The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 12, 2009

Town Hall spot-lights home energy-saving tips

Last month, there were two seminars on home energy savings given at Town Hall by Alicia Hunt. The talks were sponsored by the Town of Carlisle with grant funding from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

While describing many ways to cut energy use, Hunt encouraged an incremental approach: learn what can be done, review one’s lifestyle and make small changes and then try more changes over time. Hunt points out that not everyone will implement all these changes, but over time, everyone can be making choices that help save energy. For instance, a simple yet effective option is to gradually replace aging appliances with more energy efficient models.

A sample of Hunts suggestions are listed below. Additional energy saving tips will be published in a future issue.

Monitor energy use

First, Hunt advised, people need to become aware of where energy is being used in the home and how much is being used. Hunt said, “Look at your electric bill at the electricity in kilowatt-hours. Compare your May ’09 usage to your May ’08 usage.” Do this every month to see if the kilowatt usage goes down over time.”

Free home energy audits available

Hunt highly recommended signing up for a free home energy audit from MassSave and trying out the online tools that can be found at, such as the Home Energy Analyzer which uses your zip code. She said it is important to see how your home compares to other homes in the area. Also, you can find rebates at this website. They change every few months, so keep checking. Homeowners will need to get the free energy audit before they can apply for rebates. There is roughly a six-week wait for an audit right now. The wait grows substantially, come September.

Another avenue for information and energy efficient products is the Energy Federation Incorporated (EFI). EFI’s mission is to distribute resource-conserving products and provide objective, accurate information to assist people in energy and water conservation. EFI works three ways: online, by phone or by walking into their store in Westborough. See

Electricity and appliances account for 40% of home energy use,” said Hunt. She went into several areas to save energy and money.

Light Bulbs - CFLs and LEDs

Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). “There are a variety of bulbs and a range of styles,” said Hunt. Rather than having outside lights on all evening, use motion detectors or put the lights on timers. Use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as often as possible. “They use dramatically less energy than CFLs,” said Hunt, but they are expensive and may not be bright enough for all applications. Hunt recommended them for holiday lights. “A string costs $12.”

The drawback for CFLs is that they contain a small amount of mercury and need to be recycled. [Note: CFLs can be left with the attendant at the Carlisle Transfer Station.] If a CFL is dropped and breaks, open a window, get out of the room and close the door for 15 minutes. The shattered pieces can then go into the trash.

Trim phantom loads

Hunt said that even when some devices are “off”, they still draw a small current called a phantom load. Cell-phone chargers, televisions, computers, printers, scanners and stereo systems typically are drawing current when they are turned off and this current adds up. Hunt had several solutions. Unplug cell-phone chargers when not in use. She suggests plugging computers, printers and scanners into a power strip with surge protection. After the devices are turned off, use the On/Off switch on the power strip to eliminate the residual power drain. Do the same for the TV.

Alternatively, put a laptop in “sleep” or “hibernate” mode. These modes use less energy and the laptop will “wake-up” quickly. Hunt said there is now a “Smart Strip,” which acts much like a power strip but it realizes when a computer has not been used in a while and puts it into “hibernate” mode.

“You could save $100 by turning off your printer,” said Hunt. She added that you could save $30 a year by turning off 20-watt devices such as cable TV boxes when they are not in use.

This is where lifestyle comes in, Hunt said. Some changes will be easier to live with than others. Hunt pointed out that you may have to wait five minutes for televisions and computers to be ready for use after being turned completely off. “What makes sense in your house?” she asked the audience.

Kilowatt meters

Buy a $20-25 Kill-A-Watt meter to figure out how much energy different devices use when they are on or off. The meters are also available for loan from Gleason Library. First plug the meter into the wall and then plug in what you want to test such as a refrigerator, a television or a lamp. The meter has a screen to display its findings. Hunt explained that a refrigerator may need to be tested over a 24-hour period in order to get an average as they turn on and off during their cooling cycle. Power monitors are available for about $100 to monitor the overall electricity usage.

Appliances and Energy Star

Hunt said that window air conditioners, old refrigerators and clothes dryers are particularly bad energy hogs. She recommended using fans instead of air conditioners, or at least getting the correct air conditioner for the size room to be cooled. She suggested hanging some clothes to dry rather than always using a clothes dryer. Replacing an old refrigerator can reduce energy use, but only if the old refrigerator is not moved to the basement to be used as a “beer frig.” Hunt said, “Try to live without a second frig.”

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy whose mission is to help consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. Hunt strongly recommended buying energy efficient appliances when you have to replace them. Look for the Energy Star logo. When reading the bright yellow “Energy Guide” label on appliances, be careful to read the description at the top. The Guide compares appliances with that description, generally of the same size, to determine the scale below the description. Also on the label is the “average cost;” however, Hunt said, “take that with a grain of salt.” Energy needs and costs vary greatly across the country, so average costs are not very useful. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito