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Home Energy Waste Culprits

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Every household has an impact on global climate change

We don’t see it happening, but most of the time when someone flips a switch or takes a steaming hot shower at home, greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels rise into the atmosphere from the power plants supplying the electricity. Home energy use in the U.S. accounts for around 17% of national emissions, or about four metric tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. Understanding home energy use and taking some simple steps can make a significant impact in the fight against global climate change. For more details see our Global Warming Guide.

What are the major energy drains?

Keeping the temperature comfortable at home usually accounts for the largest portion of energy use, followed by heating water for baths, showers, hot tubs, and dishwashers. The refrigerator is the most energy-hungry appliance in the house, but advances in efficiency have reduced energy use considerably. Figures from the U.S. Department of Energy’s most recent household electricity survey in 2001 show that the average refrigerator at that time was five to nine years old. And the number of U.S. households with a second unit the garage or basement had risen to about 17%; those were typically older refrigerators that had been around for 10 to 19 years. To get the full picture, imagine this: One 1977 model runs on the same amount of energy as three 1998 models made after efficiency standards came into play.

Small appliances: Looks can be deceiving

From computers and VCRs to ceiling fans and electric toothbrushes, small appliances have surprisingly big energy needs. They pull a larger amount of electricity that you might think, and that drain is going up by 5% per year. Not only are tons of useful, fun products coming on the market all the time, but generally these devices aren’t yet subject to the energy standards that have made large appliances more efficient in recent years. Even your prized tropical fish are gobbling up significant energy: A 180-gallon coral reef aquarium system that runs 24/7 uses more electricity than an energy efficient refrigerator!

Electronics: The vampires in the house

Even though the television is turned off, it is using energy at every moment in order to be ready for the moment you hit the remote “on” switch to watch a show. The microwave needs juice to keep the numbers on the clock glowing. Indeed, most electric appliances suck down energy like little vampires even when they are turned off; this standby power can waste several hundred kilowatts a year per household. Estimates on “vampire” power’s portion of total household energy use are as high as 13%.

1. US EPA Climate Change Website. Available from: [3 December 2007]

2. US Energy Information Administration Regional Energy Profile: U.S. Household Electricity Report,” Released 14 July 2005 (Next available in 2007). Available at [3 December 2007]

3. California Energy Commission. Available from: [3 December 2007]

4. "Pulling the Plug on Standby Power,” Economist; March 2006, Vol. 378 Issue 8468, Special Section p34-36.

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