Thermostat (Credit: digitalphotolinds/pixabay.com)

Keep Cool Without the Climate Cost

Ten tips to cut in-home energy waste

This year is on pace to be the hottest year on record, breaking the previous records set in 2015 and 2014. And now that it’s summer, people across the country are really feeling the heat. There are lots of ways to keep cool — going for a swim, enjoying a frozen treat or avoiding the heat altogether by turning on the A/C — but some methods are easier on the planet than others. So in addition to transitioning to a just and wildlife-friendly energy system to tackle climate change, what are the best ways to beat the heat now without adding more stress to the climate or our wallets?

Where I live in Southern California, we’ve already seen climate change rear its ugly head with summer heat waves that bring serious problems, from a historic drought to regular rolling blackouts. And it’s getting worse. On Monday, the first day of summer, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power experienced record energy use. Peak demand soared 50 percent higher than that of an average June day, resulting in power outages for thousands of residents.

All that energy demand isn’t just an expensive strain on the power system — it also creates a dangerous feedback loop. Air conditioning demands energy, resulting in more dirty power sources being fired up to meet that demand. These dirty energy sources in turn further contribute to the underlying issue of climate change and exacerbate what’s known as the urban heat island effect, ultimately increasing temperature and upping the demand for cooling, in turn increasing the demand for energy.

Whether you’ve been reminded to turn off the lights when you’re not using them or been incentivized to install energy efficient appliances in your home, the issue of efficiency and conservation is likely not a new one. But now that we’re facing yet another season of record-breaking forecasts, it’s time to step up our energy-saving game.

Here are 10 tips to keep cool for wildlife, reduce energy waste and slash your energy bills this summer:

1) Stake out “vampire” loads by unplugging or turning off appliances that aren’t being used — especially energy-thirsty appliances such as smart TVs and computers.

2) Opt for fans over the A/C when possible to keep temperatures down, and use fans to amplify the cooling effects of the A/C when you do run it.

3) Set your thermostat to as high a temperature as is comfortable. A good target is 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re home and 85 when you’re away.

4) Replace or clean your A/C filters every year.

5) Weatherize your doors and windows to reduce air leaks and energy loss.

6) If you live in a climate that gets cooler at night and warmer in the day, use that to your advantage. Open windows overnight to let cool air in, then close them and use energy-saving window treatments to prevent the cool air from escaping during the day.

7) Avoid using appliances that radiate excess heat during the day, such as ovens. Opt to microwave or use the stove to cook when possible.

8) Take short showers instead of baths in the summer, as running a hot bath is both energy- and water-intensive.

9) Wash your laundry in cold water and hang your clothes on a line to dry if possible. If you are using a dryer make sure to clean out the filter after every load.

10) Last but certainly not least, do an energy audit of your home to check for inefficiencies, outdated appliances, and opportunities for energy savings you might not even realize exist. Many utilities or local governments will provide free energy audits to residents who ask for one.

Keep in mind that our energy, water and food systems are all intricately connected, and consuming just about anything has an energy footprint of some kind, even if it’s not directly seen in your electricity bill. So in addition to these in-home energy saving tips, do what you can as a consumer to reduce your energy footprint: Opt for a breezy bike ride instead of a car trip, or indulge in a tasty vegan Popsicle instead of its energy-intensive, dairy counterpart.

To learn more about what you can do to promote a clean and wildlife-friendly energy future, check out the Center for Biological Diversity’s Wild Energy page.

Greer Ryan is a sustainability research associate at the Center for Biological Diversity.