Help me be cheap and assuage my ecoapocalyptic depression.
February 3, 2010 4:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to make my apartment more energy efficient. I don't have any control over how much heat I get, so I'm most concerned with a) making sure as little heat is escaping through the windows as possible and b) reducing the amount of electricity I use.

Sort of related to the heat and windows question: I've got an extra window air conditioning unit that I want to install before the summer. How can I figure out where to install it so that it will have maximum cooling effect on the whole apartment?

With regards to electricity, I have a few sub-questions:
  1. Some of the fixtures in my apartment use sets of 3 small, spherical 20-watt bulbs. Are there CFL or LED bulbs that could replace this odd size?
  2. How can I figure out which appliances or other plug-innable things draw electricity when they're idle, and what setup can I use to make sure they're only drawing energy when they're in use?
  3. Are there any non-obvious wasteful uses of electricity for which I should keep an eye out?
I know that my refrigerator pulls a lot of electricity, but I don't have a lot of control over it, so I'm going to concern myself with other things.
posted by ocherdraco to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For #2 you need a Kill-A-Watt. Typical draws are TVs and game consoles that draw power even when they're off.
posted by reptile at 4:57 AM on February 3, 2010

Window shrink for the winter! Like putting a giant piece of saran wrap over your entire window. When done, it's so clear that it doesn't look horrifically ugly. I used to live in a house like a sieve and that stuff was amazing. You can put it over doors that you aren't using during the winter, too, like a back porch door.

And unplugging things you aren't using is helpful. Sometimes frustrating for cable boxes and such that need to "reboot" after losing power, but unplugging your entire entertainment system will save a lot of power. and bigger kitchen appliances, computers, etc...
posted by missmary6 at 5:26 AM on February 3, 2010

I know that my refrigerator pulls a lot of electricity, but I don't have a lot of control over it
Well, at least pull it out, vacuum the dust off the coils, and set the stat at a medium setting, not the coldest which is probably not necessary.

Some of the fixtures in my apartment use sets of 3 small, spherical 20-watt bulbs. Are there CFL or LED bulbs that could replace this odd size?
Yes. LEDs are still too expensive to make sense, but CFLs come in pretty small sizes these days including the smaller thread candelabra type; visit a good lighting supplier, a big orange store, or look around online. (3 links here)

Are there any non-obvious wasteful uses of electricity for which I should keep an eye out?
If you have a lot of electronics with chargers and adaptors that have little glowing LEDs or that stay warm when not in use, put them on a power strip and switch them off when you don't need them. Ditto your TV, stereo components etc. which may use juice even when turned off.
posted by beagle at 5:44 AM on February 3, 2010

Wear a pullover, try candles. Only open the fridge when you need to. Microwaves save a lot of energy for cooking. As does communal bathing at bathtime. Insulation in your roof will help a lot.
posted by evil_esto at 5:49 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of the things we do in our house is put all the vampire devices on a powerstrip. then we don't have to unplug those when they're not in use, instead we can just turn on the power strip when they're needed.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:50 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Regarding window wrap: I've used it before, but the main window I'm concerned about right now has a small air conditioning unit in it (which I'm not allowed to remove, nor do I think it would be easy to reinstall if I did remove it). What can I do for that window?
posted by ocherdraco at 6:43 AM on February 3, 2010

In addition to plastic on the windows, insulated curtains can help a great deal. In an apartment you might be limited in what you can put up, but if there are already curtain rods up this can help a lot. A lot depends on how your apartment is situated in your building. If your windows face south, than having the curtains open during the day in the winter will help to warm up your apartment using the sun. If the windows face a different direction, than it will almost always save energy to have the curtains closed. I open mine during the day mostly because I like natural light.

It's tough to know where to put the air conditioner without knowing what your apartment looks like and whether you already have air conditioners in other rooms. The first place that I would put in an air conditioner is in your bedroom, regardless of the rest of the apartment. Sleeping in a cool room is pretty much the best thing. Typically, you would put the next one in the room you spend the next most time in. Unless you have a pretty small apartment, it is tough to air condition the whole place with window air conditioners. Usually they are designed to cool a space that is within a specific range of square feet. You can look this information up online based on the rating of BTUs (or Joules if you're metric) on the air conditioner. Using an AC unit in a space that is too big is very inefficient.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:48 AM on February 3, 2010

What can I do for that window?

You can shrinkwrap the whole business. I did something similar because of some oddly shaped molding. It worked really well.
posted by electroboy at 6:55 AM on February 3, 2010

You probably already do this, but consider wearing sweaters and/or a sleaved blanket (laugh all you want, but they work. This one's the best.) and try partially closing/blocking the vents if you have forced air based on a thermostat not in your room.

Since you probably don't use much electricity to begin with, don't buy a Kill-a-watt, since you probably won't break even. Instead, look into borrowing one. Find an environmentalist forum for your city, or ask to borrow one on Craigslist. Or buy one and bring it back to the store.

Also, as for the fridge, if you open the freezer a lot (say once or twice a day), keep your hard liquor or bags of ice in there. They'll insulate it and cause less cold air to escape when you open it. Plus, in a power outage, they'll keep it colder longer. Same trick works for the fridge section.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:07 AM on February 3, 2010

There is something you can do for the fridge, which is, if you don't keep it full, reduce the cubic footage of air in the fridge by putting some of those giant gallon or two gallon bottles of water in there. That way, when you open the fridge, you won't exchange as large a volume of air. Also, this can be your emergency preparedness water.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 8:18 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Storing my liquor in the fridge is a great idea. My fridge space is usually pretty empty.

What does dusting off the coils do for energy usage?
posted by ocherdraco at 8:36 AM on February 3, 2010

Seal all cracks around windows and doors with removable putty. Stuff the outlets of window air conditioners with closed-cell foam. Feel the inside surface of exterior walls to find cold spots and hang a rug or blanket over them. Double-glazed windows will pay for themselves quickly. If your landlord hasn't installed them, go to your buildng tenant's organization, outside oganizations that represent tenants or your local congress member, state and federal.

In answer to your query just above, cleaning off refrigerator coils will make them more efficient and lower your electric bill, but it won't increase the room temperature much, since the same amount of heat still has to be passed from inside to outside the refrigerator.

Get in touch with your local electric utility, which will have brochures on saving energy during the winter. For example, wrapping a piece of cardboard in aluminum foil and putting it behind a radiator reflects heat out into the room.

Your heating oil or gas company will also have similar material, as will your state public utilities commission.
posted by KRS at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: KRS, could you point me to the kind of removable putty you're talking about?
posted by ocherdraco at 11:01 AM on February 3, 2010

I don't know if you saw this thread but it might help you out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 AM on February 3, 2010

ocherdraco -

You can get it at any hardware store. It comes in a long coil, with the putty about half the diameter of a pencil. You peel off what you need and press it into the cracks.

It may be that they don't make it any more, but the 3M Window Insulator Kit will probably work even better. Google the words "window" "seal" and "winter" for lots of how-to videos.
posted by KRS at 12:17 PM on February 3, 2010

Yes, 3M still makes the kits. Most hardware stores will have it or a knock-off. Even the knock-offs work (it's not high tech).

don't buy a Kill-a-watt, since you probably won't break even. Instead, look into borrowing one.

My local library lends them out.
posted by dhartung at 5:42 PM on February 3, 2010

Bubble wrap can be applied to windows with just water. Lets in light, but insulates well, and you can use it again next winter. Might even keep it cooler in summer; not a big issue for me.

Ikea sells cfl bulbs that are in a shell that makes them look less goofy. They make the smaller chandelier size, too. And you can use clip on lampshades with them. The ones I got from Ikea have been pretty reliable.

Keep fridge and freezer full. Recycle some soda bottles by filling with water, if the fridge/freezer is pretty empty. Bonus: emergency water for the apocalypse.

If you have a CRT monitor or teevee, recycle it and get a flatscreen. They use a lot less power, and generate less heat, meaning less A/C in the summer.

A/C. Fans are really effective at cooling you personally. Get miniblinds or drapes, and close the South-facing ones during the day. With miniblinds, you can still get air and keep out the worst of the sun.
posted by theora55 at 9:42 AM on February 4, 2010

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