Most of us are in the dark when it comes to electricity use beyond the monthly bill. But that info gap is starting to be filled.
Here is a screenshot of PowerMeter, a Google home energy monitoring application now in limited beta testing. It's one of many of Web-based tools and gadgets under development meant to give consumers more insight into how and when they consume juice. Advocates say just surfacing more information will help people cut electricity consumption by 5 percent to 10 percent. Utility-run demand response programs should help consumers to take advantage of lower rates or get discounts by allowing the utility to adjust appliances during peak times.
Bits Smart Surge Strip
Vampires are in your home, sucking up electricity even when your electronics aren't in use. It's estimated that it costs $10 a month just to have your TV and peripherals in stand-by mode. On a national level, the waste is measured in the billions of dollars a year.
You can put your electronics on a power strip and just click it off when you're not using them. A more clever way is a "smart" power strip like this Bits Smart Surge Strip. You connect a device like a TV, stereo, or PC to the main blue-colored plug. The strip turns off stand-by power to all peripheral items, like speakers, game machines, and DVD players. The red plugs let you keep certain items on all the time.
The big emphasis in efficiency homes these days is on air sealing, filling all the cracks that let cold and hot air in. The best way to find those holes is to have an energy audit with a blower door test and infrared camera.
A blower door, pictured here, is just a temporary door with a large fan and computer attached. When the fan blows, it exaggerates the leaks in your house to help you or an energy auditor find them. Patching a large hole in a heating duct or in your basement can make an immediate difference in your heating and cooling bills.
Pictured here is a large solar array on a home in Berkeley, Calif.
Does solar make sense for you? If you have good sun and you plan to stay where you are for a long time, it's worth considering as a way to hack away at your monthly bills.
In general, solar hot water systems will be cheaper upfront and have a quicker payback. Solar electric, or photovoltaic, panels can cost about $25,000 and take years to recoup the initial cost. But there is a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy--hot water and electric--and a growing number of financing options to chip away at the upfront cost.
You can always start small with solar power by getting a solar charger for your phone or music player. This Solio charger costs about $100 and it will help you shave a little off electricity from your bills. Another advantage is that it will give you power when you're away from an outlet (and in the sun).
I recommend getting a charger and a battery, either integrated with the panel or standalone storage. That way, you can use the sun to store your energy during the day and power up when you need it.
National Center for Electronics Recyclers
Recycle those gadgets
In our gadget-obsessed society, the number of obsolete electronics is growing every day. A lot of electronic waste is exported where hazardous materials are not properly recycled. The good news on e-waste is that it's getting easier to recycle or resell your gear, either through retailers or online services. The National Center for Electronics Recyclers offers a Web site to find a local recycler.
For TVs, Greenpeace recommends going to the manufacturers' Web site to find a recommended recycler. If that's not possible, Greenpeace says to look for an e-Stewards certified company, which will ensure that the electronics are not dumped or burned.
Water conservation counts, too
Another way to green your home is to use less water. Homeowners can do a number of things, starting with low-flow fixtures. In the yard, the right choice of plantings and rain barrels can lower your water bill. Increasingly, people are experimenting with gray water systems that recycle water from the shower or kitchen sink for use in the yard.