With summer around the corner, many homes and laboratories are turning their air conditioning units to full blast, hoping to stay cool in the hottest months of the year. However, overusing an HVAC system can have devastating consequences for the environment. This, paired with inefficiency in other energy uses, dramatically increases our environmental footprint. In this article we take a look at some of the inefficiencies that are harming the environment and ways in which they can be minimized.
Being more efficient with electricity
According to the EIA, the average annual electricity consumption for a US residential utility customer was 10,972 kilowatt hours (kWh), with Tennessee having the highest annual electricity consumption at 15,394 kWh per residential customer, and Hawaii the lowest at 6,213 kWh per residential customer. Let us now consider where the biggest impacts are.
The kitchen and the lab
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Be mindful of the way you use your appliances at home and in the lab. According to a study conducted in 2018 and published in the International Journal of Design, even “smart appliances,” if not designed to create efficiency in every aspect of an appliance’s design, can lead to more energy-intensive use. The study examined everything from coffee makers to toasters and concluded that many design opportunities existed which could improve overall energy efficiency. The same is true of lab equipment.
Of course, designing your own coffee maker or PCR machine isn’t always feasible, but there are other small changes you can make in the way you use your appliances on a daily basis.
Don’t open the oven door while cooking, as heat will escape an open door –– the internal temperature may drop by as much as 25 degrees, according to Energy.gov. Instead, use the internal light to check on food. Don’t leave the lid off the water bath unless absolutely necessary and turn off hot blocks when they’re not in use.
ENERGY STAR appliances are another way to improve energy efficiency in the home and the lab. These appliances are certified by the US Department of Energy and are proven to use less energy on average than standard appliances. A study in 2016 lead to the first ENERGY STAR rating for an ultra-low temperature laboratory freezer.
Lastly, it’s crucial to keep all appliances clean and well-maintained. Appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers, irrespective of whether they are washing your cups or your reaction flasks, run more efficiently when their filters and door seals are cleaned regularly and are free of dust.
The way you light your space has a big impact on the environment. Lighting is also one of the easiest ways to fall behind on energy efficiency, making it important to make eco-friendly choices when considering lighting options. Communal spaces, like laboratories and offices can be particularly challenging with large areas often being lit even when they are not in use.
Home Energy Management Systems include sensors and smart devices that help homes reduce their energy usage. While they have been proven effective in reducing energy consumption, a 2017 study conducted at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center found a relatively low market penetration rate for these systems, indicating that consumer interest is currently not great enough to become widespread.
Many older homes and facilities use incandescent lighting, but these light bulbs are not the most efficient in terms of energy usage. In fact, they give off only a fraction of the light an LED bulb emits –– the rest is expelled as heat energy. An LED bulb, on the other hand, prioritizes energy efficiency and will last much longer than an incandescent bulb.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to capitalize on natural lighting when possible. During the day, leave the lights off in brighter rooms. Consider using light paint colors and mirrors to help enhance the natural brightness of a space.
Being more efficient with water consumption
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Americans use a significant amount of water every day. In fact, the US Geological Survey states that the average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water every day. With that in mind, it’s important to do everything we can to cut our water consumption where possible.
When doing laundry, you should never start a load until it’s full –– the washing machine will use the same amount of water regardless of how many clothes, scrubs or lab coats are inside.
For items where sterility isn’t paramount, you may also consider skipping a few washes between wears. A 2015 study conducted for a well-known clothing brand determined that washing jeans every ten wears (instead of every other wear) reduces energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80%.
The bathroom is one of the biggest water-using rooms. From showering to flushing the toilet, you may be using hundreds of gallons of water per day without even realizing it.
A standard shower head sprays two and a half gallons of water every minute. According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average shower time is 7.8 minutes. Taking this average and assuming that you shower daily, that’s a staggering 7,116 gallons of water a year on showers alone. For a family of four, it’s nearly 30,000 gallons of water a year. To mitigate this, consider switching to a low-flow shower head.
Even with the incredible volume of water showers use each year, they’re nothing compared to baths. A full bathtub could require as much as 70 gallons of water at a time –– doing this every day would result in over 25,000 gallons of water for one person. To be more efficient when bathing, opt for a quick five-minute shower instead.
Labs too are big consumers of water, from water purification systems to autoclaves. It takes three gallons of water to make just one gallon of deionized water and autoclaves can use up to 90 gallons in a single cycle. Organizations are however taking steps to create more water efficient labs and make changes in the practices and equipment they use.
Being more efficient with temperatures
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A recent study published in The Royal Society Open Science Journal found that indoor temperature preferences for North American homes across seasons averaged approximately 25.35°C (or 77.63ºF). Despite outdoor temperature changes throughout the year, indoor temperatures remain relatively consistent. This suggests that heating and cooling systems must work harder during certain times to maintain internal temperatures, creating a greater need for energy. In laboratories, equipment can generate a lot of heat, necessitating constant cooling of the space to ensure it is comfortable for staff and to prevent the equipment itself from overheating, impacting performance and requiring maintenance. A laboratory space that is overly hot or cold can also interfere with the effectiveness of experiments designed to be performed at “room temperature”.
Heating and cooling your home and laboratory space puts a heavy burden on the environment. According to Energy.gov, heating water accounts for 14 to 18 percent of total home energy. That’s why it’s important to look for ways to minimize heating and cooling needs where possible.
When it comes to your thermostat, there are several ways to be more efficient. Adjusting the temperature regularly (based on outdoor temperatures) can save energy, while smart thermostats will make efficient choices autonomously.
Your water heater also consumes a significant amount of energy. To compensate for this, consider doing the following:
● Turning down the thermostat on the hot water heater
● Wrap old hot water heaters in insulating blankets to help them maintain their temperature
● Use a timer to turn off your hot water heater when no-one is there or at night when you don’t need hot water.
Ultimately, the amount of energy your home consumes is up to you. In the lab, energy savings will help the environment and the business. Your daily choices make a big impact on the environment, but energy efficiency is easily attainable with a few simple changes.