Being mindful of appliances can save substantial energy

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 28, 2015

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METRO DETROIT — Saving on energy usage at home does not necessarily require a whole lot of new gadgets and appliances.


October is National Energy Awareness Month, and there are a lot of appliances around the average household that people do not think about powering down as a way to save energy, DTE Energy Insight App Program Manager Joel Miller said.


“Many devices are in a standby mode that’s consuming energy almost at full rate even though it’s not doing anything,” Miller said. “One thing that surprised me the most is a set of speakers on my computer; there’s no sound coming out of the speaker, but it’s still drawing energy as if it was.”


Computer equipment and video game consoles can draw substantially more energy in standby mode than when fully powered down — Miller said his monitor still draws around 40 watts while in standby compared to 200 while turned on — and if that device is something that is not adding “value to your day,” there is little reason to leave it in standby.


He suggested connecting such equipment to power strips that can be switched off when not in use; while it may take longer to power up a device that has been turned off rather than put into standby mode, people can cut around 5-10 percent of their energy usage this way. Unplugging devices also works, if a power strip is unavailable.


For DTE Energy customers with smart meters who are interested in finding where they can save energy, the company now offers the DTE Insight app for free on smartphones, Miller said. The app uses data recorded for electric bills from the resident’s electrical meter to show when electrical usage is at its heaviest.


“It helps them discover the usage in their homes, to ID patterns and choose the way they want to save,” DTE spokesperson Vanessa Waters said. “We really think that’s the best recommendation.”


For people interested in a more granular degree of information, Miller said they could get an energy bridge that breaks down energy usage to seconds and updates the DTE Insight app accordingly. That data never leaves a person’s home network, he added, so DTE never receives it.


In either event, he said, residents typically find that their refrigerator is the biggest energy user, with older, less efficient ones using more power. Putting it aside, Miller suggested looking at what is using power in the wee hours of the night: networking equipment, game systems and computers, and other appliances that tend to have lights on through the night.


“These kinds of appliances left on 24 hours a day — that’s the real opportunity,” Miller said.


For heating, Consumers Energy spokesperson Deb Dodd said there are simple, low-cost ways to reduce energy usage and gas bills in the colder months. Installing a programmable thermostat is a good first step so that it does not heat the house unnecessarily while residents are away.


Dodd also suggested making sure the furnace is cleaned and tuned up before winter hits so that it operates at its “safest and most optimal level,” which includes cleaning the furnace filters at least every other month during the winter.


“They tend to get a lot of dust and stuff in those, so cleaning or replacing those (filters) can make sure your furnace is running in tip-top shape,” Dodd said.


If a room is not being used during the winter, she said it should be closed up and the heating register shut off so that the room is not being heated unnecessarily. In rooms that are being heated, Dodd suggested making sure heating registers and vents are cleared of clothing or other items so that they can freely heat the room.


Dodd said reducing the thermostat is also a good way to save on energy in the winter, as every degree the thermostat is lowered can save 1-3 percent on heating costs for a household. Dealing with cracks around doors and windows also can be a major energy saver.


“You can use some inexpensive materials to caulk or cover any cracks around doors or windows,” she said. “Just an eighth of an inch crack around a doorway is equal to a softball-sized hole in the middle of the door in terms of cold air getting in.”


Replacing doors and windows that are not up to code or are not energy-efficient is a more expensive option, though it does help, Dodd said.


Reducing a water heater temperature to 120 degrees also is a way to cut energy usage, as it reduces the energy bill without sacrificing the hot water, she added.


Consumers Energy expects heating bills to come in roughly $100 cheaper over the course of the winter than last year due to falling gas costs, Dodd said, though that is weather-dependent.


For more information, visit www.consumersenergy.com and click on the “controlling energy costs” tab, or visit www.dteenergy.com and click on the “save energy” tab.

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