The Manual Approach
First we should stop and pay homage to the oldest energy saving trick in the book: turning off the lights on your way out the door. If it’s not a habit you’ve already acquired, now’s a great time to start. If you’re not convinced it’s worth your time, the smart people over at Simple Dollar did an analysis that shows how much a difference it can make.
Dimmers Dial Up Savings
Although dimmer lighting controls have been around for quite a while, older dimmers (rheostats) just converted the extra power into heat with no energy savings. Lutron brought the first solid-state dimmer to market in 1961, and energy-efficient mood lighting has never been the same. When you dim a light by 25%, you save about 20%. And when you dim a light by 50%, you save about 40%. Dimmers also extend the life of the bulb (all that on and off stresses the filament) which is great news especially for fixtures in hard-to-reach places.
CFL/LED Users: make sure the bulbs you’re using are compatible with your dimmer, since by default those bulbs do not work with most dimmers on the market. If you’re confused about the difference between the two, CNET has a great overview.
You may already have one installed on your driveway or front porch, but what about your bathroom? Motion sensor managed lights come on when you enter the room and shut off after a period of inactivity. They consume a bit of power themselves, but if you have a hard time convincing people (including yourself) to flip that switch, motion sensors can do the remembering for you. Just remember to never stand perfectly still for too long!
Watch Out For Vampires: Timers and Power Strips
Nearly every appliance or device that plugs into the wall is consistently drawing power, even when the device is off. As a leading Cornell researcher said in a 2002 study – “Off doesn’t mean off anymore, it means standby.” All this standby generates a so-called phantom (or the even more dramatic sounding vampire) load. Even in 2002 dollars, a $200 yearly bill for electricity you didn’t use is reason enough to be scared.
So short of unplugging every appliance in sight at the end of each and every day, what can you do?
- For devices like computers, printers, and microwaves, use power strips. One switch and everything is actually “off”
- For other appliances with more regular usage schedules (like space heaters and window units), consider using a heavy duty timer that cut power during “off” periods, eliminating phantom load
Whether it’s just a good idea you’re committed to making a new habit or you have larger (and higher tech) aspirations, turning off unneeded lights and appliances will make a difference to both your power bill and the earth’s natural resources. Turns out going dark is a very bright idea!
Thanks to Flickr user Jan-Erik Finnberg