Ask an Expert: How to save energy when you work from home
COVID-19 has caused a lot of people to spend most – if not all – of their time at home. This includes employees who work from home, those who are unemployed or temporarily laid off, and kids who attend school virtually. When families were not at home all day, thermostats could be set to save energy, we are now faced with keeping the house at a comfortable temperature 24 hours a day. As a result, Vermonters are using more energy at home.
Senior Energy Consultant Li Ling Young has more than 20 years of experience working on residential energy efficiency in Vermont. She is passionate about helping Vermonters live in affordable, healthy zero energy homes. We talked with Li Ling to get her advice about saving energy while families are at home more.
“We know that spending more time at home is going to increase energy use. Being at home more means you are using more hot water, lights are on for more hours in the day, and you're heating (or cooling) the home while you’re there during the day,” explains Li Ling. “While these additional energy uses can’t always be avoided, there are ways to conserve energy even while you are at home much more. “
Many businesses are considering long-term remote working opportunities once COVID-19 gathering restrictions are lifted. Working from home may become a permanent situation for many. These energy saving practices can start you on a path to lower energy use and a more productive work environment for years to come.
Li Ling: If you haven’t already made the switch to LED lighting, now is the time! Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to cut your home’s energy use.
Li Ling: No one wants to spend the workday wrapped in blankets or wearing a parka inside the house. However, I would skip the electric space heaters. Portable plug in heaters can be great for comfort, but when it comes to heating any part of your home, even just one room, it's better to button up than try to heat with an electric resistance heater. That chilly feeling could be because you are sitting for long periods. You’ll feel chillier than you would picking up the house or making a meal. A heated seat pad, floor mat or desk pad can be a good way to get comfy, rather than turning up the thermostat or running a space heater.
Here are a few things you can do to keep you warm while keeping costs down when you work from home. These same tips will help keep your home cool in the summer too.
- Addressing air leaks is the fastest and cheapest way to improve your comfort at home. A few good DIY opportunities include air sealing electric outlets, using a kit to put a plastic film on your windows, or sealing an unused chimney with a removeable chimney pillow. Note: Chimney pillows go by many different names, including chimney balloon, fireplace pillow, fireplace blocker, flue blocker, draft stopper, and fireplace plug
- Adjust your thermostat settings while you’re sleeping. A smart thermostat can make this easy. In winter, lower the thermostat at night. You’ll be more comfortable as you sleep and keeping the temperature lower for 8 hours can save on your bill
- Weatherize your whole home. If you, like many, plan to continue working from home, hiring a professional to make your home healthy and efficient is a good investment
- A ductless heat pump could be a good solution for space heating and cooling needs in a home office. It’s a bigger investment, but worth considering.
“We know that spending more time at home is going to increase energy use. Being at home more means you are using more hot water, lights are on for more hours in the day, and you're heating (or cooling) the home while you’re there during the day. While these additional energy uses can’t always be avoided, there are ways to conserve energy even while you are at home much more. ”
Li Ling: When you buy new office equipment or electronics look for the ENERGY STAR label. There are several ways you can cut the energy used by the electronics in your home right now.
- Use power management settings on your computer. ENERGY STAR provides instructions to set up power management features for most operating systems
- Avoid streaming on game consoles. Gaming systems use more power than streaming through a tablet or laptop
- Use an advanced power strip (APS). An APS saves electricity when used with home entertainment systems, home offices, and other places where electronics are operated as a group.
Li Ling: Heating water is one of the biggest chunks of a home’s energy use, second only to heating and cooling. Not everyone is able to buy a new water heater, but you can use less water and save on your bills.
- Install low flow shower heads and faucet aerators. Low flow shower heads help reduce water waste, but don't lower shower head pressure. They are an inexpensive and simple way to reduce your home water consumption
- Take shorter showers. A typical shower head puts out 2.5 gallons of water per minute. If you reduce your shower time by just 3 minutes every day, you can save over 2,700 gallons of hot water every year
- Wash laundry in cold water. ENERGY STAR rated washers are designed for cold water washing
- Run full loads in the dishwasher. A common myth I can put to rest: a dishwasher will save you water versus handwashing! You can also turn off your dishwasher’s dry cycle and let your dishes air dry
- Of course, if you do need a new water heater, buy the most efficient one available.
Li Ling: The good news about these tips is that they are true when you are at home and will continue to save you energy if you head back to work or school in-person. I hope Vermonters will contact the Efficiency Vermont customer support team if they need advice.