Consume energy conservatively

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- From a very early age many of us are taught that in the grand scheme of things, it is the big picture that counts. However, after a few years of paying our own bills we soon learn that the same "big picture" is inevitably made up of many smaller ones.

While these individual snapshots may not amount to much by themselves, their combined effect may be significant indeed.

This is often the case when we as consumers, attempt to control our energy costs. It is a common a mistake to focus only on the bottom line rather than how the energy was consumed in the first place. Overcoming this flawed approach is one of the most important steps an average energy consumer can take in their effort to reduce energy costs. Just who is this "average" energy consumer? Take a look in the mirror.

In order to effectively transform our efforts to reduce energy waste into real world savings, we need to understand what energy costs, and how we consume it in our daily lives. This first step though simple, is critical to turning a little knowledge, and understanding into a real advantage for ourselves, our families, the Air Force, and ultimately our country.
Years ago when our great-grandparents read their utility bill, it was easy to identify the relatively few appliances whose electric loads made up the total energy costs for the month. In today's high-tech and ultra-energized world this simple task can be a bit more challenging.

Fifty years ago most homes had lights in each room which made up about sixty percent of the total bill. Even today, some of us call the utility bill the "light bill." Hot water, a refrigerator, a radio, and perhaps a television usually accounted for the remainder. Where lighting was once the largest portion of an average residential utility bill, in 2008 only about six percent of the total is related to home lighting.

Our thirst for modern appliances and electronics which often define "the good life" today, has grown exponentially over the last few decades. As our demand for these new devices grew, so did our overall energy consumption, and of course increasing energy costs were quick to follow.

Did you know that the average rate in America for electricity in 2009 is very close to the national average in 1908 - about 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour? While natural gas and petroleum rates fluctuated dramatically over the same period, the cost of electricity has remained relatively stable. It is the consumption of this resource which has grown by leaps and bounds during the last century, not the unit price itself.

The following data sheds some light on just what some of the most common appliances cost us to use. Knowing how much something costs to operate gives us a point from which we can measure future energy savings as we begin the process of making our homes, our offices, our vehicles, and our daily lives more energy efficient, and ultimately transforming ourselves into more "Energy Smart" consumers.

See if you can find something on the list which will help you will save energy, and money every day.

Answering machine - $1 a month or $12 a year.

Electric Blanket - $1.75 to $2.00 a month, at 6 to 8 hours a day for three to four months every years.

Blender - 1.5 to 2 cents per 15 minutes of use.

Coffee Maker - 2.6 to 3 cents per pot.

Clothes Washer - cold water, $15 to $20 a year depending on model and number of loads.

Hair Dryer - medium size, 20 to 26 cents per hour.

Freezer - manual defrost, $120 a year; frost-free, $175 a year.

Refrigerator - medium size, $10 to $35 a month, or $120 to $420 a year.

Microwave Oven - 23 to 25 cents per hour.

Television - color, 3 to 6 cents per hour - more if left in the stand-by mode. Hint: LCD
TVs are significantly more energy efficient than the same size plasma sets.

DVD or VCR - 1.5 to 2 cents per hour - like a television or home entertainment system, the cost is more in the stand-by mode.

Vacuum cleaner - 15 to 20 cents per hour.

Clearly, it doesn't take many appliances to quickly run up energy costs. We have not yet considered the major energy consumers in most households - hot water, air conditioning and heating. We will examine these high-end energy gluttons more closely in an upcoming Energy Smart column.