With the coronavirus pandemic forcing millions of people across the world to work from home, residential energy usage is on the rise. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Texas electricity providers are seeing the truth of that reflected in their customers’ usage while working from home.
“About 33,000 Austin residents received emails last week warning that they’ve used significantly more electricity in recent days, which will likely mean a higher bill at the end of the month,” an Austin Energy spokesperson told the Statesman.
How can you avoid the same fate? Set yourself up for success with a few easy tips to make sure the new work-from-home normal doesn’t break your energy budget.
While it might be fun to stare at the flurry of paradisiacal landscapes or cute animal pictures flitting across your computer monitor, ditching the screensaver is a good first step to energy-savviness.
Screensavers were originally invented to stop monitors from displaying the same image for too long – and burning a “ghost image” into the screen. But that doesn’t happen anymore, and running a screensaver actually wastes energy.
Better to set your computer to automatically power off when you’re inactive. You’re probably busy looking at a puppy in pajamas on your phone anyway.
When you work from home you get the added benefit of being in control of your workspace temperature. Instead of turning into an icicle at the office, you can be an icicle in the comfort of your own home!
Just kidding. But you should try not to touch the thermostat too often or too heavily condition your space. The perfect temperature varies by location, but 78 degrees is a good target in warmer weather. When it’s cooler, try 68 degrees instead.
Ceiling fans can help lower that temperature further – by about 4 degrees. Just make sure to turn the fan off when you leave the room or you’ll be defeating the purpose (say it with us: fans cool people, not rooms).
Some reports say paying to attention to your thermostat setting could save you 6-8 percent on your next bill. This is also the perfect excuse to break out those fuzzy socks or flamingo shorts you could never wear to the office. Just remember not to stand up during your next video call.
The microwave is the most energy-efficient appliance in your kitchen, which means you should use it for meals as much as you can.
If you would usually meal prep for work in the office, stick with it when working from home. Batch cooking with the oven once or twice per week is a lot more sustainable than using it every day. That goes for time management too, so you can spend less of your workday figuring out what to eat for lunch.
One of the downfalls to working from home is that it all seems to blend together – the meetings, the meals, the days (what even is the weekend?) – but this tip can help control that and save you money.
A study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explained that electronics in sleep mode account for 23 percent of your energy use at home.
“Although we’ve known about the problem for years, idle load consumption continues to increase. Previous studies have estimated that it represents 10, or at most 20, percent of home-energy use,” the NRDC reported.
Instead, save that quarter of your energy bill by just turning your electronics off when you’re done. You can do this for each one or get a power strip and switch them all off at once.
What’s that? Unplug your computer?! That just might help you stop answering emails after hours, too.
Work from home got you feeling low? Take advantage of the natural lighting in your home for financial and emotional savings.
Using sunlight to power your ability to see your notebook means you don’t need to turn on the lights, and it’s good for your mental and physical health. You’re not stuck in a cubicle anymore, so try to set up your work area in front of a window.
Enjoy the view of your neighbor struggling to push their lawnmower and say hello to lower energy usage and lower blood pressure – something we could all use right now.
But the most important tip to take to heart? Don’t disconnect completely. Your energy use may go up but do what you can to stay in touch with the people you care about. It is likely that the extra expense will even out.
Being at home more often could add up to an extra $100 in energy costs per month, according to Quartz. However, there many other expenses that aren’t happening right now, such as eating out and commuting.
“There are some people for whom that exceeds commuting costs, but I suspect for the vast majority of people, what they’re saving on and the commuting cost is greater than what it is costing them in extra energy costs,” said energy economist Severin Bornstein in the Quartz report.
If you’re worried about how much you’re spending on energy, many Texas providers are offering flexible payment options. The Public Utility Commission has also established an energy bill emergency fund. If your energy bill is still out of control, consider switching to a different plan that better fits your new needs.
Jenna is a writer covering the environment and energy industry. She is a Massachusetts native and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and French.