Declaring energy independence

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | July 3, 2015 | Energy Efficiency

This 4th of July, celebrate the anniversary of our country’s independence with more than a cookout and sparklers. This Independence Day weekend, declare your independence from our fossil fuel past and take some small personal steps towards realizing a clean energy household!

Years ago, just before another Independence Day weekend, my Irish husband returned from the hardware store with bags full of supplies declaring he would observe America’s independence celebrations by making our home more energy efficient and less dependent on our coal-based and natural gas utilities.

While we were not, and still are not, in a financial position to invest in solar panels or upgrade our relatively-new appliances, we were inspired by the hands-on approach to energy savings advocated in the documentary Kilowatt Ours and had one year of utility bills for our 1920s house to compare against once we completed our energy efficiency upgrades.

Frugal by nature (with ceiling fans in lieu of air conditioning and hot-water bottles and warm duvets in lieu of an over-heated house at night), our utility bills tended to be lower than average when our energy-savings efforts began, but we still felt there might be room for improvement. We spent the better part of a week changing every light bulb in the house to compact fluorescents or LEDs (I bet few people have any idea just how many light bulbs are in their entire house), wrapping our water heater with an inexpensive insulation blanket, and covering the first 5 feet of hot-water pipes coming from the water heater with foam sleeves.  Our energy savings were noticeable and immediate – in the first year our electricity and gas bills dropped by an average of 10% despite buying a new 7 cubic foot chest freezer.

In the years since, we bought tubes of caulking by the case to caulk cracks that are ever-present in old houses; added insulation made from recycled fibers in the outer rooms; upgraded our ‘solar-powered’ clothes dryer by hanging a more durable clothes line; invested in a larger, more sturdy indoor drying rack to realize even greater savings in our monthly power bills; and replaced several of the oldest, leakiest windows in the house.

While we felt that our house was warmer and more cozy during the last few winters, we also have actual evidence that our efforts have been fruitful: a recent energy audit from our utility, Duke Energy, showed that our house is among the most efficient homes in our area, using an average of only 360 kWh per month!

This holiday weekend, I encourage you to take a trip to your local hardware to begin (or continue) working towards energy independence in your own home to trim your bills and cut some of your fossil-fueled energy dependence!

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