Happy Earth Day! - Save Energy, Save Money

           Happy Earth Day everyone! This day was inaugurated 45 years ago today, just at the height of what would come to be the environmental revolution. So how far have we come since the 1960s and 70s? The answer. Far! Reductions in outdoor air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and lead represent some of the greatest advances. Those who lived in populated cities such as Los Angeles 30 years ago can attest to the improvements in visibility alone. Water quality, hazardous waste management, and wildlife protection similarly made tremendous gains in the ensuing decades.

           Concerns for public health and the environment, however, are far from resolved. In fact, today we are facing what is quite realistically our greatest obstacle to date. That is, climate change. The ramifications of inaction on this single issue are so overwhelmingly as to shadow many of the other issues myself and other health advocates are passionate about. It appears, at least, that governments are finally overcoming the private lobbies that have previously casted doubt on this issue, and have begun pledging and passing legislation to minimize carbon emissions.  The recent U.S./China bilateral announcement of carbon dioxide reduction goals is the most prime example of this. However, Hurricane Catrina, Hurricane Sandy, the California drought, and Boston’s 2014-15 snowiest winter on record all indicate that current actions are too little too late to completely avoid harm. And these are just examples in the United States. This does not mean that all is lost. Continued greenhouse gas emissions are projected to only make such events more extreme and more frequent, which is why it’s more important than ever to mobilize international efforts towards continued emissions reductions. This where YOU and I come in!

             If left to government action, change will simply not come soon enough. Fortunately, we can act independently to curb emissions. Carbon dioxide emission mostly come from three different sectors. Namely, transportation, industry, and residential/commercial building energy use. In the United States and European Union, the buildings sector accounts for approximately 40% of energy consumption! In the U.S., residential buildings account for the majority (54%) of this, producing 21% of the nation’s emissions. In other words, by making our homes more energy efficient, we as individuals can have an enormous impact on carbon emissions and help stabilize the climate. Below are a number of tips I put together as part of a climate action project for the Harvard Law School earlier this year. An official version will be published soon that you can print out as a brochure and pass around. In the meantime, making some of these simple changes in your home or apartment will not only reduce carbon emissions and other air pollutants, but will also save you money by reducing your monthly energy bill. 

Easy Tips for Lower Energy Bills

Washer & Dryer
·       Wait for full load before running washer or dryer
·       Use cold or warm (not hot) water when doing laundry
·       Put heavy loads through spin cycle twice before drying. This removes more water and shortens drying time. Or, put only clothes in the dryer while letting blankets/towels air dry.
·       Instead of using dryer, allow laundry to air dry by hanging
·       Clean lint filter from dryer after each load so machine doesn’t work as hard to circulate air

·       Use CFL or LED lightbulbs
·       Turn off lights in empty rooms

·       Unplug electronics not being used. Or, plug devices into power strip, which can be switched off. For instance, even when turned off, devices that are plugged are estimated to account for up to 15% of your monthly electricity bill!
·       When phone is done charging, unplug charger. It’s better for the charger & saves energy!
·       Adjust computer settings to energy-saving mode
·       Lower computer screen brightness
·       Purchase electronics with an Energy Star® label, this means they are energy efficient.

·       Take showers, not baths. 3-min showers use half the water of baths & reduce hot water waste
·       Keep showers short
·       Take lower temp showers on warm days
·       Turn off tap while shaving/brushing teeth
·       Use low-flow showerheads

·       Ensure full load (but not overloaded) before running washer
·       Use shortest water cycle that still cleans dishes properly
·       Turn off drying cycle on washer & open washer door to air dry dishes
·       If hand washing, fill sink with water & use stopper rather than washing under running water

·       Put lid on pot to boil water. It will boil faster and use less energy
·       Prepare meals in slow cooker or microwave when possible
·       Let frozen meats thaw before cooking

Heating & Cooling
·       Turn down thermostat when leaving for work/school, & turn it lower when leaving for vacation
·       Buy another blanket instead of running your heater higher at night, this will quickly pay you back in saved heating expenses.
·       Use a fan instead of an AC unit

·       Water heaters are factory set to ~140°F, which is costly and higher than needed. Reset to 120°F, and turn lower before vacation.
·       Seal cracks around walls & windows where outdoor air seeps in. Can be easily done with store-bought calking/insulation tape.
·       Ideal temp for your refrigerator is 38-40 °F, don’t overcool it.
·       If home is poorly insulated, consider splitting cost of weatherization with landlord. You will save on energy bills & be more comfortable overall.
·       Propose green lease with your landlord
·       If you use a Brita filter, store it outside of refrigerator. Cooling water takes a lot of energy!
·       Close heating/cooling vents in rooms that are infrequently used    

For More Info
·       Energy Rebate Opportunities: www.masssave.com (for MA residents)
·       Discounted Energy Efficient Appliances: www.energystar.gov

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.


  1. Hello professor- this Isac Castro from your March 2016 Environmental Health Class. One interesting thing that I learned in this article is just how much energy is being wasted by just having electronics plugged in. I have arcade cabinets at home and they are always plugged in, even though I hardly turn them on. After reading this though, I may have to rethink having them plugged in at all. My question regarding this topic is related to the point I made above, how is it possible that having electronics or other items plugged in cause energy to be used if they are not turned on?

    1. Many home appliances are considered to use vampire/phantom/standby power. For example, if you turn an electronic device off that has a red LED light indicating that it is off, it is still using electricity to keep that light off.

  2. Wonderful post professor!!! It is great to know that I have been saving energy for unplugging electronics not in use and I have an energy star label laptop but I still need to do more.

    1. Some interesting things that I learned are waiting for full load before running washer or dryer, putting heavy loads through spin cycle twice before drying which shortens drying time, using microwaves more, resetting water heaters, closing vents in rooms that are infrequently used, buying energy star electronics, and using only LED or CFL light bulbs can reduce carbon emissions, air pollutants and energy bills.
    2. Do you recommend using portable travel power strip charger 6 universal outlet input to plug multiple electronics energy saving? Do you recommend plugging off microwaves and televisions when not in use or at bedtime?


    Chioma Nnolim

    1. My apologies for the error in question 2. I meant do you recommend unplugging microwaves and televisions when not in use or at bedtime?


    2. In regards to your second question about plugging off electronics, specifically microwaves and televisions when not in use or at bedtime, it is recommended to unplug it. I have read this article about "energy vampires" which is referred to unplugging unused electronics, and I want to share you the link http://energy.gov/articles/are-energy-vampires-sucking-you-dry. The article cited that unplugging unused electronics can save you as much as 10% in your electric bill. Despite not using electronics such as television, when plugged in together with the cable box, both these devices consume an average of 17.83 watts. Unplugging electronics when not in use, or at bedtime may seem a hassle for others, but our own little way of doing such practice will contribute to save energy, as well as save money.

  3. Hello Professor Masri,

    This is Phadra Buckle from COH608. One interesting thing that I have learned that cooking meals with a slow cooker or microwave would save energy. I would have thought that it would use more energy seeing as though the open flame or electric stove top cooks food faster. One question that I have is how closing heating/cooling vents in rooms that are infrequently used save money?


  4. These are great ideas all of them, great resources as well. Also there are simple ways that individuals can change their impact on our earth, which is something that we can all do.

    1. Something that is so simple as prep your meals and thaw out your food, not to waste energy to produce a meal. This is something that we can all pitch in to do and make a impact on the useless waste on energy.

    2. A lot of these suggestions, is there a way that we can put this ideas into work in a hospital? If there are ways that these ideas can be enforced in a hospital in all areas it will regulate many issues of waste and pollution in our areas.

  5. There are so many things on this list that I currently do in order to keep my energy bill low. I did not think about the ideal that those same techniques would help with climate change as well. I was also surprised to learn that majority of energy consummation came from residents, I honestly thought that businesses would have a higher energy consummation.

    A question I have is if the water heater does not need to be at ~140 degrees why do companies make that their default setting? Also I know LED lights are more cost effective but is it true that if they break they would release a cancer causing chemical in them?

    1. The reason for the water heaters being set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is because of the need to prevent the growth of a bacteria called Legionella. When the water heater is stored at 140 degrees it will ensure that the entire tank, from top to bottom, has the proper bactericidal effects.

      Light-Emitting Diodes(LED) and Compact Fluorescent Lamps(CFL) when broken results in the emission of mercury gas. When this is coupled with a poorly ventilated room it results in an amount, over the recommended OSHA limit of mercury gas inhalation. Mercury gas, UV rays, and other cancer causing chemicals are present in the inner workings of the light bulb and cause the release of these chemicals.

  6. The most interesting part I took from this article was the list of ways to save energy. It showed me a lot of ways I normally save energy and did not realize. There were also some new ways that I never thought about doing. It was interesting to see that using a slow cooker when possible would help save energy.

    My thought on this was that usually when using a slow cooker you have to have it on for 4 to 8 hours. So my main question would be how exactly is that saving energy to use a slow cooker when it will take 8 hours versus cooking with the stove that would only take 30 to 45 minutes?

    Leslie Carter

    1. To answer your question about the slow cooker, they require less energy if you are comparing a slow cooker to an electric stove.

      Electricity costs around 15p per kWh, a slow cooker uses approximately 0.7kWh x 8 hours is about 5.6 kWh; an electric stove will use 2.5kWh, per 8 hours. Therefore, it's cheaper to use the slow cooker.

  7. Professor Masri,

    This is Kathryn Duncan, I also posted under the Arsenic in Rice - Tips to Lower Levels. I love to cook in my slow cooker, but I had always thought that would take up more energy since most recipes call to cook it for at least 3-4 hours. My question is, when we do run the heater my husband always says it's better just to leave it on at a lower temp rather than constantly turning it off and on, does that really save more energy to try and maintain a constant temperature in the house? Maybe this just depends how often you are turning it off and on and at what temperature the thermostat is set to?

  8. I found the information presented very interesting ways to save energy, most of which I already encompass in my daily routine. However, I'm most interested in the "unplug when not in use" component. How does a charging cord use energy if it is not "plugged into" a source of energy, such as a phone/charging cord. Also, my coffee pot and toaster are continuously plugged in, but only used on the weekends. How are those two appliances using continuous energy if not actually being used?

    Kelli Smith

    1. Kelli Smith
      COH608 Public Health and the Environment: March 2016

      and I apologize, not sure why it has "over thinker" and not my name.

    2. Hi Kelli,
      That is a great question. I have found that based on what I have read the current continues to flow through the cords when the appliances are still plugged in so that the appliance will be ready when needed. This also goes for your chargers that you keep plugged in. This is why the adapter for phone chargers are usually warm because current continues to flow. Hope that helps to answer your question.

      Leslie Carter

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Something interesting that I learned from the article was the slow cooker piece. We often use the slow cooker, but I assumed it used more energy due to the fact that everything cooks from 4-8 hours. I do suppose that using a cook top or the oven uses more energy.
    In regards to the thermostat settings, at what temperature setting is the most energy efficient? My husband always tries to keep the temperature no more than 65-69 when we leave the house and are trying to heat the house. I always turn it off completely when we are not home, but I am assuming this uses more energy to cool or heat down the house?

    -Ana Barragan (its showing as my blog name, not sure why!)

  11. The list of the tips for lower energy bills is the one thing I found fascinating. I was not aware that the simple things I usually do everyday has already contributed to reduce carbon emissions, and other air pollutants, as well as save energy. In the military, I have learned to keep my shower quick and short. Before I cook, I make it a point that the meat is always thawed. Some of the things I need to practice are to unplug all the electronic devices when not in use, not to use hot water when doing laundry, and to use a fan instead of AC unit especially now that summer is around the corner.

    I just wonder, can we save more energy in leaving AC on all day during the summer, or cooling down my house after I get home at night?

  12. 1. I did not know it took a significant amount on energy to actually cool pitchers of water in the fridge. A few years ago, I used a Brita system inside my fridge and decided to move it to the countertop because my fridge was constantly opened and closed for water.
    2. For those of us that already use these energy saving tips, what is something else we could be doing to decrease our footprint even further?