One absurdly easy way to cut down on home energy use (and save a few salmon)

I admit it. I’m an energy tyrant. When they were younger, I would tell my kids scary stories about how every time a light is left on, a salmon gets mashed to bits in one of Bonneville Dam’s giant electricity-generating turbines.

“You’re killing salmon!” I would cry out in mock alarm. Code for, “Hey buddy, go turn off your bedroom light.”

Still, it’s tough to be consistent. Saving energy around the home requires hundreds of tiny acts each month: flipping light switches, turning off TVs and so on. It requires alertness: everyone forgets sometimes, so everyone needs to remember a little more. Waste happens.

What’s more, upwards of 20 percent of household energy waste comes from passive sources: unused electronic devices humming, buzzing and blinking alone in the dark. Because it’s easier to leave them on around the clock, DVR and cable devices cost families in the United States $3 billion every year. Two thirds of that power is wasted during idle hours. That’s a lot of salmon.

That loss could be greatly reduced, but it’s not always so easy. When our ancestors lit their homes with fire, they could measure our use in chunks of timber. A quick glance at the woodpile would tell them whether or not they were being thrifty. Electricity, however, is always there, relatively inexpensively and available at the flick of a finger. It’s hard to measure the depth of your environmental footprint.

Can we do better? Yes. And it’s easy: move your electric usage meter to the INSIDE the home.

I’m not envisioning one of those bulky, Robby-the-Robot devices that hang off the side of your garage. This meter would be digital — thus flat — and no bigger than a thermostat or alarm unit. EKM offers one such device.

Four key pieces of information would be on display at all times:

Current energy usage
Every home uses some energy on a constant basis. Clocks, computers and entertainment systems add up to a 24/7 trickle of energy use. This number would tell how much power you’re using at this moment.

Monthly energy usage
The device could be programmed to sync with your billing cycle, so that you can see how much energy you’ve used for the month.

Cost-per-day
This number would automatically reset every day — perhaps late at night, when everyone’s asleep, showing you how your energy use habits affect the family’s bottom line on a day-to-day basis.

Cost per month
Also tied to your billing cycle, this feature would enable you to predict — and manage — what your bill will be for the month.

Install the meter in a high-traffic area, where family members might be willing to pause to look at it, such as by the front door. If you have kids, you can hold contests: set a usage goal and reward the family when it’s met.

These instruments run about $150-$200; professional installation will be a couple hundred more, depending. Conceivably, you could recoup your costs in the first year. There might even be a tax break in there for you.

Let’s face it, reducing our energy footprint around the home requires more attention than we can probably muster on our own. But with rising costs and dwindling resources, it’s worth the effort. An in-home energy meter can help you do that. Not only will you cut costs, but you might save a few salmon as well.

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