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BY MIRANDA BOUTELLE

Earth Day is April 22, a time when we celebrate this beautiful planet we are lucky to call home. During this day of appreciation, it’s a great time to take action at home by making changes to conserve energy. If we all contribute, even small adjustments and changes to how much energy we use can have positive impacts.

Conservation vs. efficiency

Before diving into ways to use less energy, it’s important to know the difference between conservation and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency refers to equipment that uses less energy to do the same job. For example, ENERGY STAR®-certified refrigerators keep food just as fresh as standard models but use about 9% less energy to do it, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Conservation is using less energy by changing behavior and practices. For example, adjusting your thermostat to be closer to the temperature outside during warmer months or turning off the lights or a ceiling fan when you leave the room conserves energy.

Conservation has the best return on investment. It’s often free and can save a little or a lot – depending on what you are changing and how drastic of a change you make. 

Tackle the biggest energy users

The biggest energy user in the average household is heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Keep your house a little warmer in the summer and a little cooler in the winter. A good rule of thumb is to set the thermostat to 68 degrees F in the winter and to 78 degrees F in the summer.

Typically, the second biggest energy user is the water heater. Replacing an electric storage water heater with a heat pump/hybrid water heater is an excellent example of an energy-efficient project. Adjusting the temperature setting to the recommended 120 degrees F and using less hot water in your home conserves energy. Wash clothes in cold water. When washing dishes, don’t let the hot water run longer than necessary.

Earth Day also lends itself to thinking of ways we can connect with each other and limit screen time. Look for electricity-free opportunities with your family or community. Consider unplugging and getting outside with friends and family. Going for a hike, a walk or even just spending time in your yard or local park is a great way to reconnect with others and nature. Before you head out, adjust that thermostat and turn off everything possible. Unplug chargers from outlets and turn off all electronics and lights.

Miranda Boutelle writes on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing nearly 900 electric co-ops.

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