How to Use Less Electricity

Robin Greenfield fixing his solar panel on his tiny house.
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I’ve gone to some pretty extreme measures to assess how electricity is interwoven into my life. In 2013 I bicycled Off the Grid Across the USA and vowed to use only electricity generated by the small solar panels I carried with me. In 104 days of traveling across the United States I managed to not turn on a single light switch and only plug into five outlets. Right now I live off the grid in a tiny house and all of my energy needs are met by two small solar panels.

Through these adventures I learned that my life was truly electrified. So much of what we do involves using electricity. At so many moments in the day we are burning fossil fuels through electricity without thinking about it for a second. To many of us it would seem that electricity is equally important for survival as water. By going back to the basics and unraveling the electrical cords around my life I have a new insight on the day to day actions that are occurring around me.

I learned just how little electricity I actually need to carry on with a happy, healthy life. Yet I’ve experienced how much I will still needlessly consume when is available at the easy flip of a switch. I see now how much we waste without ever thinking twice about it. This really isn’t an article about how ridiculously dependent and wasteful we are though. Rather, it is a very practical guide of how you can use much less electricity in your life. Most of us aren’t going to unplug completely, but we can all cut back on our usage without drastically changing our daily lives. In doing so you can reduce your environmental impact greatly while also saving yourself a lot of money.

Within this guide I give different suggestions to meet you no matter where you are in energy conservation (except those that are very advanced in energy conservation, there is very little here for you in the way of helping you to use less). Do what you can. I encourage you to push your limits and get outside of your comfort zone to live in a manner that is less harmful to the earth.

1. I’m going to throw you a curveball right off the top and say use less water. That may confuse some people, but the fact is that it takes electricity to pump our water to us. And for many of us our hot water is made hot by an electric water heater. According to the EPA letting a faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 22 hours. For more on this and for some tips, see my guide on how to use less water.

2. Use less heating and air conditioning. I’m not suggesting that you don’t use any ever. I am suggesting that when it’s not actually needed to not use it and to use less when it is needed. Our bodies can do a pretty fantastic job of cooling ourselves naturally. I think if you try you’ll find that you need AC a lot less than you think. As far as heat goes try using clothes and blankets to keep you warm rather than turning up the thermostat. Also a body is much more able to regulate its temperature when it is in good physical condition. Exercising will actually help you burn less electricity, especially when it comes to cooling.

3. Turn everything off that doesn’t need to be on. Whenever you are not using something just turn it off. The lights, the computer, the TV, you name it. This is such a simple way to save energy. Just have lights on in the room that you’re in. Just have something on if you are actually using it. A refrigerator is an example of something that constantly need to be on but most things can indeed be turned off.

4. Unplug things when you’re not using them. This takes the previous suggestion a step further. Make it your goal to not have anything plugged in unless it’s being used. There is something called fantom energy loss that you can avoid by unplugging everything. Your appliances and gadgets pull electricity even when they are off.

5. Switch to LED or CFL bulbs and ditch the incandescent bulbs. This is an investment that will pay you back in a very short amount of time and after that if you believe that “a penny saved is a penny earned” you’ll be making money within months or a few years. You can also remove bulbs that aren’t necessary. Some fixtures have five or more bulbs in them and if you take some out you may find that one or two gets the job done. This will save you a lot of money when switching over to high efficiency bulbs.

6. Can you get a smaller refrigerator? Your fridge is likely one of your largest energy users because it’s pulling energy 24/7. A lot of fridges are pretty empty and if that’s the case with you perhaps a smaller one won’t be an issue at all. If you do have a full fridge an option is to grocery shop more often and for fresh ingredients so that you don’t need as large of a cold storage space. Another option is to purchase more items that don’t need to be refrigerated which will likely result in you eating more whole foods and less processed foods. A lot of things don’t need to be refrigerated. For example, did you know they don’t refrigerate eggs in Australia and New Zealand? I’ve been there and it was very eye opening to see this. Also, you can turn down the temperature of your freezer and fridge.

7. Get rid of your TV. To some of you TV lovers, this may seem extreme. I probably would have thought so when I was younger as well. However, getting rid of your TV does so much more than just save you energy. You’ll spend less time in front of the tube and have more time with friends and family, to be outside breathing fresh air, exercising, or perhaps cooking healthy food. Of course if you won’t get rid of your TV you can always have it unplugged when not using it, use it less, and get a smaller one.

8. Wash clothes less often and hang dry your clothes. Both the washer and dryer are huge energy suckers. For tips on reducing your laundry visit my laundry guide.

9. Spend less time on gadgets. Ok, I can see where I could be a little bit of a hypocrite here as I’m saying spend less time on gadgets while sitting on a gadget. But the big take home message here is moderation, not necessarily swearing everything off (although I support you fully if you want to do that). So just spend less time on electronic gadgets and more time on the beautiful basics of life like nature, love, and friendship.

10. Get rid of unnecessary electronics. Slowly but surely start to get rid of all the electronic items that you don’t need. The less you have sitting around the less electricity you can burn and the less time you’ll spend tinkering away on your gadgets.

11. Be energy wise when you are cooking. There are so many ways to cut back. A few ideas to get you going are: cooking multiple batches at a time, soaking grains to decrease cooking time, and cooking veggies for a shorter amount of time (which also will preserve more of the nutrients). If you want to be really awesome you could get a solar oven.

12. Run your dishwasher less. Tips on how to do that include running the dishwasher on full, using fewer dishes in the first place, and washing dishes by hand instead while being very conservative with your water usage.

13. Get energy efficient appliances. You can check out Energy Star for more on this. I do suggest you ask whether you actually need an appliance before you go out and buy one.

14. Find an electricity free alternative. With energy being relatively cheap these days we use it for so many things that we don’t need. There are so many ways to get tasks done without electricity. You can use a hand press juicer, a bike powered blender or washing machine, or hand crank flashlights to name a few things.

15. Ditch disposable batteries and replace them with rechargeable batteries. Also choose electronics that can be charged by USB rather than batteries.

16. Use a broom. Sweep the house up rather than using the vacuum. I always hated vacuuming and my long-term solution to that was going carpet free. The house is much easier to clean this way.

17. Use alternative energy. If you are generating your energy from the sun, then you don’t have to feel as guilty if you accidentally leave the TV on. However, I think one of the best ways to depend completely on alternative energy is to reduce your energy needs in the first place. This will mean you need smaller solar panels, which will save you a lot of money and reduce the need to mine materials from the earth. Do some research and find out what opportunities you have where you live for alternative energy. A lot of places offer rebate and there are also awesome opportunities with SolarCity. If you can’t put solar panels, geothermal, or wind on your home you can invest in renewable energy to offset your usage of fossil fuels.

Those are my major suggestions for using less electricity at home. With those basic ideas you can trickle the concepts into all areas of your life that use electricity. It really is about being conscious and paying attention to what you are doing. It’s easy to be oblivious to our actions today because we are removed from them through companies and monetization. If you want to really break that cycle you’re going to have to wake up and pay attention to your little actions.

I have an exercise to help you with this. Grab a notebook and for one-day write down everything you do that uses electricity. In doing so you’ll analyze just one day of your life and see whether or not your life is completely electrified. It’s a great way to get you thinking. I also have one suggestion for you. Always take the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator. Let this be your daily stance to take back your human body from the electronic world.

It’s up to you now to act. Choose one or two things you are going to do this week to cut back on your usage and with your success on that move onto the next thing. It may take you a few years to implement all of this into your life and that is ok. Bettering yourself is about making constant improvements.
Want a little inspiration to use less? Here’s a short video of my simple solar powered life at home!

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