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Here are multiple ways we can easily reduce energy usage: Susannah Gal

Posted 7/25/18

How much of the world’s energy costs come from our buildings? Any guesses?

It’s more than 70 percent. Amazing.

Thus, if we want to reduce our trajectory of using our finite energy …

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Here are multiple ways we can easily reduce energy usage: Susannah Gal

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How much of the world’s energy costs come from our buildings? Any guesses?

It’s more than 70 percent. Amazing.

Thus, if we want to reduce our trajectory of using our finite energy resources such as fossil fuels, we need to not only consider our home costs, we also need to consider the buildings where we work and play.

I was fortunate to attend an event recently to celebrate the launch of a new network for an International Center of Excellence on High Performance Buildings.

This event was held at the Building Energy Exchange in New York City and sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. This group is very interested in high-performance buildings and created a linkage with Penn State University to support the research and education necessary to promote energy-efficient buildings around the globe.

At the Building Energy Exchange space on the sixth floor of a classic building near the World Trade Center in Manhattan, they had cool displays about how that organization had assisted in the retrofitting of different homes and business to improve their energy efficiency. This included 377 E. 10th St. in Manhattan, an affordable housing building erected in 1900.

Several organizations collaborated in the gut renovation of the building to update lighting, heating, cooling and water usage to produce a place for residents that is more comfortable, healthy and energy efficient.

Another building, at 1890 Andrews Ave., was retrofit with more efficient lighting and water fixture upgrades as well as a boiler replacement that resulted in about 25 percent energy cost savings.

These large projects at a global, state or city level are great. What can we each do on a small level? At a recent presentation by my colleague at Penn State Harrisburg, Dr. Jennifer Sliko, I learned that there is a lot we can each do.

She suggests “expanding our comfort zone” by raising our thermostat 3 or more degrees in the summer or lowering it 3 or more degrees in the winter. I know that in the winter I can put on more sweaters or add an extra blanket to my bed. Summer is harder, though I’ve learned I can tolerate a much warmer house now that I’m more aware of this.

We did get some window air conditioners, though I try to use those only when the heat is unbearable. One trick I’ve used is to take a cool shower before bed or to sleep with an ice pack. We also chose to go to a movie on some of those really hot weekend afternoons recently to get out of our hot house.

Jennifer also suggests turning off lights when you’re not in the room and using the oven to cook several things at once, rather than for just one dish. I’m conscious of that all the time at my house and so I try to bake brownies whenever I’m cooking a main dish in my oven.

Sliko also recommended trying to reduce our time in the shower or how often we flush the toilet. Those things all make a difference in reducing our “spending” of important natural resources.

She talked about eating efficiently by reducing how much meat we consume. Apparently, it takes about 16 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of edible beef. Eating the grain directly means we eat less of it, which saves energy and water usage tremendously.

Sliko suggests trying to have at least one day a week where you don’t eat any meat to increase your “eating efficiency.”

Another suggestion is to reduce your garbage. We’ve all heard of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Well, Sliko reminded us that the recycle should be the last thing we concentrate on. We should try to reduce waste by reusing things first, and then recycle.

In our household, we reduce by only buying things in modest quantities that we know we’ll use before they go bad. Milk is one of those for our household with just two people. When I wash lettuce, I save that water to use on our plants. We are reusing things by washing and reusing our plastic sandwich bags. My husband does what we call “the plastic laundry” about once a week, and it has allowed us to buy these plastic bags only once a year or so. This also reduces how much plastic garbage we generate, another important topic in the news recently.

These kinds of things have paired down our energy usage and our garbage so much that it feels like we are really taking part in helping to sustain our planet.

Lots of places online can provide you with ideas for reducing your energy and waste footprint. It also can help you reduce your costs for electricity, water and heating. I find it fun to find ways to be more efficient. Maybe you do, too.

Thus, there’s a lot we can each do to protect our planet. Your suggestions and ideas are always appreciated.

One other note: There’s another contra dance at The Event Place in Middletown from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Friday, July 27.

It’s a great way to get some exercise and meet your neighbors. I won’t be there this week, though, as I’ll be at a camp for singing and dancing in the woods of Massachusetts. I’ll tell you more about that when I return.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.