Believe it or not, improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t require an advanced energy science degree. It’s really just a matter of being more aware of choices and recognizing whether they save or waste energy. Individually, some energy-wasting practices might not amount to much, but when you add them all together, you’ll gain a better picture of how how much you could save. To help you live Live Brighter, our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series will showcase ways you can lower your home energy usage and possibly reduce your monthly energy bill.
Hanging Out in the Living Room
In most homes, the living room is your family’s entertainment center stage. While a generation ago, your family’s media setup was limited to a TV, VHS, and stereo system (and maybe a first-generation gaming console), the average 21st Century home is totally stuffed with entertainment options.
About 54% of homes in the U.S. had three or more television sets in 2009, and 75% of TV households have a set in the living room. According to the Nielsen Company, 50% of all gaming consoles are located in the living room. And this doesn’t even begin to count DVRs, DVD/Blue Ray players, the odd VHS player, satellite receivers, cable boxes, and sound bars, as well as broadband internet connected streaming players.
Kill the Energy Vampires
Individually, these additional boxes don’t burn a huge amount of electricity when you use them. However, when they are all on standby mode together, they can add several dollars onto your electric bill over the course of a year. Standby mode (aka – vampire power) uses a small amount of power to keep a remote-controlled device “at the ready” – waiting for the remote signal to power up. For example, the average cable box/DVR combo used nearly as much electricity as a refrigerator —about 446 kWh/year. That vampire is draining about $44.00 a year from your bank account.
The simple thing to do is to unplug everything when you’re not using it. But depending on your setup, that can be really complicated. You could also hook everything up to a power strip that you can turn off with the flip of one switch. Smart power strips have been around for several years, and the newer ones that incorporate Internet of Things (IoT) wireless technology let you take charge of them with your remote device or phone. True, they too rely on vampire power, BUT in this case, you control many energy vampires with just one.
While old CRT televisions used far more energy, newer LCD, LED, and OLED televisions are relatively efficient. Plasma televisions, long favored for their superior picture quality, have been viewed as energy hogs, which affected their sales. Manufacturers like Panasonic, Samsung, and LG have all ended producing plasma sets. Even though plasma sets are still available in stores, other manufacturers are expected to cease making them.
It’s safe to say that the bigger the television, the more energy it will use. If you’re thinking about buying a new television, then check out EnergyStar’s TV Buying Guide first.
Some Other Bright Ideas
Living rooms are not only for watching TV or movies or playing video games. Living rooms also play host to thermostats and fireplaces.
Thermostats are usually mounted in the living room where they won’t receive direct sun. However, if your living room has windows facing the southwest, they may let in a lot of warm sunlight during the late afternoon. Depending on the size of this room and several other factors, your thermostat might turn off the heat sooner, leaving other parts of your home uncomfortably cool just as you and your family return home.
There are several simple workarounds:
- Close the curtains that let in the sun; and/or
- If there’s a ceiling fan in the room, leave it running to help circulate the air on that floor.
Remember to program temperature set backs for both winter and summer when you are away or inactive. Reducing your heat to 68° F (20° C) or lower in winter and raising the cooling to 78° F (26° ) in summer can reduce your energy usage bills.
Fireplaces not only add heat and charm to your living room, but they can also pull heated air out of your home if they are not properly maintained or sealed when they’re not in use.
Lighting consumes 6-12% of your home’s energy usage and much of that comes from the living room. People read, talk, and relax here, all of which requires the right kind of lighting. While LED lighting has demonstrated being the highest in efficiency over and over again (wattage usage for 800 lumens: 60 watt incandescent bulb vs 13 watt LED bulb), improved lighting efficiency is beginning to focus on using the right amount of light.
Lighting tastes can vary between individuals, but there are general rules of thumb. Not counting accent lighting, most designers recommend 1,500-3,000 total lumens for ambient lighting in the living room with task lighting (reading lamps, for example) kicking out about 400 lumens each. Curiously enough, the US Department of Energy (DOE) found the number of lamps per living room varies regionally: 4.1 lamps were used in living rooms in Massachusetts compared to 7.9 in Illinois.
So, consider how the lighting in your living room works and how you are using it. Are you getting the most out of what you have or can you do with a little less? In terms of hourly usage, DOE has estimated the average daily hours of use per lamp averaged 1.6 hours. Once in a while ask yourself, “Do I really need to turn on that second or third lamp tonight?” While we’re not talking an elephantine amount of savings by itself, conserving just a little extra can add to your yearly savings.
Summer sun burning up your home’s deck? We’ll chart your course for comfort! Stay tuned for the next edition of “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” as we’ll step out onto your deck and patio. Shiver your timbers with our cool ideas!