Change Habits to Beat the Peak
By Derrill Holly
As warmer weather sets in, our thoughts on keeping the house comfortable switch from heating to cooling. But as temperatures rise and air conditioners are switched on, looking for ways to improve energy efficiency at home can help you and Wharton County Electric Cooperative reduce demand, saving energy and money.
Making small adjustments in when, where and how you use electricity won’t only help control your energy costs, but it can also help keep temperatures in your home more pleasant on sultry days.
Avoiding peak energy costs is a good reason to put some chores on hold, at least until power demand dips. Consider some of the jobs one kilowatt hour (kwh) of electricity can do before you use it:
All of these activities can be done outside of peak demand periods, also known as peak hours.
Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system or heat pump can play a huge part in controlling your energy use year-round, even if family comfort is a top priority.
At 78 degrees, most people are comfortable outside, so why not indoors? Most people aren’t sensitive enough to notice much of a difference in air temperature whether the thermostat is set at 73 or raised to 78. But the closer your air conditioner or heat pump setting is to the outdoor temperature, the less your unit will run.
Each degree of temperature difference represents a percentage of the total cooling load. That means that when temperatures are in the high 80s, you could reduce your cooling demand by 10 to 15 percent for each degree above 75 degrees.
Fans offer an economical alternative to air conditioning on mild days and they can pitch in for comfort as temperatures climb. The key is evaporative cooling. At lower settings, a little air blowing across a room helps to bring down humidity levels.
When used in conjunction with your cooling system, set ceiling fans to blow air downward instead of pulling warmer air upward to get the most value in your cooling zone. Table and ceiling fans will offer more comfort if used to circulate air through areas where you are most active. You’ll get a wind chill effect that will make you feel just a little cooler.
Central air conditioning can use as much as one kwh of electricity for each 12 minute cycle of cooling. A ceiling fan can operate for about 13 hours on the same amount of electricity, while a floor or table fan, depending on size, might run for 10 hours per kwh of power. Turn off fans when you leave a room, because they cool people, not space.
When it comes to heat and humidity, changing your kitchen activities presents a wellspring of opportunities to reduce your household energy demand throughout the day.
Your stove represents the modern hearth, and all the things that make the kitchen a favorite gathering place in winter can help send your electric meter into overdrive from late spring through early fall.
According to researchers at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, cooking dinner for a family of four on an electric range releases about 20 ounces of water vapor into the air, and that amount can triple with a gas range.
Appliances on your countertops or stashed in your pantry could keep you cooler and use less energy. Microwaves use about 60 percent as much energy as full-size ovens, and a toaster oven or induction cooker consumes about half as much power. Because they are generally designed to heat food more efficiently in less space, the surface areas available for heating are smaller, reducing waste heat surfaces and keeping kitchens cooler.
Share the space
In simpler times, families spent more time together in the same room even as they pursued different interests. Some members might read books or magazines under the light of shared lamp, while others watched television or played board games.
Today it’s common for everyone to retreat to separate spaces, turn on their electronics, adjust their ceiling fans or window unit air conditioners and close their doors to cocoon in their own environments.
Getting control of your energy use to reduce your home’s overall demand can be really challenging when you have to consider the entire home, so bring back family time to beat the peak.
LCD televisions generally use 60 percent as much electricity as comparably sized plasma models. One laptop computer uses about 20 percent as much power as a desktop computer and monitor. And today’s home assistant devices can play music using about 17 percent of the energy on a component stereo system, or about as much power as the boom box you use on the beach.
A video game console consumes about 200 watts of power. One system pressed into service for spirited intramural competition between family members in one room uses about a third of the power of three players engaged in online games around the house.
Finish the space with energy-efficient LED fixtures for lighting, a couple sets of headphones and a few rechargeable power boosters for the family’s handheld devices. You’ll have a cool and fun place to spend a few hours with the family.
Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.
Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives is a national network of electric cooperatives across 46 states that provides resources and leverages partnerships to help member cooperatives and their employees better engage and serve their members. By working together, Touchstone Energy cooperatives stand as a source of power and information to their 32 million member-owners every day.