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When it comes to doing our part to conserve resources, a few good habits have become the norm: turning off the lights when leaving a room, setting the thermostat to below 65°F or 16°C during sleeping hours, and turning off the tap while brushing one's teeth. In recent years, however, consumers have been introduced to several other ways to save energy and water around the house, leaving many of them wondering which solutions are right for their homes. Below is a tour through the energy-efficient and eco-friendly home in five questions.
Light bulbs: LED, CFL or halogen?
Conventional incandescent light bulbs are being phased out and replaced, and although they can still be purchased in some stores, energy-conscious consumers know to avoid them. Nowadays, when shopping for light bulbs, consumers can forget about watts and start thinking in "lumens," a measure of brightness. Among the most common high-efficiency lighting solutions available today are LED bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), fluorescent tubes, and halogen lamps. Each type of lamp gives off a different type of light, creating a different ambiance.
In the bedroom or living room, opt for halogen lamps, which give off a warm white light. Experts regard LED lamps as the lighting solution of the future, in part due to their ability to mimic the incandescent light consumers have become accustomed to. They light up immediately when switched on, are more resistant to shocks and cold temperatures than traditional bulbs, and have a lifespan of 20,000 to 40,000 hours. While relatively high prices and uneven quality standards have kept LED lamps from becoming the mainstream so far, the trend appears to be turning around as of late.
For the time being, the more widespread option is CFLs, which typically cost less than LED lamps but have an inferior lifespan (6,000 to 7,000 hours on average). Although their detractors deplore the quality of their light, CFLs are certainly more efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs, and they remain cooler to the touch, reducing the risk of burns. These bulbs must be disposed of in special facilities as they contain a small amount of mercury and are 93 percent recyclable.
Should appliances be left in in standby mode when not in use?
Although they may appear to be inactive, many appliances are actually consuming energy while in standby mode, meaning that they may be adding between 300 and 500 kWh to your energy usage each year. Some appliances even continue to use energy in the off mode if they are plugged in, a phenomenon known as hidden standby mode. That said, it's not always the best idea to unplug every appliance in the house. Small cooking devices such as coffee machines, as well as any type of device that can be programmed, often operate in hidden standby mode, so it's a good idea to unplug these when they are not in use. However, it is generally not advisable to unplug the dishwasher or washing machine, both of which are generally equipped with a leak detector.
The living room
Open fireplace, closed fireplace or wood-burning stove?
While they may be romantic, open fireplaces are not the most efficient option for heating a home. A closed fireplace, including an appropriate ventilation and smoke evacuation system, is a far more effective solution. Alternatively, heating stoves are an increasingly popular choice, as they are generally less costly and complex to install than closed fireplaces. Alongside the traditional wood-burning stove, consumers can find pellet stoves, which burn compressed wood or other sustainable fuels. These generally require some electricity as they are often equipped with electric fans and automatic controls. There are other options for modern stoves, in cast iron, for example, which have low emissions and a high capacity for producing heat.
With any form of wood heating, it is important to use dry wood (less than 20% humidity), as wet wood emits more pollution when burned. It is also important to avoid burning scrap wood, which may have been treated with chemicals or could contain traces of paint.
A greener way to water the garden?
Obviously, it's best to avoid watering plants with clean drinking water. For many homeowners, the solution is harvesting rainwater through a gutter system and a cistern. A number of options are available -- from 200-liter vats to 5,000-liter underground reservoirs -- and cisterns can even be equipped with a pump and hooked up to an automatic watering system. Of course, capturing and storing rainwater is an effective solution only in areas with sufficient annual rainfall. Be sure to do your research before investing in a water collection system: in certain areas subject to drought, local governments may place restrictions on rain harvesting.
Other tips for saving water in the garden: water the base of your plants rather than the leaves, and favor more drought-resistant plants.
Throughout the house
Which is more eco-friendly: gas, electric or wood heating?
On one hand, there are combustible fossil fuels (heating oil, gas and propane), which pollute the air and emit CO2 when burned. On the other, there is electricity, which emits only minimal CO2 on its own but is sometimes produced by plants using fossil fuels or even nuclear energy. And then there is wood, a sustainable resource which is generally available at an attractive price (although this can vary greatly by region). Although wood has its disadvantages -- starting with the fact that homeowners must have space to store all of those logs, pellets and starters -- a high-efficiency wood-burning stove is often the best choice for the environment.
These tips were prepared with information from the French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME).