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The First Step to Saving Money on Your Energy Bills: Part 1

Believe it or not, it is entirely possibly to start saving tonight on your energy bills – no matter where you live, or the type of house you live in. The real secret to saving money is knowing where to start. So, let’s get started!

It’s a very important step – yet it is one that nearly everyone falls all over. In fact, it is the first step for a reason. Knowing where to start looking for energy problems is half the battle. Once you find the problem areas of your home, you can find solutions that will fix or remedy those areas.

In this article, we’ll focus on your kitchen’s energy usage.

Every home or apartment has a kitchen. And in this kitchen there are numerous appliances you have to keep your eye on. Do you know what the biggest energy waster is in 95% of kitchens? It’s the refrigerator. That modern marvel is terrific for keeping foods from spoiling, but if it is more than 10 years old, it is “obsolete” and a waster of energy. Today’s refrigerator units use on average 25% less energy than their predecessors just 10 years ago.

So what can go wrong with a refrigerator? Usually the first sign of wear on an old fridge is the seals and hinges of the door. It isn’t surprising when you consider that the doors are opened and closed repeatedly at least 10 times a day in over 50% of homes. Think about how often you open and close the doors on a daily basis. Twice at breakfast, four times or more at dinner, and a few more times to reach for a cold beverage.

All the strain on the hinges adds up, especially on older units. Now granted, they are built to withstand the constant opening and closing, but eventually problems will crop up. And when they do, either the door refuses to close all the way or it gives way to small areas around the door that aren’t insulating as well as they should.

And the seal…well it doesn’t take long for the seal to crack or lose its tight “grip”. Once this happens, refrigerated air will leak out (or more to the point, warmer air will seep in) causing your fridge to work harder. The additional strain on the compressor, fan, and other parts means they run longer, on average, than usual. And this directly translates to high energy bills.

So, whats the solution? Well, hinges should be replaced if they are going bad, and the seals should be checked – especially on older units. You can also improve the efficiency of your fridge by ensuring it is not placed in direct sunlight or near a heat register. Minimize the amount of times the doors are opened and closed. Every time you open or close the door, you are exchanging cooled air for warm air. Finally, vacuum the exchanger coils once per year to allow better air circulation and more efficient operation.

The fridge is not the only place energy is used or potentially wasted. Your stove/oven also uses energy. And like refrigerators, the older they are the less efficient they become.

Whether you have an electric range or gas range, be aware that advances in appliance technology again means that units 10 years old or more are less efficient than current models. Keep in mind too if you have a natural gas range that there is inherent inefficiency with burning fuel for heat. Every gas appliance has an efficiency rating which tells you how efficient the unit is at converting the gas input to heat. As a practical example, if a range has a 10,000 BTU burner and operates at 80% efficiency, the most heat it will out put is 8,000 BTU. As the unit gets older, the efficiency rating goes down, so the fuel is burned less efficiently. This means that the range will need to run longer to achieve the desired result. Again, the direct result is higher gas bills.

Electric ranges are no different, except, as with all electronics, they are near 100% efficient in converting the “power”. In other words, there isn’t a built in efficiency problem as with natural gas appliances. The wattage the unit is rated at will be what it takes as input, and the heat output is consistent. There is no need to convert to an “efficiency output” as with natural gas. However, like their gas counterparts, the heating elements and electronics inside the unit certainly become outdated or can break over time. Consider that if an electric range burner “burns out” or breaks, it is useless. It must be replaced. Gas appliances usually don’t have these electrical problems. Newer units use less power and heat better because of better convective cooking surfaces, better heating elements, and better, more energy friendly electronics inside the unit.

Ovens, whether they are electric or gas, typically have the same faults. Over time, the seals wear out and heat is wasted through the doors, Their heating elements as well can become old and outdated. Additionally, the insulation that surrounds the oven may crumble or being to show signs of wear. All these elements contribute to the oven’s inefficiency.

So, how do you combat these problems? Sometimes, it isn’t an option to use them less. But ideally, that is the best course of action. When using the oven, try to cook foods during the last 5 minutes of the cooking cycle with the heat “off”. Avoid peeking into the oven – use the window. Opening the oven too often allows vital heat to escape, and thus the oven as to turn on for a period of time to compensate for the lost heat. You can use a similar trick with electric ranges. The element will remain warm for a couple minutes after it is turned off. Use covers when cooking on the range as they trap more heat than open pots and pans. Lastly, once boiling temperature is reached, turn down the burner to maintain the boil. It saves energy, while still boiling the liquid.

Last, let’s touch briefly on microwaves. Another modern marvel that makes cooking fast and simple. There is a direct correlation between the power of the microwave and the power consumption. The power, measured in watts, is the power input. At 100% power, the microwave converts most of the power input to radiation, which heats the food/liquid in the microwave. Simply put, the more powerful the microwave, the more energy it takes. There is no such thing as a powerful microwave that is “energy efficient”. Powerful microwaves are inherently energy hogs.

So, where’s the opportunity for savings here? Well, using the microwave in “short” periods helps. The less you use the unit, the better off you are. And like most other appliances, older units become inefficient over time. The electronics and more importantly the radiation (microwave) source becomes outdated and produces less radiation. The 10 year rule applies here – if it is older than 10 years old, look into replacing it. Also, watch the hinges and door latch. These have a tendency to come loose with constant usage, even if the unit is only a few years old!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the energy journey through the kitchen. Next article, We’ll walk through your living room and look for opportunities for energy savings there. See you then!

By: Energy Saver Dave

About the Author:

Energy Saver Dave regularly writes about home energy savings tips, energy efficiency, and saving money on home energy bills. He is not only an avid proponent of alternative energy and energy conservation, but of homeowner education about their home energy usage. He is a regular contributor to the Utility Bill Busters blog, a free resource for homeowners and renters to get valuable information on saving money on their energy bills. The blog is at www.utilitybillbusters.com.

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