Smart Energy: December 2015

How to start saving energy, money and the environment 

By Karen Chase

By cutting her energy use by more than half, a Southern Oregon homeowner — let’s call her Jane — is saving money and enjoying better air quality, comfort and home aesthetics.

Although Jane is on a low, fixed-income budget, saving money wasn’t her only or even her primary motivator.

“I really care about what we collectively are doing to the planet, and what I specifically can do about it, even if I have to do it one upgrade at a time,” she said.

She started by making simple changes in her all-electric, manufactured home, such as installing efficient light bulbs, shutting lights and electronics off when not needed, and turning the water heater off at the panel when she is away for more than a few days. Her regional community action agency provided extensive weatherization and related services. And, item by item, she saved for bigger upgrades like efficient heating and cooling systems, new windows and insulated exterior doors. Incentives for some of these upgrades are available through local electric and gas utilities and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Jane isn’t alone in taking these actions. She joins hundreds of thousands of other Oregon families and business owners participating in Energy Trust, Douglas Electric Cooperative, Avista or other utility energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. If you are thinking about how you can save energy and money and help keep Oregon’s air clean, consider taking your own first steps, and start with lighting improvements.

Efficient lighting has improved a lot. LEDs are long-lasting, extremely efficient and light up instantly with warm, bright light. And prices continue to decrease. ENERGY STAR® qualified LEDs can last up to 25 years and use 85 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. Because lighting accounts for nearly 20 percent of a home’s electricity use, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs can be one of the most effective energy improvements for the home. One LED can save up to $80 over its lifetime.

And don’t forget about outside lighting. Minimize waste by installing efficient lamps like LEDs, properly shielding outside light fixtures, and using light sensors, timers and dimmers. Besides obscuring the view of stars and planets, artificial light disrupts wildlife, including migrating birds, and also harms human health. The International Dark-sky Association estimates that at least 30 percent of all outdoor lighting in the U.S. is wasted, mostly through lack of shielding, representing $3.3 billion wasted annually. Fully shielding outdoor fixtures directs light to wherever it is actually needed, and conserves electricity at the same time.

Ready to do more? Try minimizing the “phantom loads” in your home. These are electronics that are always using electricity, whether or not they are being used. This can include kitchen appliances, cable boxes, stereos, tools, chargers left plugged into outlets and so much more. Reduce phantom loads by attaching devices to power strips that can easily be switched off, or to smart power strips that can shut electronic devices off automatically when they are inactive.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, phantom loads cost the average household $100 annually. So reducing this waste can put $100 in your pocket every year. And who wouldn’t do that?

Karen Chase is the Southern Oregon Outreach Manager for Energy Trust of Oregon( In Douglas County, Energy Trust serves Pacific Power customers. For tips and other ways to save and produce energy, visit  Douglas County Smart Energy is a project of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.  For more information about the coalition, call 541-672-9819 or find them on Facebook at Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.