Tips for Conserving & Buying Energy-Efficient Appliances - Take Some Action

Conserving energy in your school is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make a difference in your operational costs and help save the environment at the same time. The Department of Energy reports that taxpayers spend $6 billion a year for schools’ energy bills, which is 25% more than necessary, and that money could, instead, be used to buy 40 million new textbooks or 30,000 new teachers.

Energy Conservation Tips for your School!

1. One of the easiest ways to make an immediate difference in electricity consumption is to examine your school’s light use. Consider installing motion-sensor lights that will only allow lights to be on when people are in a room. Also consider installing compact flourescent, T8, or T5 bulbs as long as you are aware of the safety precautions and how to properly dispose of them. Click here to learn more. Another, often overlooked, option for conserving light use is to find out if you are using more light bulbs than necessary. This takes only a minimal effort and can be done as a student-lead project using a light-meter and recording the light levels in each room. A template for such a project can be found here in the light chapter of this school energy audit by Besides retrofits, consider making a concerted effort to develop a system where teachers and students work together to make sure lights are not left on when not in use.

2. Pay attention to temperature-- a little bit makes a huge difference! Turning down the thermostat just two degrees can save 6% of your carbon dioxide emissions during the winter according to Power Scorecard. Consider installing programmable thermostats in all the rooms that can automatically lower and raise your school‘s temperature according to hours of use. states that turning the temperature down to 65°F can save 10% on annual heating and cooling costs. During the day, Power Scorecard recommends that you keep the thermostat at 68 degrees.

3. Freezers and refrigerators are some of the hungriest energy consuming appliances, and therefore, they offer a huge potential for savings. Power Scorecard recommends you set the temperature of refrigerators to 37 degrees and freezers to 3 degrees. The Phantom Hunter says this is best done by getting an accurate reading of the temperatures with an actual thermometer. Taking readings of the temperatures in freezers and fridges would be an easy and fun project for students to do. Power Scorecard also recommends checking the gaskets around the doors to make sure they are sealed tightly.

4. When you replace or buy a new line of appliances, make sure they have the
Energy Star Label. The Union of Concerned Scientists explains that these items may cost a little more initially, but the pay-back in energy savings will only be a couple years. Energy Star reports that consumers can cut their energy bills by 30% if they use all Energy-Star qualified products. Click here for tips on buying these products. The Department of Energy offers more information about identifying and replacing energy hungry appliances. You can compare prices for energy-saving appliances for schools and offices at Debra’s List. You can even conserve energy beyond your school grounds by supporting products and companies that have the Green-e Certified Label.

5. Reign in “phantom energy!” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory explains that many idle appliances use energy even when they are not on if they are still plugged in. These “phantom energy” users consume 5% of domestic energy. The Phantom Hunter offers an easy tip to solve this problem: simply plug electronics into power strips with on/off buttons so that when people leave the room or leave for the day, they can simply turn off the power strip. This would especially be effective in something like a computer lab where power strips are full of plugs.

6. Why not just plain save money by simply using energy at different times? How do you
do that? By reducing your “peak demand,” which is the maximum amount of energy you use for a fifteen or thirty-minute interval during each monthly billing cycle. Energy providers charge a capacity demand charge on each bill based on this highest interval of energy use, and the charge can be quite high, sometimes twice as much as the rest of the bill. This charge can be reduced by first estimating when your highest use time period usually is. For many schools it’s probably sometime in mid-morning when the kitchen is in full use preparing lunch and classrooms and offices are in full function, using appliances and lights. Some energy providers offer a special metering package where you can see exactly when your peak demand is each month. One you determine when your peak demand is, simply come up with a plan to use less during that period. For example, teachers can turn off all computers for two hours and use other teaching methods during that time. You could also shut down the copy rooms for those two hours.
7. Replace clogged air filters in air-conditioning and heating systems. Power Scorecard
explains that they have to work harder and use more energy when they are drawing air through dirty filters. and Power Scorecard report that it can save as much as 10% and 5% of the energy in a home, respectively, and though that may be less in schools, it’s still a significant amount.

8. Have your ductwork checked and sealed if there are significant leaks. Read’s tips for more information on sealing leaks.

9. Seal and weather-strip your doors and windows to prevent heat or air conditioning
from escaping. If your school has only single pane windows, Energy Hog’s Checklist recommends replacing them with low-e coated windows or ENERGY STAR windows. Even just adding storm windows can reduce your winter heat loss by 25–50 %.

10. Tackling water use can save more energy than you think! First, Power Scorecard
recommends turning down the thermostat for the water heater from the average 140° to a more conservative 120° F. Just this difference would prevent 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted from the typical water heater. Also consider using less hot water by using less water in general by installing low-flow shower heads or sink aerators. Power Scorecard states that low-flow shower heads cost just $10 to $20 each and provide a satisfying shower. The Phantom Hunter explains that sink aerators save water by fluffing it up so that less water still gets the job done. If your school uses washing machines, it can save 80 to 85% of the energy normally used to run the machines by only washing with cold water (U.S. Department of Energy).

11. Put your computers into hibernating mode or completely turn them off when not in
use. This not only saves energy but increases the life of your hard drive. Click here to learn how to put your computer in hibernating mode. For more technical information about different sleep features and how to implement them across an entire network, check out Energy Star’s Tips. You can also save energy by turning your monitor off every time you walk away or at least setting it so that it will automatically turn off after only a couple minutes. This is different than relying on a screensaver, which according to The Phantom Hunter, doesn’t actually save energy anyway.

Websites offering more conservation tips:

Click here to watch the exciting The Phantom Hunter Video from Humboldt State Green Campus that takes you on a wild tour of energy saving techniques.

These three websites offer some more quick tips: Power Scorecard’s Twenty Things You Can Do to Save Energy, Energy Hog’s Checklist, and

For more detailed and specific tips, check out excerpts from No-regrets Remodeling offered by Home Energy Magazine that gives you specific tips broken up by clickable topics. All the entries are from a book that can be purchased if you want all of the contents.

If you still have questions about conservation techniques, try the Department of Energy’s Ask an Expert Function.

Build conservation education through school-wide programs & awareness!
Educating staff, students, and parents about energy conservation can be as easy as putting up a poster in the hallway or as extensive as running a school-wide campaign involving hands-on experiential learning by everyone.

Order cool posters here! They are free for schools in the northeast as long as you agree to display them in a public location. For schools in other parts of the country, you can order them for 12 dollars each or get more for a reduced rate.

If you want to get more involved, consider becoming a Green School in the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green School Program. This school-wide program involves teaching about energy in the classroom, creating school-wide awareness that spreads to the community, and actually saving energy. Check out these case studies of schools across the country that have taken action under this program.

For a program focused more on the saving money aspect of energy conservation, check out this manual prepared by Princeton Energy Resources International for the US Department of Energy: School Operations and Maintenance: Best Practices for Controlling Energy Costs. It goes over how to set up a successful energy management program and build support. You can read about six school districts across the country that have already found success using the program.

If you want to start your own energy awareness & conservation program, use Tips for Implementing a School-wide Energy Efficiency Program as your guide. It includes 10 easy-to-understand steps.

What’s the Dilly with Fluorescents?

Are you confused about the difference between fluorescents and incandescents or about all the dangerous things you may have heard recently about fluorescents?
What is a fluorescent light anyway? Weren’t fluorescent lights the old long tubes we used to have in most office rooms that took forever to warm up and made an eerie buzzing sound?

What we commonly refer to as fluorescent lights are miles ahead of the long buzzing tubes of the past. There are many different shapes and sizes of fluorescent lights on the market, but all of the new models share one thing in common: they are way more energy efficient than old fluorescents and traditional incandescent bulbs!

In fact, Power Scorecard explains that the most common type, known as CFLs, use only ¼ of the energy that an incandescent uses, and they last 8-12 times longer. Energy Hog adds that 95% of the energy that goes into incandescents is only used to heat the bulb anyway. For more on the positive benefits of fluorescents, watch this short video from

Fluorescents and incandescents create light in different ways. To learn more, check out how fluorescents work from HowStuffWorks and how incandescents work from wiseGEEK.

Are you afraid to use fluorescent lights because you heard they contain mercury and are hazardous? Don’t worry—we’re here to give you the truth and clear-up the misconceptions. The fact is fluorescents do have a tiny amount of mercury in them. But fact is they are still way better for the environment than traditional incandescent light bulbs. The Energy Star Fact Sheet About CFLs puts the mercury issue into perspective. Energy Star explains that the amount of mercury in a CFL is actually 125 times less than a single old thermometer which contains 500 mg of mercury. The small amount of mercury in a CFL is still a small risk to the environment, but that’s why there are recycling programs around the country to collect the old bulbs when you dispose of them. But, even if none of the CFLs in the U.S. were properly recycled and they were all sent to a landfill where they all happened to get smashed, it would only constitute .1 % of our total mercury emissions as a country. Compare that number to the massive amount of mercury released by electricity production here in the United States. The EPA states that coal power production alone contributes over 40% of our mercury emissions. If you think about how CFLs save ¾ of the electricity that would otherwise be used to operate an incandescent bulb, there is a dramatic savings in overall mercury being released into the environment. Energy Star explains that every CFL used in place of an incandescent will actually save up to 4.5 mg of mercury from being released, or even in the worst case when the bulb ends up in a landfill, it will still save 4.1 mg of mercury from being released. Lastly, although mercury is a critical component to these bulbs, the amount contained in them has dropped considerably and with new technologies, continues to drop.

But, how about the mercury risk to you and your students’ personal health if a bulb is broken? Bulbs should always be handled carefully and when they are broken, they do need to be cleaned up responsibly, but the recent flood of terrifying news articles may be creating unnecessary fear. The EPA states that you don’t have to hire a professional to clean up the mess. They offer safety guidelines for cleaning up a broken bulb or tube safely. And after the mess has been cleaned up appropriately according to the guidelines, there is very little risk of dangerous exposure.

Where do you recycle bulbs after they die? All you need to do is enter your zip code and the type of bulb here at Earth 911 and they will give you a list of local recycling centers or programs. And, if you happen to live in California, there are recycling resources listed by county here.

For any further questions about energy efficient lights, check out this very informative page from eartheasy or this page from Energy Star.