The 2006 Report “Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture” by David Pimentel at Cornell discusses how converting to organics can reduce dependence of producers on energy and how organic farming can increase energy efficiency per unit of production. Basically, there are a bunch of studies about how organic farming is more energy efficient than most conventional forms. Since we’re finally realizing the constraints and negative environment of using fossil fuels for energy, looking for ways to reduce our consumption is becoming more and more important. I want to talk about ways that we can decrease energy consumption not just in food production and on the farm, but also at home. Especially since up until recently I had no idea that a lot of my appliances, lights, windows, and doors (and pretty much everything else) were energy inefficient.
As some of you may know, I am currently working another internship called Energy Right Solutions for Higher Education, a program run through the Office of Sustainability at UT and sponsored by TVA and Willdan Energy Solutions. The internship is driven by four interns to create projects to reduce energy consumption on campus. Our projects include performing energy audits of Dunford Hall and the Art and Architecture building here on campus to look at improvements that can be made and ultimately result in a decrease of energy consumption for each building. For the audits, we got a toolkit full of an array of monitors, plugs, and loggers. Given that my roommate and I have had ridiculously high energy bills the past couple of months, we decided to do a little audit of our own to see what we could improve within our own apartment.
The first thing we checked was our lighting. The overheads in our kitchen and living room are mostly overhead T-12 fluorescents. T-12 is the largest and least efficient type of fluorescent. UT has already made the switch to the smaller T-8 lights, which are about 20% more efficient than the T-12s. Imagine the energy savings when you replace these throughout a whole building! We also checked whether our lights had magnetic or electronic ballasts (the component regulating current to the light) using a device from Sensorswitch, which has a light that turns orange when pointed at a magnetic light and green at an electronic light. Electronic lights are more efficient than magnetics because they have greater light outputs and brighter light production. Guess what color ours were? Orange, so magnetic. Replacing our ballasts could be the first step to improving our apartment’s energy efficiency. (Our bedrooms were both electronic ballasts, and had more efficient compact fluorescent lights)
The next thing we checked was the temperature using a Kintrex Infrared Thermometer. This thing is awesome. It looks like a police radar gun, and you point it at anything and a little laser comes out so you can spot check the temperature of anything you point it at! We have three large single-paned windows, which seem to freeze our entire apartment. So we checked the temperatures of the windows and compared them to the apartment temps. The windows were about 55 degrees (it’s currently about 50 degrees outside, and it’s nighttime so no natural heat is coming in), and our apartment is 67 degrees. Now I get why it’s so darn cold in here!! The problem is that these are old, single paned windows. In order to improve the efficiency, you can get double paned windows and/or check around the perimeter for leaks that you can caulk or use a window sealant on. Also, we recently invested in some Duck Roll-On window-proofing plastic that we put on all of our windows; this seems to be helping keep some of the heat in.
We also did a little walk around to look at anything else we could improve. The front door for instance, has a noticeable gap between the door and the floor, which is letting in cold air and needs new weatherstripping. Also, several appliances were plugged in that were not being used (such as my hair straightener and computer charger). These draw energy even when not in use, so unplugging them regularly can make a difference on your electric bill.
Though you may not have access to these devices at home, here are some ways that you/I can improve energy efficiency (and decrease costs):
- Switch magnetic to electronic ballasts if you can
- Switch from less efficient incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lamps
- Open blinds/curtains during the day in the winter to maximize natural heating, and close at night to keep it in
- Keep your windows closed as much as possible, your heating and cooling system can do a better job of regulating it’s temperature this way
- Unplug appliances such as hair dryers, coffee makers, and toasters when you aren’t using them
If you want to read Pimentel’s full report, you can find it at