Get Off the Energy Grid

You’ve been meaning to conserve more energy and inch off the
power grid, but you’re tired after work, starting the process takes
time and research, and, really, how much energy does that tiny TiVo
box use? (You’d be surprised.) In a world marked by dwindling
energy resources and a climate of militarized tension over where
the next generation of energy is coming from, we can no longer
afford to wait. The time has come to take baby steps toward
bringing renewable energy home. Herewith, a grid to help you get
off the grid:

Secure Your Fortress

Insulate: An obvious but important step, insulating keeps the
heat in and the cold out. The cost of buying insulation is offset
in your heat bill savings.

Get a sun shield (radiant barrier) in your attic: Barriers
improve air-conditioning efficiency by up to 12 percent by
deflecting up to 97 percent of the sun’s radiant heat. Barriers are
under $100 and require only a scissors and a staple gun for
installation.

Wrap your water heater: Water heaters run 24/7, which means they
gobble up energy 24/7. Add a water heater blanket, a very cheap
purchase at any home store, if you don’t have a newer model with
insulation already built in. This could save you up to 9 percent in
water heating costs.

Hang curtains with a valance: Curtains act as insulation, but
without a valance can create convective currents when the air
between the curtain and glass cools down. As the cooler air drops,
valuable warm air gets sucked into the top of the curtain and
starts the process again. A valance helps stop this hot-air vacuum
effect.

Take Your Temperature and Know Your Watts

Get a programmable thermostat: Programmable thermostats are more
exact than manual ones and can be set to adjust the temperature in
your home for different times of day; this saves both on-grid
energy and your mental energy — you’ll never again go on vacation
and find yourself worrying about where you leftthe thermostat
dial.

Assess your energy use: New devices like the Kill-A-Watt hook up
to any electrical appliance and let you know exactly how much
energy you’re using. You might be surprised where big leaks lie in
wait.

Rethink How You Illuminate

It’s all about the bulbs: Switch out your incandescent
lightbulbs for compact fluorescent ones. Compact fluorescent bulbs
use up to 75 percent less energy than the average incandescent and
will last as much as 10 times longer.

Work on that display: Switch your computer monitor and TV screen
over to liquid crystal display. LCD monitors use about one-third
the energy of the standard CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor. These
puppies still cost a pretty penny, but prices are dropping, and the
extra bonus is in the design: If flat screens are the sleek, tanned
Vizlas of the monitor world, CRTs are loping, drooling St.
Bernards.

Go Solar, Go Slow

It’s painless — and at a megastore near you: You no longer have
to go out of your way to find (and once you’re there feel
intimidated by) solar specialty shops. These days you can take baby
steps at most large home stores, which have begun to stock up on
sun-powered items. Look for 5-watt solar starter kits for gate and
garage door opening and outdoor path and motion detector solar
lighting.

Have fun: You can find solar-powered gizmos made just for fun
and enjoyment. Grab a cascading lawn fountain that you can set in
the sun and enjoy. This is a great way to get your feet wet
(literally and figuratively).

Don’t fear the aesthetics: Let’s face it, the current crop of
rooftop solar panels range from clunky to downright ugly, and
installation is its own unruly beast. But solar engineers are
perfecting nano-solar cell technology, which will revolutionize the
aesthetics and design of the current crop of solar panel dinosaurs.
Soon ‘solar style’ will not be an oxymoron.

Take it on the road: The sun is a battery charger that you’ll
always have room to pack. Check out solar-powered iPod chargers or
get a solar recharging backpack for all your electronic goodies
like cell phones and PDAs. Just hold your charger up to the window
of your Eurail compartment, and you’ll be juiced up for your entire
journey.

Leave wanting more: When you’re ready to upgrade, try a
solar-specific retailer like Sundance Solar
(store.sundancesolar.com) where you can up your solar wattage, get
DIY starter kits for installing solar panels, and even find tricks
to pimp your RV and go road-tripping in style with the help of the
sun.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.