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Minimizing Base Loads

Paul Kando

When people talk about energy costs or saving energy, they often focus on heating. Yet even in Maine heating costs add up to only 45% of a household’s total energy use. The remaining 55% are “base loads”, i.e. energy demands to be met year round, not just during winter. Therefore, even though the heating bill is the elephant in the room, our year round base loads also deserve serious consideration.

Power Strip
Power Strip for controlling vampire loads
photo credit: Wikimedia

Water heating represents 11% of a typical household’s energy consumption. Clothes washers & dryers add another 10%. No matter how we heat it, water temperature at the tap needs to be no higher than 120ºF. Come to think of it, every time you have to turn on the cold water to get the right water temperature – you are wasting energy, water and money. To set the temperature on most water heaters is a less than 5 minute job anyone can do. There are numerous other no cost ways to save water, hot or cold. Like not running water while shaving or brushing teeth; running clothes and dish washers only fully loaded. The laundry will come out perfectly clean with a warm/cold setting. Rinsing hand-washed dishes in the sink instead of running water can save as much as 80% of the water used. There are many other water saving ways – you will find them if you keep aware. As for the clothes dryer, run it only with a full load. Throwing in a dry, bulky towel will reduce drying time, because as it absorbs water, it reduces the average water content of the whole load.

Lighting used to account for 7% of a household’s energy consumption. No longer. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are now available to replace virtually all conventional incandescent light bulbs. A 9 watt LED produces as much light as a 60 watt incandescent. That’s an 85% energy saving. So, even if they cost significantly more than the old standbys, LEDs pay for themselves very quickly. Even so, please, don’t leave lights on in unoccupied rooms.

Older refrigerators can account for as much as 6% of a household’s energy load. New, Energy Star rated models use significantly less energy and are worth considering. A dishwasher consumes about 2% of the total, so use it sparingly. A computer and monitor, a TV, VCR and DVD player account for another 2% each. Their consumption can be cut significantly by not leaving them on standby (instant start) mode when not in use. Turn them off instead.

That leaves us with 15% more energy to account for. Our deep-well water pump, the basement sump pump, assorted power tools, vacuum cleaners and other household machines fall in this category. Battery chargers should be unplugged when not charging, along with anything with a transformer inside, which draws power as long as the device is energized.