Earth Friendly: Conserve energy this winter

Dec. 27, 2010 at 6:27 a.m.
Updated Dec. 30, 2010 at 6:30 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

Meridith Byrd

By Meridith Byrd

Here in south Texas, our winter seems to come in spurts: a cold snap here, a warm front there. I finished up my Christmas shopping last week in shorts and sandals, not your usual end-of-December attire.

However, the calendar tells us that winter is indeed here, so I have compiled a list of ways to conserve energy during winter and some others for year-round savings.

Your thermostat can make a big difference in the amount of energy you use, so manipulate it depending on your need. If you go out of town, turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees, which is warm enough to keep your pipes from freezing while not expending unneeded heat. While at home, try bumping the temperature down by a few notches, one degree at a time. Sixty-eight degrees is the recommended setting for energy saving, but you can also reduce your energy use (and your bill) by about 1 percent for every degree you lower the thermostat.

At night, set the temperature at least five degrees lower than the daytime temperature. You can turn the heat up again when you wake up in the morning. Programmable thermostats can be set to raise or lower the temperature at different times of the day. Keep the heat from escaping your home, and prevent the cold from creeping in, by closing the drapes over your windows. If you have a spare bedroom or other room that is rarely used, close the door and the vent to avoid wasting the energy to heat an unused room.

Growing up, I heard "Turn off the lights!" every time I turned around, so today I am fanatic about turning the lights and television off when I leave a room. Why pay to light an empty room? It only wastes electricity and raises your utility bill.

Refrigerators make up about one-fifth of a home's electricity use, so make sure yours is efficient. Invest in a refrigerator thermometer and set the temperature to 37 degrees.

For most laundry loads, hot water is unnecessary, so wash your clothes on the warm or even cold setting. Just making the change from hot to warm water can make a difference. If you are not comfortable washing clothes in cold water, then use cold water for the rinse cycle instead. Make sure you wash only full loads for maximum energy savings.

The same can be said for the dishwasher: Make sure it is full before turning it on. Use the "energy save" setting, or open the door to allow dishes to air dry rather than using heat to dry them.

Even recycling can be an energy saver though on a larger scale rather than at the household level. Recycling newspaper back into newsprint requires only half the energy as making virgin newsprint from trees. Set aside an old laundry basket, a cardboard box or any large container to collect newspapers to be recycled.

By making a few small changes this winter, you can cut down on your energy use. Happy New Year.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites read ers to contact her at



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