ask ken | energy-saving q&as
Reduce Home Office Energy Use
Trimming energy bills can improve the bottom line for a home business.
By KEN SHEINKOPF
Qi’m ready to give up on all these energy-saving ideas i read about. We try to do the right things, but when i compare our energy bills to those
from last year, i see that our daily energy use has gone
up rather than down. i notice it even more now that
i’m working from home a few days a week. [i’ve started
thinking] of my home as my office space, so i’m monitoring expenses much more closely. What could we be
doing wrong?—S.G., Athens, Ga.
Ken Sheinkopf has been
working in renewable
energy for 25 years
and knows where to
find the answers to
Small changes can help
keep home office energy
bills in check.
Got questions about
home energy usage
and renewable energy?
Send them to askken@
all questions can be
but watch for yours
in this column.
AI think you’d be surprised at how many readers tell me they’re having this same problem. Obviously, if energy rates have increased this year, you’ll notice
higher costs even if you’re not using more energy than you
did a year ago. But when your bills clearly show energy
consumption is up, it means you should be able to control
My first thought in situations like this is to consider
problems with the home’s furnace, air conditioner or ductwork, each of which can significantly increase your energy
use. Have a technician come out and check out these systems. A professional will be able to tell you quickly about
any major problem.
However, in this case, I think it’s just your change in
lifestyle. When you work at home, it means you’re using
more office equipment and electronics, more air conditioning and heating, more lights. You’re probably cooking lunch
at home instead of going out for it. Maybe you keep a radio
or TV on for some background noise. Last year, the house
would have been empty all day, and you wouldn’t have been
using all the energy needed now while you work.
A SOLAR TODAY colleague who operates a home office
has this to say: “Put all the office equipment on a power
strip and turn it off when you’re not working. A modern
laptop computer consumes about 10 percent of the power
of a big desktop unit, and a three-way fax/scanner/printer
consumes less power than three separate machines. Invest in
small, efficient spot lamps. See if you can heat and cool the
office separately, so you don’t have to run whole-house systems during working hours. Finally, talk to your accountant
to see which of these upgrades, and how much of your utility
bill, are deductible against your business — and whether
they’re eligible for the new efficiency tax credits.”
QWe were shopping for a new refrigerator ecently, and the literature with every one of them said they were energy efficient. can this
be true? if so, is there a way to pick the best one in terms
of energy use? —B.P., Milwaukee
AThanks to updates to federal energy appliance standards, all of today’s major home appliances use much less energythan appliances made several
years ago. If you’ve got a product you use often, like a refrigerator, washing machine or other major home appliance,
that is 10 to 15 years old or more, you’ll probably offset the
complete purchase price of a new one by saving enough
money on its energy use in the coming years.
I know that it might not seem to make a lot of sense,
especially in today’s economy, to replace a major appliance that seems to be working well just because it’s old.
I hear from people all the time who are proud of their
25-year-old freezer or clothes washer that still works beautifully. But these machines are dinosaurs. Owners can
cut utility bills substantially by investing in replacement
products. The actual cost of any appliance is the original purchase price plus its monthly energy cost plus its
Minimum federal standards are an improvement, but
Energy Star standards are much better. You can tell exactly
how appliances compare by looking at the information
on the yellow EnergyGuide labels. The labels show the
estimated annual energy consumption of the model and
other information regarding its energy efficiency, along
with where it fits into the range of energy consumption
of comparable products. Very simply, the more efficient
the appliance, the less energy it will use, and the lower its
monthly energy costs will be.
Most modern appliances will probably last for many
years, and an energy-efficient model will continue to
pay you back with lower energy costs over its lifetime.
Depending on your local electric utility rates, a new
Energy Star refrigerator may save $1,000 or more over its
lifetime, and more if electric rates rise in the future. Check
out the Energy Star web site ( energystar.gov) for information on special offers, sales tax exemptions or credits,
rebates and other discounts on energy-efficient products
in your area.
A good way to save money on appliance purchases is to
buy only the features you need. If you figure a certain-sized
refrigerator is best for your family, don’t be tempted to
get a bigger one. Will you use the through-the-door water
dispenser or the icemaker? If so, they can be great features.
If not, they add not only to the purchase price but to the
unit’s energy use as well.
The bottom line is simple: When buying an appliance
for your home, keep in mind that its lifetime energy costs
will very likely be more than its purchase price. Getting an
energy-efficient model makes a lot of sense. ST