Home Energy 101

From reading an electricity meter to paying a fee to offset your home's emissions, we've got the info you need to make sustainable energy choices.
Text by Allen B. Bunting
Green Power
Get a head start on phasing out fossil fuels by buying electricity produced by sustainable resources such as wind, water, and sun. Texas and New Jersey offer alternative energy at competitive prices through retail providers. Many utility companies in other areas now offer green pricing programs for homeowners who choose to pay an additional monthly fee to support their provider's sustainable energy advances.

If your area doesn't offer one of the above, consider Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Available to anyone, anywhere in the United States, RECs are essentially contributions made to fund the advancement of sustainable energy. Though you still pay your traditional electric bill, for a relatively small (and tax-deductible) payment you can offset your home's emissions by supporting green power projects. You can purchase RECs from Web sites such as chooserenewables.com and carbonfund.org. According to Choose Renewables, buying 900 kWh of RECs each month (only $14.99) can offset 100 percent of the electricity used in the average home. For more information, visit green-e.org.

Calculate Your Savings
If you've ever wondered how much of a difference changing a few lightbulbs can make, try this: Multiply a lamp's wattage (usually found on a sticker or on the cord) by how many hours you use it a day, then divide by 1,000 to find the daily kilowatt hour (kWh) consumption. For example, a 100-watt incandescent bulb that's on for six hours a day uses 0.6 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. Replace the bulb with a compact fluorescent (CFL)-a CFL equivalent to the 100-watt bulbs uses about 23 watts-and you can reduce the lamp's daily kWh expenditure to 0.138. If your utility company charges 10 cents per kWh, then the simple switch could save you nearly 46 cents a day, or almost $170 per year. Not a math wiz? Web sites with online calculators make it easy and offer tips for potential savings. Check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy's Home Energy Yardstick.

Learn to Read (an Electricity Meter)
Can't believe you used that much energy last month? Learning to read an electricity meter can prevent shock when next month's bill arrives. If you're lucky, your home has a digital meter. If not, here goes:

Looking at a standard meter, you'll see a series of dials. Read the dials right to left. Note that some dials turn clockwise and others turn counterclockwise. The correct reading of the dials in the photograph is 529. If the pointer is between two numbers, write down the lower of the two numbers. For example, if the pointer is between 6 and 7, write down 6. (Exception: If the pointer is between 0 and 9, write down 9.) For a more thorough explanation, check out your power company's Web site.

If that sounds too complicated, invest in a home energy monitor such as Blue Line Innovations' PowerCost Monitor ( bluelineinnovations.com). The digital display is easy to read and shows your energy use in real time.