Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

February 10, 2011

Prius Winter Mileage Trick

Category: Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 6:13 pm

Prius in Winter

Beat The Cold

I started a new job this year, and unlike my former commute (downstairs) I have to drive. To my utter horror, my mileage dropped below 40MPG after the first few weeks. But I fixed that.

The Prius will normally turn off the engine when the car is stopped, which, for my commute is frequently — many lights, and heavy traffic in some parts. But in the winter, until the car has warmed up, the Prius decides to keep the engine on. Idling in traffic isn’t good.

But, if I turn off the heater, off goes the engine. Ha!

My mileage this week has been back up to normal (a little lower than the normal 50+ MPG in winter — in cold climates they change the fuel mix in winter so cars will run properly, even if less efficiently).

So when the car is moving and the engine is on, I turn on the heater, while slowed or stopped, I turn it off. By 10 or 15 minutes the engine is hot enough that the engine will stop on its own. It takes a little longer to warm up the car, and sometimes you need to turn on the AC to prevent the windshield from fogging up, but otherwise, it’s a pretty good trick.

Photo Credit: kalevkevad via Flickr.

September 28, 2010

Always On: Hunting, Finding and Saving Electricity (Still!)

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:28 pm

Phantom Power Hunt

Always On (photo: uberculture)

As part of my participation in a beta test for PlottWatt (very cool), I have come to understand that our house’s “always on” electrical load accounts for about one third of our consumption. Perhaps more vampires? Doesn’t seem plausible.

The only way to find out: measure each outlet with a Kill-A-Watt! (Can you say “obsessive“?) But occasional obsessiveness is good for the soul. And budget.

So on the last grey Saturday, me and my trusty Kill-a-Watt went around seeing if we could answer the question: how much could we save?

The answer was neither encouraging nor discouraging: it was simply illuminating. (And, another $70/year, tax free savings — see the link to my spreadsheet below.)

And isn’t that what it’s all about? (more…)

September 27, 2010

Mac Sleep Problems Resolved (and Explained)

Mac Won't SleepSay it isn’t so — my Macbook will not sleep! When I abandoned Windows for a Macbook, I hoped I would resolve a problem with not sleeping (entering sleep mode) that I have posted about before — my Windows XP Sleep and Hibernation posts continue to generate thousands of views, but alas, Snow Leopard, OS X doesn’t always sleep, either.

I have done a fair amount of research and think I understand why my macbook will not enter sleep mode, and how the OS X sleep process works. And importantly (and unlike Windows): what you can do to resolve the issue. The short answer is: there’s no built-in way to ensure your Mac goes to sleep automatically, but there’s a great bit of free software you can install, which in my tests works perfectly: PleaseSleep. (more…)

September 21, 2010

PlotWatt at Energy Circle, and Programmable Thermostats at Hohm

Category: News,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

PlotWatt logoHere are a couple of posts I have written elsewhere. Everything you want to know about how (not) to program your thermostat, posted on the Microsoft Hohm blog, and a pretty cool post about an incredibly cool new bit of software for recognizing patterns in electricity use data with pretty pictures and all, called PlotWatt.

I never have time to write here any more :-(

January 18, 2010

Guest Post: 10 Simple Ways to Conserve Energy at Home

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 11:50 am

A Beginner’s Guide to Home Energy Conservation

by Marcy Tate
Energy conservation is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your pocket. It’s pretty simple to conserve energy at home and you’ll notice the savings right away. Still, changing your energy habits isn’t easy for every homeowner. Start by picking a few energy conservation techniques and gradually add a few more each month. As you go along, remind yourself how much of a help your efforts are for the planet and how much lower your utility bills will be. That should give you the inspiration to turn your energy conservation habits into a way of life. The tips below do not involve high investments. 

October 20, 2009

How to Tame Your DVR’s Appetite for Energy: Starve It

Category: Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 7:56 pm

My cousin Alison wrote me an email this evening asking how she could stop her always-on DVR (the “not-a-TiVo®” things cable companies will rent) from gobbling electricity.

Here’s her email,

I am trying to do my next round of tightening up and have read all the stuff about turning off your “always on” appliances, but after much googling couldn’t find the answer to my real question: if I turn off my cable box, will my dvr stop recording?

So then I remembered—aha, my cousin Tom’s website.

And spent a little more time surfing around there, which was incredibly informative and pleasant BUT I still couldn’t find the answer.

So then I thought I’d take the lazy way out and just ask you.

Will it?

Your very very pale green cousin


To which I promptly and thoughtfully replied

Yes, it will stop recording.

However, consider the following tip: if you have nothing to record between, say midnight to 4pm, you can do this:

1) Plug everything (TV, Cable Box, DVD Player, whatever) into a power strip
2) Plug the power strip into a light timer
3) Set the light timer to turn off at midnight and on at 4pm
4) plug the light timer into the wall

Then, not only will you miss little or nothing, you will get rid of the power of the cable box and the standby power of the TV and whatever else, and have the whole system off for two-thirds of the day.

Light timers and power strips can be bought at drug stores, grocery stores, hardware stores or online.

Your friendly neighborhood energy conservation cousin,


September 21, 2009

Insulate Your Whole House Fan for $20

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:13 am

In the summer, we use our whole house fan to stay cool — it draws cool, fresh evening air through the house making us comfortable enough that we never used an air conditioner this past summer. Our electricity bill was great.

But now that it’s fall, we might as well call it a “house hole” instead :-)

We have a 32″ square hole in our attic. We had an old mattress cover that was about the right size and we tossed it over the top every fall thinking, “close enough”. Then we had our energy audit last Spring, and this is what we found: the picture on the left is of the louvers that cover the fan opening when it’s not on; the picture on the right is an infrared photo of the same area taken (with our mattress cover installed). Blue is cold, and cold is bad.

House Hole (click for full size image)

Whole House Fan, or House Hole (click for full size image)

You can also see some un-insulated areas along the top of the window, as well as around the fan itself. But that dark blue area is right in the middle.

Blue is bad.

Since the energy audit, we have had the house insulation filled in where the first contractor messed up, and topped off the insulation in the attic. But I still needed to improve on the mattress cover. (more…)

August 2, 2009

Green Review: Sunsetter Awnings Keep Heat Outside

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 8:42 pm

awning-halfopenYesterday I installed two awnings over our south-facing bedroom windows — they look good, let you see out, are adjustable, and the SunSetter brand seems to be very high quality.

Keeping your house cool in the summer (with minimal, or no air conditioning) boils down to three things:

  1. Don’t Add Heat from the Inside — cook on the grill, turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, keep the lights off
  2. Don’t Let Hot Air from Outside In — shut windows, doors, and seal the drafts and leaks that let hot air in
  3. Don’t Let Convective or Radiant Heat from the Sun In — insulation, low-E glass, blinds down … and outside shades

We have had exterior shades on some of our windows for several years now and they work great. They’re nothing more than big rolling window shades, but it’s key that they are outside, not in. Normal inside window blinds are good — they don’t let the sun that has already come in, get further than it has, and can reflect some of the heat back. But even in that pocket of air between the shade and the window, you’re allowing the sun to heat up the air in your house.

Exterior shades or awnings, however, do the same thing as window shades, but the heat never gets inside the house in the first place. We use both, and it has really made a difference. (more…)

July 31, 2009

Cool and Comfortable with No AC

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 2:54 pm

air-conditionerIt has been hot and muggy here in the Boston area for the last week, with more to come, but we’re still not using our air conditioner.

We’re not martyrs, cheap, or holier than thou. OK, maybe cheap, but that’s really not it. We’re quite comfortable in our un-air-conditioned house, in fact.

[Update, August 23rd. We caved. It has been miserably humid, still, and hot and has been for a week or so. We both agreed on Sunday to put in one of our two window AC units. But it was too hot, so I didn’t. And then it cooled down a little. We survived.]

The main contributing factors to our comfort are:

  • Management of Sun
  • Management of Air
  • Our Recent Trip to Europe
  • Proper Attire

And these things have also worked in our office space. I am proud of my company and of my co-workers for embracing a few changes that make this possible, and seen how much nicer life is without A/C. (more…)

July 25, 2009

Review: Chimney Balloon Saves Money, Conserve Energy, Simply

Category: Companies,Energy Audit,Green Reviews,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:48 pm

chimney-balloonAfter our recent energy audit found drafts in a number of places in our house, and even though the damper was closed, one of the biggest was the chimney — the auditor recommended a “chimney balloon“. It’s a good, simple product, and I can tell that it works beautifully. The maker claims that you can save almost twice it’s cost annually: a good way to reduce heating bills.

The chimney balloon is an inflatable bag, available in various sizes to fit inside your chimney. A tube and valve on the bottom allows you to inflate it so that it conforms to even the roughest, oddest shaped chimney interiors. The inflating tube is detachable, so there’s nothing visible when installed. The balloon is made of a tough, durable plastic. It can be easily removed as needed (but don’t forget to before lighting a fire!) and just as easily reinstalled. The cost is under $50, and their web site has a lot of great and helpful information on how to choose the right size.

I can tell that the chimney balloon works because it has solved an annoying problem for us already this summer (more…)