Tag Archives: Energy conservation

Eco-Saturday: Use the right burner

If you own an electric range, here’s a way to use just a little less power without expending any effort at all:

Use the correct burner.

This seems like a small thing — and it is — but it takes zero effort, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by not doing it, and if it shaves a penny or two off your power bill, why not?

Most electric ranges have four burners — two large and two small.

If you’re cooking something in a big skillet or stockpot, use one of the big burners. If you’re cooking something in a small skillet or saucepan, use one of the little burners.

If you’re not sure which size is best, before you turn on the stove, set your pan on a big burner. If you can see the burner sticking out around the bottom of the pan, move to a smaller one.

If you’re using a large pan, it makes sense to use a large burner. You want the bottom of the pan to heat evenly, and you don’t want to end up throwing food away because it didn’t cook right. But when you use a small pan on a large burner, you end up heating more of the cooktop than you need. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s website, SmarterHouse.org, using a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the electricity produced by the burner. (Bonus points if you can figure out how they arrived at that number.)

Food won’t cook faster or taste better if you heat an inch of empty space all the way around the pan. That hot surface protruding from under the edge of the pan just wastes energy and creates a hazard in the form of an exposed hot surface.

SmarterHouse offers several other good tips on saving energy in the kitchen, such as using an appropriately sized pan (putting a big pan on a big burner to cook a little bit of food is no better than putting a small pan on a big burner), keeping your appliances clean and well-maintained, and considering which appliance is most appropriate for whatever you’re making. I’ve touched on some of that in previous blog entries, but SmarterHouse goes into more detail. I think it’s well worth the time to click on over to their site and look around.


Eco-Saturday: Toaster oven

In my relentless march toward a tiny house somewhere off the grid in New Mexico, I’ve spent a big chunk of the past year experimenting to see which appliances are expendable, which are helpful but not absolutely necessary, and which are completely non-negotiable. (More on that in a future Tiny Tuesday post.)

About a year ago, as part of my experimentation, I bought a lower-end toaster oven similar to this one and started using it in place of my regular oven.

Small but mighty.
Small but mighty.

Even if you bake regularly and are absolutely committed to using a full-sized oven for cakes, cookies, Thanksgiving meals, etc., you can do the environment (and your power bill) a big favor by using a toaster oven instead of your regular oven as often as possible.

I cook most of our meals at home, and for just about everything I make, I’ve found the toaster oven equal, if not superior, to the regular oven. Its compact size means I don’t need to preheat it, which saves me time and money every time I bake. I always hated preheating, partly because it took extra time, and partly because I resented the fact the heating element was drawing power for 10 minutes without giving me anything in return.

The smaller size also means you’re not wasting money and energy heating a lot of empty space around your food. If I’m just making a small fritatta for the two of us or a few break-and-bake cookies to soothe a craving, I don’t need to heat five cubic feet of space. Instead, I use the toaster oven to get the same results in roughly one cubic foot, thus knocking down my energy consumption for that meal by about 80 percent.

Two other ways the toaster oven saves resources, neither of which would have occurred to me before I bought it:

1. The smaller space means I cook smaller batches, thus reducing the risk of having more leftovers than we can eat. (This also helps with portion control, as I don’t end up eating more than I need just because it’s there.)

2. Most toaster ovens come with a timer that shuts off the oven when the time is up, reducing the likelihood of wasting food by burning it.

A toaster oven won’t work for every household or every project. But it’s a nice option, and one I’ve used far more than I expected.


Eco-Saturday: Water-heater blanket

One of the easiest home-improvement projects you can do to reduce your overall environmental footprint will take maybe 15 minutes and set you back less than $25: Install a water-heater blanket. The U.S. Department of Energy reports you can save $20 to $45 a year with this simple project.

A water-heater blanket is basically a small roll of fiberglass insulation with plastic backing that’s cut to the approximate size of a 60-gallon household water heater. It typically comes with several feet of very sticky, heavy-duty tape and a set of instructions for installation. You should read the instructions before you start, obviously, but the upshot is that you wrap it around the water heater — taking care not to block the thermostat or any vents — and tape it in place. That’s really all there is to it.

Because water-heater blankets are made of fiberglass insulation, you’ll want to wear gloves and long sleeves while you work so you don’t end up with itchy arms and hands.

I installed a blanket on our tired old water heater last fall to knock down our winter gas bills. (I took pictures at the time, but they subsequently vanished into the ether, which is what I get for not posting projects as soon as I complete them.)

The old water heater, which was installed in 1988, was having trouble holding proper temperature, and the blanket helped reduce that problem for a few months until we could afford to replace the whole appliance.

If you can afford a new Energystar water heater, by all means, get one. We finally did this spring, and we’ve enjoyed warmer showers and lower energy bills ever since. But if you’re stuck with an old one, you’ll find that $15 to $25 you spend insulating it will pay for itself and make your life a little easier in the meantime.


P.S.: Tip from my mom, copied from a comment below: “And if you have an electric water heater, put it on a switch and turn it off after everyone has showered. 20 minutes before you’re going to shower or do laundry, turn it back on. I can’t begin to count the $$ we’ve saved over the past 15 years doing this, and the inconvenience is minimal. I turn on the water heater as soon as I come home in the evening and we turn it off after the last shower that evening. Bills are MUCH lower.”

Eco-Saturday: Programmable Thermostats

A programmable thermostat will keep your energy costs down while you're away.
A programmable thermostat will keep your energy costs down while you’re away.

Here’s a cheap way to knock down your energy consumption: Replace your old thermostat with a programmable model. The government estimates you’ll save about $180 a year by programming your thermostat to turn the heat and a/c down when you’re asleep or away from the house and up when you’re home.

You can buy a basic programmable thermostat for $20 to $50. You can get fancier models with built-in Wi-Fi that lets you adjust the temperature remotely with your smartphone, but they’re more than $200 apiece and strike me as being completely unnecessary. If you think you’d use it enough to make it worth the price difference, go for it. Personally, I don’t see the point. If I had $200 to blow on electronics, I’d spend $30 on a thermostat and the rest on one of those sonic-screwdriver remote controls that allow you to walk into a sports bar and shut off any TV that annoys you just by giving it your very best Oncoming Storm glare and waving your sonic in its general direction.

Anyway. Ron says our thermostat cost less than $40 and took him about half an hour to install. You don’t need to be an electrician to do it; just throw the breaker to the thermostat, follow the directions in the package, and turn the power back on when you’re done. Allons-y!