Left Navigation

:: Home :: Current / Past Issues :: Call for Manuscripts :: For Authors :: For Reviewers :: The Forum Board

Energy Conservation Tips for Individuals and Families

October 2004, Vol. 9, No. 2
ISSN 1540 5273

Vann, J., Ahmadi, R., and Friesen, C.

Abstract

Conservation of energy reduces stress on the energy generation and distribution system, saves consumers money, and reduces toxic air pollutants and the depletion of non-renewable resources, thus improving the quality of life in the present and enhancing the availability of resources into the future. The recent East Coast “black out” has forced people to think about the impact of their usage — or over-usage — of electricity on their lives. Extension Specialists are equipped to teach consumers how to select the most energy efficient systems and, to the limits imposed by the systems, how to operate the systems using the most energy-efficient behaviors possible. This paper outlines six dimensions of individuals’ lives where energy consumption can be reduced through better system choices and more energy-efficient behaviors. By teaching people to select energy-efficient systems and to adopt energy-conserving behaviors, Extension Specialists will have taken yet another step toward ensuring our future.

Keywords: Energy use, energy conservation, sustainability, energy-efficient behavior, household energy use

Introduction

Sustainability of the earth’s resources is a civic responsibility. Educating consumers about the many ways to foster sustainability is an appropriate activity for family and consumer Extension Specialists. For generations, family and consumer sciences professionals have emphasized individual, family, and community well-being (Nickols 2004). The recent East Coast “blackout” and last year’s rolling blackouts in California have forced people to think about the impact of electricity on the quality of their lives and the impact of their usage on the communities in which they live or work. More than ever, it is imperative that people reduce their consumption of energy to reduce the stressors on our electrical grid system. Energy use in housing systems embraces the life cycle of a house from the design, selection of materials, specification of systems, use of the home, and ultimately the final disposition of the materials and systems at the end of the house's useful life. Energy usage while the home is occupied involves impacts on electricity, oil, and/or gas usage. While most electricity in the United States is generated through coal combustion (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 2004), the use of oil and gas to generate electricity and as a direct energy source in the home are also relevant. All three fuels are non-renewable and all are polluting.

Is there any doubt that Ellen Swallow Richards, the pioneer of home economics (Hunt 1942), would be on the front line teaching consumers energy conservation tips? Extension Specialists around the country can have a tremendous impact on the collective energy utilization in this country if they can effectively teach consumers to conserve energy. Recognition of this opportunity is exemplified by the recently formed partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to educate consumers about Energy Star programs (Atiles, Wysocki, and Tremblay 2004). Extension services in 17 states are currently participating in this program and materials are available at the Web site hosted by the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences (2004).

This paper will outline six household systems where energy consumption can be reduced through better choices and more efficient use. Links to current Web sites are provided to give the reader additional information and resources.

Statement of the problem

For too long the concept of “energy availability” has been taken for granted. At the turn of a knob, a flip a switch, or even a clap of our hands, electricity has been readily available. Most energy-related discussions have centered on ways to increase the supply of energy through new production facilities, alternative energy sources, and improved distribution networks. In this article, however, we would like to address steps that individuals can take to reduce the consumption of energy. Reducing energy consumption has positive economic and environmental benefits through financial savings and reduced pollution.

Maximizing efficiency

Since at least the 1970s, behavior and technology have been recognized as determinants of energy consumption (Eagan 2001). Both are included in the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS), which was designed and implemented by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) (Energy Information Administration 2004). Energy efficiency is determined jointly by the household systems within which we operate (i.e., structure/setting of a home; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); plumbing; lighting; landscaping; and appliances) and our behaviors in using the systems. Efficiencies can be gained by changing the systems, behaviors, or both (see the table below). Once a system is chosen and installed, its user is constrained in terms of what its maximum efficiency can be, regardless of behavior. Nevertheless, behavioral improvements can maximize the efficiency of the existing system immediately. The possibilities are shown in the table below.

The upper left-hand corner of the table represents a situation in which both systems efficiencies (e.g., a refrigerator) and behavioral efficiencies (e.g., use of the refrigerator) are optimized. An example of this scenario would be an ENERGYSTAR® (Energy Star 2004a) refrigerator that the owner opens infrequently and in which all stored liquids are covered, the freezer compartment is kept relatively full, the recommended temperature setting is maintained, and the coils are cleaned frequently. In the upper right-hand corner, on the other hand, the owner may have an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator, but violate the key energy-saving principles outlined above. In the bottom left-hand corner of the table, the owner may have a refrigerator purchased in the mid-70‘s that is approximately half as energy-efficient as a modern ENERGY STAR® refrigerator. Even though maximum energy efficiency is limited by the outdated refrigeration system in this case, efficient behaviors can maximize the performance of that system to save both energy and money. The scenario in the bottom right-hand corner would be an energy inefficient refrigerator whose owner exhibits wasteful behaviors (the worst case).

Potential impact of household systems and human behavior on energy consumption.

System Behavior
Energy-efficient (+) Energy-wasteful (-)
Energy efficient (+) + +
Best case scenario
+ -
Constrained by behavior
Energy inefficient (-) - +
Constrained by system
- -
Worst case scenario

Systems of a home

In this article, six systems of a home (i.e., structure/setting of a home, HVAC, plumbing, lighting, landscaping, and appliances) will be examined. We will present both system and behavioral opportunities for energy conservation in each of the six systems. The reader will be  provided with some best management practices for reducing energy consumption.

Structure/setting system

The design of a home can have a tremendous impact on its long-term energy consumption (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy2004a). Most of the opportunities for structural/setting energy efficiency are related to systems options while most of the behavioral opportunities for energy conservation in the home consist of the maintenance and operation of the home's sub-systems, which will be discussed separately below.

Structure/setting system options

Structure/setting behavioral options

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system

The opportunities for HVAC energy conservation are straightforward and limited in number, but the opportunities for savings are great (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 2004e). Total efficiencies are determined by other elements discussed in this article, including the structure and orientation of the home and landscaping issues.

HVAC system options

HVAC behavioral options

Appliance systems

The typical household spends $1,400 per year on energy bills (Energy Star 2004d). However, modern appliances are much more efficient than those manufactured just 10 years ago. For example, appliances that meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for ENERGY STAR® designation can save consumers up to 50 percent off of their energy bills compared to standard models (Energy Star 2004e; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy 2004h; American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy 2004). In addition, appropriate behaviors associated with appliance use can maximize their efficiencies.

Appliance systems options

Appliance behavioral options

Plumbing system

Energy use for plumbing is tied directly to the use of warm or hot water and indirectly to the energy required pumping and purifying water and to pump and purify sewerage. Controlling flows and temperature are the primary avenues for energy conservation. Energy use can be limited both by the system (e.g., running a 3/8” pipe between the water heater and the water outlet to reduce the amount of hot water “held” in the pipe and thereby dissipated from the pipe) and by human behavior. Use of water is influenced by other household sub-systems, e.g., type of washing machine, dishwasher, and landscaping, and the energy-efficiency of related behaviors (Regional Water Providers Consortium 2004a).

Plumbing system options

Plumbing behavioral options

Lighting system

Lighting consumes much of the electricity used in a home. While good lighting enables people to work safely, effectively, and efficiently, it should be as energy-efficient as possible. There are opportunities for energy conservation both in the design and in the operation of the system.

Lighting system options

Lighting behavioral options

Landscaping system

Landscaping maintenance requires energy use. For example, fertilizer requires energy for its manufacture and water requires energy for its pumping and purification. On the other hand, proper landscaping can reduce the energy requirements of the home by minimizing maintenance requirements and managing home energy gains and losses from the sun and wind.

Landscaping system options

Landscaping behavioral options

Summary

Conservation of energy reduces the stress on the energy generation and distribution system while concomitantly saving money for individuals and families. In addition, conservation of energy reduces the release of toxic air pollutants into the environment and depletion of non-renewable resources, thus improving the quality of life in the communities where individuals live and work, and enhancing the availability of resources into the future. Family and consumer scientists are equipped to be key players in resource development and sustainability issues (Atiles and Cude 2002). Extension Specialists can teach consumers how to select the most energy efficient systems and, to the limits imposed by the system, how to operate the systems using the most energy-efficient behaviors possible. As Anderson (2004, iii) so eloquently stated, “Today’s choices affect individual, family, and community well-being as well as our children’s future.”  By teaching people to select energy-efficient systems and to adopt energy-conserving behaviors, Extension Specialists will have taken yet another step toward ensuring our future.

References

AHAM. 2004. “Directory of Certified Refrigerators-Freezers,” http://www.aham.org/products/productitem.cfm?recordID=176 (accessed September 24, 2004).

Alliance to Save Energy. 1998. Power Smarts: Easy Tips to Save the Planet. Washington, D.C.: Alliance to Save Energy.

Alliance to Save Energy. 2004. http://www.ase.org/consumer/index.htm (accessed September 24, 2004).

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. 2004. “The Most Energy-Efficient Appliances 2002-2004,” http://www.aceee.org/consumerguide/mostenef.htm (accessed September 24, 2004).

Anderson, C.L. 2004. “Sustainability-Coexisting in times of enormous change.” Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 95(2): iii.

Atiles, J.H., and B.J. Cude. 2002. “Expanding on the meaning of resource development for family and consumer sciences in the 21st century.” Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 94(2): 9-10.

Atiles, J. H., J.L. Wysocki, and K.R. Tremblay, Jr. 2004. "Energy Star: Introducing a New Cooperative Extension Partnership." Housing and Society 30(1).

City of Desoto, TX. 2004. “Cut your water bill! Conserving water can save you money!!!,”http://www.ci.desoto.tx.us/water_conservation.htm (accessed September 24, 2004).

Egan, Christine. 2001. The Application of Social Science to Energy Conservation: Realizations, Models, and Findings. Washington, D.C.: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004a. “Your Home's Energy Use,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers/energyuse.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004b. “Windows,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/window.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004c. “Insulation and Weatherization,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers/insulation.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004d. “Home Energy Audits,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/factsheets/ea2.htm (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004e. “Heating and Cooling,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers/heatcool.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004f. “Choosing a Water Heater,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/heatcool/hc_choosing_water_heater.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004g. “Energy-Efficient Water Heating,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/erec/factsheets/eewtrhtr.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004h. “Appliances,” http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/saveenergy/save_appliances.html (accessed December 26, 2004).

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 2004i. "How to Read the EnergyGuide Label." http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/energy_savers/label.html (accessed December 26, 2004).

Energy Information Administration. 2004. "The National Energy Modeling System: An Overview 2004/Introduction," http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/overview/introduction.html (accessed December 26, 2004).

Energy Solutions Alberta. 2004. “Phantom Energy Losses,” http://www.energysolutionsalta.com/home1.asp#phantom (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Star. 2004a. "What makes a product ENERGY STAR®?" http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_what_makes_es (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Star. 2004b. "Find a Product," http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_index (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Star. 2004c. "Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs,"   http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Star. 2004d. "Did you know?" http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_index (accessed September 24, 2004).

Energy Star. 2004e. "Appliances,"  http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=appliances.pr_appliances (accessed September 24, 2004).

Green, K.B. 1990. "Our Intellectual Ecology: A treatise on home economics." Journal of Home Economics 82(3): 41-47.

Hunt, Caroline Louisa. 1942. The Life of Ellen H. Richards. Washington D.C: American Home Economics Association.

INFILTEC. 2004. "About Blower Doors," http://www.infiltec.com/inf-bd.htm (accessed December 26, 2004).

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 2004a. "The Home Energy Saver," http://HomeEnergySaver.lbl.gov (accessed December 26, 2004).

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 2004b. "Filtration for Particles/Costs of Filtration," (accessed December 27, 2004). http://eetd.lbl.gov/ied/viaq/v_filtration_2.html.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 2004. "Energy Flow Charts for the United States," http://eed.llnl.gov/flow/02flow.php (accessed December 27, 2004).

Maryland Energy Administration. 2004. “Understanding EnergyGuide Labels for Appliances,” http://www.energy.state.md.us/energysources/energyefficiency/residential/energyguide.htm (accessed September 24, 2004).

Nickols, S.Y. 2004. "Point of view: The voice for family well-being." Journal of Family and

Consumer Sciences 95(1):1.

Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. 2004. "Information about Green Buildings." http://www.nesea.org/buildings/info (accessed September 1, 2004).

Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 2004. "Insulation Fact Sheet," http://www.ornl.gov/roofs+walls/calculators/rvalue/index.html (accessed September 1, 2004).

Regional Water Providers Consortium. 2004a. “Get Started on the Road to Indoor Water Conservation,” http://www.conserveh2o.org/pdf/Indoor_Brochure.pdf (accessed September 24, 2004).

Regional Water Providers Consortium. 2004b. “Lawn and Plant Care Tips,” http://www.conserveh2o.org/lawncare.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

The Daylighting Collaborative. 2004. http://www.daylighting.org/ (accessed September 24, 2004).

Union of Concerned Scientists. 2004. "Weatherizing," http://www.ucsusa.org/publication.cfm?publicationID=442 (accessed September 5, 2004).

University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. 2004. "Energy Star National Extension Partnership Web site," http://www.fcs.uga.edu/extension/housing/estar/index.html (accessed December 26, 2004).

Wilson, Alex, Jennifer Thorne, and John Morrill. 1999. Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, 7th Edition. Washington, D.C: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Xeriscape Council of New Mexico. 2004. “Xeriscaping Info http://www.xeriscapenm.com/xeriscape_info.html (accessed September 24, 2004).

Authors

John W. Vann, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Marketing and Management
Ball State University
jvann@bsu.edu

Reza T. Ahmadi, M.Arch.
Associate Professor
Department of Family and Consumer Sciences
Ball State University
rahmadi@bsu.edu

Carol A. Friesen, Ph.D., R.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Family and Consumer Sciences
Ball State University
cfriesen@bsu.edu

Footer Nav