist of earth science and resource engineering at CSIRO, says that fairly clean clothes can be spruced up with a wipe with a damp cloth and a once-over with an iron. If a scientist is happy with that approach, who are we to argue?

The overriding lesson here is you should get maximum wear out of your clothes before you wash them – and that when you finally do a load of laundry you ensure that it’s a full one (but not overfull because that will increase energy consumption and is counterproductive). No light loads, thank you very much. Fewer loads means less water and energy consumption, and, more importantly, less work for you. The final word on laundry: wash in cold water only. Really. All detergents, even the biodegradable, earth-friendly detergents, are good enough to get rid of tough stains in cold water. So stop wasting heat.

2)     Don’t shower alone

If you’re only going to run your geyser for an hour a day (which, by the way, is perfectly feasible in a household of four) then it makes sense to save as much hot water as possible. You can save hot water and inject some heat into your relationship by showering with your partner.

Ok, that’s was slightly misleading. The idea is to have as quick a shower as possible, so there isn’t time for … heat. But there is time to reconnect, to chat, to catch up on conversation and, to be honest, to admire and maybe pique some interest. All relationships, no matter how ostensibly healthy, could do with more admiration and interest.

Add a water-saving showerhead (less than nine litres per minute) and you’re in the eco-saving zone.

3)     Make your kettle your best friend

Kettles are more efficient at heating water than stove tops, so if you need boiling water for cooking, boil it in the kettle rather than on the stove. Boil just as much water as you need. A great tip is to boil the kettle and to put a little bit of water in the pot to boil on the stove as well. By the time the kettle has boiled, the water in the pot should also be bubbling, so the plate is hot enough to maintain the boil and you don’t waste energy (and time) bringing the same water to the boil twice.

Kettles are also more efficient than geysers, at least for heating small amounts of water, so boil the kettle rather than run the hot tap when you need to wash dishes. One kettle of hot water and two jugs of cold water are more than enough to tackle a greasy pile of dishes. Not only will you save electricity, but you’ll also save water because you’re not leaving the tap running until it gets hot enough, and you also don’t play the little-more-cold-a-little-more-hot game.

The key lesson is to only use as much water as you need. Don’t fill the kettle if you’re just making tea for two, or if you only need to fill the steamer to the minimum line.

4)     Unplug everything

It’s a schlep to plug and unplug your TV and computer and toaster (etc.) when you use them, yes, but you would be surprised at how much energy (and money) is wasted by leaving them plugged in. Back in 2009, Sean Rosner cited figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, which found that appliances that are off account for 75% of electronic power consumption. Think about it, 75% of your money is spent powering products that you’re not using. It’s called the phantom load and, once again according to Rosner, it accounts for 6% of the (U.S.) national residential electricity consumption.

So, yeah, it’s a schlep to have to plug and unplug your appliances but isn’t it worth it to save up to 75% of your electronic power use?

5)     Nurture green fingers

A lush garden adds value to your property. Gardening helps clam and soothe the soul. Growing your own veggies saves money. And, gardens are good for at least one other thing: they can insulate your home, cutting down on your need for artificial climate control.

Once again we turn to Rosner, who cites the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s findings that properly placed trees can cut summer air conditioning bills by as much as 40%. Granted, growing trees is not a quick fix, but according to Rosner, even planting some shrubs or bushes within a foot of your home creates a dead airspace that effectively insulates your home during summer and winter. And ivy is very pretty.

If you’re feeling particularly energetic and want to take on a long-term project, you can consider a roof garden.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but before you ditch your Woolies roast chicken and organic tea, try implementing some of these sensible energy-saving tips. Your jeans may not smell like roses, but your roses could offer some protection against the weather.


Image credit:  functoruser, CC BY 2.0, Via Flickr

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