Monday, December 14, 2015

4 Ways to Cut the Cord: Practicing Energy Efficiency this Winter

Wouldn’t you like to save on your monthly utilities, feel more comfortable in your home, have longer-lasting, higher-performing appliances, and benefit your community? Over the next two years, you can. Bellingham is one of 50 cities participating in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. Energy used in residences, schools and city buildings will be measured in all 50 participating cities across the nation. The most efficiently performing city could win the $5 million prize. The newest updates have Bellingham in 8th place! We can't move up the ranks without your help!
Environmental Cartoon - Joel Pett

Help our community make it to the top in the nation by following these simple steps for your family, and spreading the word to your friends and colleagues.

Before you begin, use this carbon footprint calculator to determine where you can make the biggest impact.

1. Transportation

In the EPA’s most updated report, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation accounted for around 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest contributor to climate change, behind electricity. While we wait for fuel efficiency to make the leaps and bounds required to significantly reduce the current release of CO2 into our atmosphere, you can make simple choices every day to get to your destination in a low-emission or emission-free way.

First off, there is no better power source for you to utilize than your own personal energy. With a healthy meal and a few stretches, it’s guaranteed to get you where you need to be. Not to mention, when you walk, skip, or ride a bike or scooter you promote good mental and physical healthBellingham and Whatcom County have extensive trails and maps to improve your quality of life while you get around safely and emission-free.

Secondly, don’t underestimate the power of the bus. When the weather is not-so-pleasant or your destination is a ways away, the Whatcom Transit Authority has you covered. WTA provides convenient bus stops and routes throughout the county and can now help you plan your trip with their new interactive map and trip planner.

Thirdly, when it makes sense, share your ride with others. Carpool to reduce your personal carbon emissions and enjoy many of the other benefits like extra gas money to spend however you want and the ability to meet new people or spend additional time with roommates, friends, or coworkers.

Last but certainly not least, cruise around town efficiently. Keep your car in tip-top shape to reduce emissions and get the best gas mileage you can. Get your car checked regularly, properly inflate your tires, and use the correct grade of motor oil. Take the no-idle pledge and turn off the engine the next time you’re stopped for more than 30 seconds. Every two minutes that your car idles is equivalent to one mile of driving.

Don’t forget to register for Whatcom Smart Trips and log your smart transportation choices for additional support, resources, and the chance to win prizes! Your participation also helps prioritize emissions-free funding in Washington State.

2. Heating and Cooling

48% of the energy use in an average U.S. household is used to heat and cool our living spaces, making it the largest energy expense for most households. Most of us use natural gas or electricity, which are derived from heavily polluting fossil fuels. Practicing efficient heating habits can have significant impacts on the overall emissions you cause.

Layers, layers, layers - As if you need a reason to buy yourself a pair of fuzzy slippers or those adult-sized footy pajamas. A simple way to save energy when the colder months are here while still keeping comfortable and warm is to layer clothing inside the house as well as outside. Consider investing in a heated blanket for nighttime, they use significantly less heat than the average space heater and there’s nothing quite like crawling into a pre-warmed bed.

Layers – they’re not just for you. An extra layer of the correct insulation can help you keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Learn about the best types of insulation for you. Keep an eye out for greener insulation such as sheep wool or recycled denim.

Insulate your water heater (safely!) to stop heat from escaping and keep it set to 120°F.  Consider upgrading to a tankless or on-demand system that will only use energy to heat water when it’s needed – and you’ll never take a lukewarm shower again. Read more tips on insulation and upgrades. And easiest of all: reduce your shower time by just a few minutes.

Attending to the heat loss culprits. Your windows may contribute to upwards of 20% of our overall heat loss from your house. Check for air leaks regularly, apply film, weather-stripping, and fresh caulking to instantly reduce your bill and keep you at the perfect temperature year-round. Large upgrades – like swapping out your old metal framed or single-paned to more insulated windows – will give you even larger long-term reductions on your energy bill. Read more tips on preventing air leaks in your home.

Upgrade your technology. Switch to a programmable thermostat and reduce your energy bill 10% each year. Set your thermostat to reduce use when you sleep or are away from the house but have it reach your optimum temperature by the time you wake up each morning and arrive home each evening.

3. Appliances

Appliances used throughout your home account for around 13% of your household energy costs (the dryer and refrigerator are the largest consumers). While many appliances are needed on a daily basis, there are a few easy ways to make sure you’re daily use is the most efficient it can be.

Stop needless energy-sucking. Many electronics continue to use power, even when they’re off or in standby mode. These electronics can add up to more than $200 in yearly energy costs for the average home. Increase the use of your prime outlet locations, like those behind gaming systems and near kitchen appliances, and reduce energy use by adding in a powerstrip, which stops the supply of power to electronics plugged into it. PSE now has a special offer for their customers – get an activity monitor powerstrip (a $70 powerstrip) for only $10. There’s actually 5 different types of powerstrips to fit whatever needs you have… who knew?

Receive your EPA stamp of approval with EnergyStar. From pool pumps and ceiling fans to furnaces and dishwashers, EnergyStar efficient products will give you long-term energy savings. Make sure to check with PSE or your energy provider for any rebate programs before you go through with an upgrade.

Clean up your laundering habits. Save energy by washing your laundry in cold water (just make sure to buy soaps and detergents that work just as effectively with cold water). And did you know that clothes dryers account for more than a third of energy used by appliances in your home? Save energy and reduce wear and tear on your clothing by drying your clothing on an in-home rack. When you do use the dryer, don’t forget to clean your lint screen after every load to ensure optimum airflow.

4. Lighting and entertainment

Turn it off. No – really. Lighting, especially around this time of the year, is an important aspect of our daily lives – and also uses a lot of energy. Turn off the lights when you leave a room and double check lights as you leave your house. When you can, use small lamps rather than lighting an entire room or keep windows and shades open to let in natural light.

Bulbs matter. Replace incandescent bulbs as they go out with LEDs or CFL lightbulbs. Check out this quick guide that compares light bulb types. Have you heard about HomePrint for PSE customers? Receive a free evaluation of your homes energy usage and free energy-efficient fixtures like lightbulbs and showerheads.  Don’t forget to safely recycle CFL lightbulbs and fluorescent tubes – Visit to find your closest collection site. Make even bigger improvements and install timers, dimmers, or sensors for lights in bathrooms, garages, and front porches.

Get your screen time without the guilt. TV, game consoles, phones, tablets, and computers are used and charged all day, every day. Try unplugging for a designated hour a day or day a week to enjoy energy-free activities. Go for a walk, play a sport, or enjoy board and card games. When you are using entertainment systems and electronics, unplug electronics and chargers when they’re not in use. Like appliances, many electronics continue to draw power even after they’re shut off. You can find energy saving computers as well as TV’s that will use a fraction of the energy an older model would use.

We applaud you for every step you take toward a more sustainable lifestyle. What will you start doing today? Share your successes with us. If 100 people follow the actions you’ve taken, together we can make a bigger impact than you think.

Check back in with the waste prevention blog to track your progress, and stay tuned for the next blog in our sustainability series: water conservation.

Additional Resources:
  • The Energy Saver Guide is a comprehensive booklet geared at helping every homeowner make smart choices to save money and energy every day.
  • is filled with fact and tip sheets, energy use and distribution maps, and more information about all of the above topics.
  • Contact PSE and opt in to pay for partial or 100% offsets of your power with Green Power.
  • Customers receive a free energy saving packet from Cascade Natural Gas.
  • You can now plan and build your very own zero net energy homes built. Find a builder in your region at Zero Homes.

RE Sources is committed to promoting sustainable communities and protecting the health of people and ecosystems in our glorious little slice of NW Washington. 

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