Energy Efficiency Demystified: What You Want to Know.


Spring is here!

And summer is right around the corner. It always feels like this is the time of year for spring cleaning and tinkering around our houses or apartments, as we catapult into a fresh seasonal beginning.

Now that I have moved back to Sacramento (hello, 100+ degree summers) energy consumption comes to mind (yes - I’m concurring it really it is a 365 day topic).

However, if you are like me, my humble journey towards sustainability (which I have a way to go), has been plagued - somewhat- by the plethora of sustainability buzzwords that have translated into blanket terms and generalizations in my mind. Energy efficiency is one of them.

Confession. I wrote this blog primarily mostly for myself.

My goal is to explain exactly what energy efficiency means, it’s good points, some shortcomings and small ways we can employ it in our homes -- in a brief, inspiring sort of way. Here’s what I’ve found.

Efficient, adjective.

1. Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste…

Okay, I feel like I am almost letting you down with this one: Energy Efficient just means we (humans) and the products we use, are being "efficient" with the energy we use.

When you hear people talking about energy efficiency, they are generally referring to energy efficient appliances and products like Energy Star washers and dryers, or LED light bulbs that use less energy to function. The same goes for the building products we use when constructing our homes, like dual pane airtight windows, that do not allow the indoor air we used energy to cool or heat to escape. Similarly for home insulation products. Insulation keeps the home cool or warm so we spend less energy heating it up or cooling it down.

Energy efficient “practices”, really, is energy conservation -- AKA, saving energy by not using it or using less of it. For example: Do we leave the water running while we brush (I'm guilty of this) or do we take long hot showers (guilty if this too) or do we leave lights on when we are away from the house (I don't do this! -- anymore).

Now that we have a definition, here is the kicker and a big ah-ha moment for me - The concept of Energy Efficiency does not dictate the source of that energy. The source of energy could be from fossil fuels or renewable energy or even nuclear energy.

Energy Efficiently first entered the American lexicon due to the energy crisis of the 1970's (we created and used a lot of energy back then through fossil fuels - a finite resource - we realized we were consuming at a higher rate then we could eventually produce - and we didn’t want to depend on any other country for it).

The USA has a national plan for energy efficiency. Read it here.

Beyond the history lesson, energy efficiency is good for the following reasons:

  1. It reduces the amount of energy a product uses and wastes, thereby

  2. reducing the amount of energy we need to create in the first place, which then

  3. reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit into the atmosphere creating that energy (via non-clean sources).

  4. AND it also reduces the amount of money we pay each month for the energy we use at home (heater, air conditioner, hot water, gas or electric stove, lights, etc.) that makes modern life comfortable.

Here are the very short drawbacks to the concept of energy efficiency as a solo concept.

  1. Remember, energy efficiency does not dictate the source of that energy, and the burning of fossil fuels (how we’ve been making energy) is the largest source of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. Energy efficient airtight homes or buildings have contributed to sick building syndrome which is caused by the build up of air pollutants due to bad ventilation (no fresh air coming in, no fresh air going out).  

Luckily, these days energy efficiency has evolved from being self-sustaining production and consumption as a country - to the ways energy efficiency plays a role in reducing our impact on global warming.

Energy Efficiency is really one concept that is meant to be exercised in concert with other activities for a higher impact. For example, energy efficiency is now considered one of two pillars for Sustainable Energy (Energy Efficiency + Renewable Energy = Sustainable Energy).

Sustainable Energy

“Meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Taking it one (or two) steps further, we would pair sustainable energy practices with non-toxic, healthy homes and buildings, for a holistic and wellness centered approach (more on creating healthy interior environments in another blog post).

If you are ready and want to jump start your energy efficiency this spring, here are a few small ways to be energy efficient in baby steps, whether you are a renter or homeowner.

For Renters:

  • Change incandescent light bulbs to LED light bulbs or Energy Star certified CFL’s (compact fluorescent light bulbs).

  • Unplug chargers, power strips, and adapters or purchase a smart power strip that auto adjusts and turns itself off.

  • Swap out your desktop computer for a laptop (and recycle that desktop!)

  • Take shorter showers and/or swap out your shower head with a slow flow shower head.

  • Turn off running water you are not using when brushing your teeth or hand washing dishes.

  • Use cold or warm water when washing vs. hot water (I also wash on express wash which is shorter).

  • Line dry (I do this with my office wardrobe, which is about 60% of my closet).

For HomeOwners (All the above applies, but you can also do the following).

  • Install light sensors and dimmers.

  • Invest in a smart thermostat that learns your patterns and auto adjusts or can be controlled remotely through an app.

  • Invest in Energy Star appliances (Fridge, washer/ dryer) which use less energy.

  • Upgrade your HVAC system.

  • Install dual pane windows for better insulation.

  • Water the lawn or garden in the early morning or evenings, when the town/city’s overall energy consumption is lower.

That’s it! I hope getting clear on exactly what energy efficiency pertaining to our homes is - and is not.

  1. Do you have any additional energy efficient facts, products or practices you’d like to share?  

Thank you for taking this journey with me!

From my heart center to yours, Noemi