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Simple energy conservation measures can lower your utility bills while increasing the comfort of your apartment. Although your landlord is largely responsible for your building's condition and heating system efficiency, and possibly the choice of major appliances, you make dozens of energy decisions every day. The following tips suggest physical improvements and energy-conscious habits that can reduce costs for space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, and appliance use. Before you implement any measures requiring some alteration of your apartment, such as caulking and weather-stripping, make sure to get your landlord's permission.
Space Heating and Cooling
- If your apartment has a thermostat, you can significantly reduce your heating and cooling bills by adjusting it. During the heating season, set your thermostat when you are at home between 65° and 68° Fahrenheit (F) (18o to 20° Centigrade [C]). Before you go to bed, set it back/down around 60°F (15°C). When you are leaving the apartment, set it back to 50° to 55oF (10oto 13°C). Note that people over 65, infants, and people with certain illnesses risk hypothermia at temperatures under 65° F (18.3°C). If you think you or someone else is at risk, consult your doctor before turning down your thermostat. During the cooling season, set the air conditioner at no lower than 78°F (25.6°C) when you are in the apartment. If no one is going to be in the apartment for several hours, set the thermostat up as high as if can go before you leave to keep the air conditioner from coming on (unless you have pets) while you are out.
- If you have radiators, keep them clean. Dirt and dust absorb heat and reduce heat output. Since radiator covers block airflow, you need to remove them when the radiators are in use. Placing radiator reflectors on the wall behind the radiator unit increases the amount of heat radiated back into the room. You can make an inexpensive reflector with a sheet of cardboard covered with aluminum foil (be sure to fasten securely far enough away to avoid any possibility of a fire hazard).
- Arrange your furniture and drapes so they do not block or obstruct registers (vents), radiators, or baseboard heaters.
- If heated air from a forced air system enters your apartment through an inconveniently located register (for example, under a piece of furniture), you should direct the air out into the room with an air deflector. This is an inexpensive scoop-shaped device that attaches over the register, typically with magnets.
- If your main door opens to either an unheated hallway or directly to the outdoors, make your door airtight. Warm air can escape between the door frame and the wall. If this is the case in your apartment, caulk between the frame and the wall. The loss of warm air is frequently greatest under the bottom of the door. Prevent this by installing a door sweep on the bottom edge of your door. A low-cost alternative to a door sweep is a draft guard. This is a closed tube of cloth filled with sand that is laid against the bottom of your door.
- Weatherproof your windows to decrease heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Caulk around the window to decrease heat loss or gain. In the winter, use plastic sheeting over your windows to act as temporary storm windows. Reasonably priced commercial mounting kits are available. For greater savings, you may want to invest in moveable insulation such as insulated curtains.
- Dress for the season. If your apartment feels chilly, try putting on another layer of clothing, such as a sweater or jacket, before turning up the thermostat. In warm weather, wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing that allows air to pass across your skin, evaporating moisture and cooling you.
- Winterize your room air conditioner. It can let in drafts if left in place or uncovered during the winter. You should use an inside cover in addition to (or, if you cannot safely reach the outside of your unit, in place of) an outdoor cover.
- If you use a room air conditioner, check the filter at least once at the beginning of the cooling season. If it is clogged, your unit will operate inefficiently and run longer than necessary. Clean the filter or replace it. If you can do so safely, check and clean the condenser coils and the grills on the outdoor side of the unit.
- Keep south and west facing window drapes or shades closed during summer days to minimize solar heat gain in your apartment.
- When the temperature outside is comfortable, open a window or use a fan instead of the air conditioner. A fan only requires a tenth of the energy needed to run an air conditioner.
- If you have a fireplace without glass doors, consider plugging it when it is not in use. Even a closed damper leaks a large amount of heated air to the outdoors.
Lighting and Appliance Use
- When leaving a room for even a short time, turn off the lights.
- Use natural sunlight in place of electric lighting as much as possible.
- Dirty windows let in less light, and dirty light bulbs, fixtures, and shades emit less light, so keep them clean.
- Position lamps to make the most of their light. For instance, you will not need to light up the whole room if you have a lamp by your reading chair or at your desk.
- Consider purchasing light-colored furnishings, curtains, and rugs, rather than dark, because they reflect light and reduce the amount of artificial light needed in a room.
- Replace incandescent lights with fluorescent lights in fixtures that you leave on for long periods of time (kitchens, study lamps, hallways, bathrooms). Fluorescent lights are five times more efficient and last up to 20 times longer. Compact fluorescent lights are now available that provide light quality that is similar to that of incandescent lights. Styles are available that fit into most common incandescent fixtures. They cost more to buy than incandescent bulbs, but you can always take them with you when you move.
- If you do use incandescent lights, use low wattage light bulbs when you need only a small amount of light. When you need a larger amount of light, however, use a higher wattage bulb rather than two or more lower wattage bulbs. The efficiency of incandescent bulbs increases as wattage increases. For example, one 100-watt incandescent bulb produces about the same amount of light as two 60-watt bulbs but uses less electricity (Be sure to check that your lamp is rated for safe use with higher wattage bulbs).
- Control your lighting with dimmers or timers. Dimmers save energy by allowing you to reduce the amount of energy needed. Using timers is much less costly in the long run than leaving your lights on all day. If you want the added protection of leaving lights on when nobody is at home, consider lighting timers. These turn the lights on and off automatically at preset times. Fluorescent lighting requires special dimmers or timers, so only use in fluorescent fixtures that are approved for such use.
- Thaw frozen food items in the refrigerator instead of on the counter top. When you transfer the items to be thawed from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before using them, the frozen items will help cool the refrigerator as they defrost, cutting down on the energy the refrigerator uses.
- Frost build-up increases the amount of energy needed to cool a refrigerator, so defrost regularly. Never allow your freezer to build up frost more than one quarter of an inch thick.
- Turn appliances off when you are not using them.
- Leave seldom-used appliances—such as extra color televisions and video tape players—unplugged when not in use. They draw as much as 10 Watts (7 kWh/month)—even when they are not on.
- The energy consumption of a waterbed heater ranges from 500 kWh/year to 2000 kWh/year. At $0.10/kWh, that is a $150/year difference. If you must have a waterbed, keep your utility expenses down by buying foam pads (about $20), and buying shallow-fill (6 inches thick or less) mattresses. These require smaller heaters (150 watts).
- Keep appliances in good working order. They will last longer and operate more efficiently.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. An appliance with a lower initial purchase cost may, in the long run, cost you more than an energy-efficient model with a higher initial purchase cost. For example, new refrigerators use about one half as much energy as similar models from 10-15 years ago.
- Preheat your oven only when absolutely necessary and do not preheat for dishes cooked for an hour or more. In any case, never preheat for more than 10 minutes.
- Whenever you can, use the range top instead of the oven. The range uses far less energy.
- When cooking or baking in your oven, do not open the oven door any more than absolutely necessary. The oven loses about 20% of its heat every time you open the door.
- If you do not already have one, consider purchasing a microwave oven. Microwave cooking uses much less energy than conventional cooking.
Hot Water Conservation
- Take showers instead of baths. A five-minute shower uses only about one-half as much water as a bath.
- Install low-flow showerheads. They cut water consumption by 40 to 60%.
- Don't let faucets drip. Just one drip a second from a leaky faucet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a month. Replace worn out washers.
- Do as much household cleaning as possible with cold water rather than hot.
- Only run full loads in the dishwasher. Use the air dry (or energy saver) option if available. Heat drying is a high-energy user.
- If you or your landlord buys a washing machine, get one of the new horizontal axis machines. They use 33% less water as well as half the energy.
- Rinse dishes in a tub of clean water instead of under hot running water.
- Check your hot water temperature at the faucet with a thermometer. Adjust the temperature at your hot water heater (or get your maintenance person to adjust it) until the faucet temperature is 120°F (49°C).
Credits: US Department of Energy (http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/factsheets/ec1.html)