I really enjoyed this talk from Paul Wheaton on the reality of energy savings at home:
Essentially, Wheaton breaks down the various ways to heat and cool your home into three groups. He mostly focuses on heat, but these ideas apply almost the same as cooling.
The first group includes things that you touch for heat. Think of a heated blanket, for example. For cooling, you might try something like putting cold water on yourself. Those things don’t require much energy to cool you down comparatively. An electric blanket doesn’t use much energy and water probably comes out of your tap at a cool temperature.
The second group includes things that point at you for heat. Think of a space heater or a heat lamp or a small fan or a small room air conditioner. These devices use a bit more energy than those that you touch, but they’re still pretty efficient.
The third group includes things that transport heat (or chill) to you. Think of central heating or cooling in a home. These systems are really inefficient because they lose so much heat (or gain so much heat) before they get to you, plus they burn energy in the transportation process.
If you want to save energy, then, you want to rely on as many things in the first group as possible. This doesn’t mean that you should switch to miserable things just to save some money, but it does mean that it makes sense to turn down the furnace in the evening and curl up under an electric blanket.
So, how can you really apply this at home?
For starters, turn off the climate control. It is an incredibly expensive way to keep yourself warm (or cool, depending on the season). Turn it off completely and only use it when the other techniques aren’t working or you’re expecting guests.
Next, plan for some techniques that keep you cool by touch. In the winter, dress warmly and keep blankets out – or even get an electric blanket. In the summer, consider taking colder showers than normal and drink cold tap water and beverages – and dress in minimal clothing, too. On a hot day, I don’t go anywhere without some cold water – and I’ll toss water onto the grass when it gets warm and fill up with some cold water to replace it.
If those aren’t applicable, use as many techniques as possible for directed heat and cooling. In the winter, have a space heater in the room that you’re usually in. In the summer, focus on using fans that are pointed toward you or use a single room air conditioning unit.
If you do have to turn on the climate control, start at the high or low end and use the other tools in conjunction. Turn on the AC at 80 F, for example, and place fans near your cooling vents. Turn on the furnace to 55 F and curl up under a blanket.
As always, if you’re actually uncomfortable, make some adjustments. In the summer, leave the temperature high and see if you notice it. If you do, drop it down a degree or two and see what happens. In the winter, do the opposite – keep it low and raise it only if you notice it.
I am always surprised as to the impact that these little things can have on your energy bill. It’s almost a reflex to turn on the air on the first hot day and then settle into an air conditioning routine. Instead, leave it off for another day and grab a glass of cold water and a fan. Wait until it’s really hot to turn it on. Use these kinds of tactics and you’ll save a lot of energy – and that savings will be reflected in a much lower energy bill.