According to Contemporary Urban Planning by John M. Levy, about 21% of all energy used in the United States is from the residential sector. This includes heating, cooling, lighting, and utilities. This is a huge percentage of the total energy use in the United States that has the potential to be significantly lowered if certain methods of living were encouraged and enforced by the local municipality. Simple steps that a municipality can take to conserve energy include:
- Land-use planning
- Changes in building characteristics
- Changes in Transportation
- Community energy sources
In my opinion, the land-use planning power that a municipality has can play a very significant role in determining how much energy families are going to use. For example, municipal zoning codes can favor development or infrastructure that reduces the average distance between destinations. Municipalities can also incorporate more buss routes, rail lines and bike-ways. By encouraging mixed-use development or Neotraditional planning, people may use their vehicles less, exercise more and perhaps eat healthier because of the time that will be available now that they don’t have to travel far to get places.
Municipalities can also make sure that buildings meet a certain energy standard. For instance, land-use plans may force “row” or attached housing which uses less energy because it reduces the amount of heating and cooling needed since less surface area is exposed to weather conditions. “Green building codes” can also be forced by municipal powers in order to save energy and encourage environmentally friendly features. I know that my community has also encouraged energy efficiency through incorporating solar panels on every light pole.
An article by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (cec.org) describes a number of case studies on municipal energy initiatives. The case studies include municipalities within Aguascalientes, Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, Kentucky, Federal District, Nuevo Leon, Quebec, Tabasco, New York, New Brunswick, British Columbia and York Region. New York, for example, is undergoing the PlanNYC, a sustainability plan administered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Through this plan, the municiaplity is focusing on the reduction of energy consumption in residential, commercial, and institutional buildings through building codes, smart metering, real-time pricing, power generation and distribution infrastructure, renewable electricity generation capacity, and energy planning boards (Commission for Environmental Cooperation). To read about what the other municipal case studies are planning to conserve energy, click here.
Unfortunately not every municipality is going to encourages energy efficiency and environmentally friendly behavior too drastically. However, this does not mean that homeowners cannot individually save energy.
There are many articles and websites that describe simple ways in which a homeowner can reduce energy costs. The ones that I found to be most helpful and easiest to accomplish are listed below:
- Minimize or Eliminate “Phantom Loads“- leaving electronic devices plugged in uses a small amount of energy but costs a lot over time.
- Using Energy efficient light bulbs will make a huge difference over time in the amount of energy used
- Reduce hot water consumption and water use in general- most water is heated by gas which requires energy. It is also a cost in itself to use water. You can reduce the amount of water used by recycling the water used in the sink, air drying dishes, taking shorter showers, going to car washes instead of washing your car yourself (which is bad for the environment anyway) or using rain barrels to collect water to use for irrigating the lawn or flowers.
- As basic as it may seem, Turning off the lights is one of the easiest ways to conserve energy. You can significantly lower the electric bill by limiting the amount of lights used during the day and making sure only necessary lights are on during the night time.
- Air drying clothes may not always be feasible, but when possible, it helps reduce the usage of the drier, which is a huge energy hog.
- Energy Star approved appliances will slightly help reduce long term energy usage.
- Buying a Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the energy use of appliances and gadgets can really help show a homeowner what is costing them the most amount of energy. You can also track the entire house’s energy use with a whole-house energy monitor.
- Getting a RESNET or Home Performance with Energy Star audit will also extremely help pinpoint your biggest energy losses.
- If you don’t already do this, adjusting automatic thermostat settings so that air conditioning or heating only turns on at certain temperatures and certain times of the day is extremely important. Looking at the manual may also provide optimal performance settings.
- Cleaning and taking care of your refrigerator is actually very important when trying to save energy. Making sure the fan is not dirty will reduce the amount of energy needed to keep the refrigerator cold.
- The U.S Department of Energy produced an entire guide for people who want to save energy and money. To view it click here.
- For 100 different ways to conserve energy and lower costs, click here.
- To learn more about the specific costs of certain energy use habits, click here.
- To learn about what you can do in the summer vs. the winter to save energy, click here.
- To read about non-conventional, unique and interesting ways you can save money by behaving in a more energy efficient manner, click here.
Are you going to practice any of these energy saving methods now after reading this blog?