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Published: Sunday, 2/28/2010

Dialing down to conserve energy

One person keeps the thermostat at 65 degrees no matter how cold it is outdoors. "You get used to it," the strict budgeter said. "When I go to someone's house where they keep it in the 70s, I'm miserable."

Another respondent in my unofficial survey on energy conservation does keep his furnace at 76 degrees all winter. "As I get older I seem to need more heat."

On the subject of electricity these two also differ. She does not like the new curly energy-saving bulbs so she only has one, in the lamp where she reads. But the man who cranks up the furnace, has replaced 14 standard bulbs in his house with the compact fluorescent bulbs. He reports that even though the bulbs were $5 each, his electric bill has dropped from $65 to $30 "without changing my lifestyle."

Almost everyone I talked to has ways to cut utility bills. Some replies were humorous, but others willingly shared workable tips that we all can follow and perhaps see a reduction in next month's bills.

One grandmother said, "If you want to cut down on your light bill, don't invite your grandchildren over. They don't know what 'turn off the lights' means."

The woman, who decided to cut heating bills by shutting off a room, now has opened it. "The pipes froze," she said.

According to Consumers Energy of Lansing, Mich., heat is the biggest utility bill and generally accounts for 40 per cent of the total home energy budget. It is recommended that the thermostat be turned down at night and always when you're away for long, or even short, periods.

My stat is set at the recommended 68 degrees, not 72 or higher as it was in past winters. It's a matter of adjusting to the lower degrees. After all, we dress warmer in winter, and once you think about it, 68 is ideal in summertime. At night my thermostat is lowered to 65, and dialed down to 58 if I am away for five or more hours. The reasoning is that it takes less time to return the house to the desired heat than it does to leave it on while I'm gone.

My survey covered several subjects with people in a range of incomes and house sizes. A conservative woman who lives in a large house leaves only one light on in the living room after dark. The stove light suffices for a light in the kitchen, and she keeps nightlights in the bathrooms to eliminate turning the switches on and off.

A single woman who lives in a mobile home and is on an extremely tight budget reminds others that she conserves water and energy by not using the dishwasher until it is fully loaded. To save hot water, she does the same thing with the clothes washer.

Forgetting to turn off the lights is a lifelong weakness that I am trying to stop. Because I get up long before the sun does, I turn on lights as I go through the house and often leave them on most of the morning. But I am improving.

Energy conservation requires concentration, some sacrifice, but no manual labor or additional costs. Consumers Energy has the following suggestions that were selected from a list of 100 under the guideline, "When You Use Less-You'll Pay Less."

•Ceiling fans set at low speed push warm air away from the ceiling and move it around the room without creating a chilling breeze. This spreads the heat more evenly and will make you feel more comfortable.

•Turn down the heat. You will typically save 1 to 3 percent on heating costs for every degree you dial down.

•Wash and rinse clothes in cold water instead of hot to save on water-heating costs. Use a cold-water detergent.

•Your stove or oven may not always be the best choice for cooking. Small appliances such as slow cookers, electric frying pans, and the microwave oven may be more energy efficient.

•A dishwasher will operate more efficiently if you remove food particles from the drain and clean it weekly.

There are also ways to cut back on air-conditioning costs, but that's a subject for later.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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