Q: During summertime, the deck becomes our kitchen and my wife and I spend most of our free time in the backyard. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort making the interior of our home more energy efficient, but we’re wondering if there are ways we can save energy outdoors as well?
A: The most common way to save energy during the summer is lowering your cooling costs indoors. Since you and your wife are spending a lot of time outdoors, you can certainly save energy and money by reducing your air-conditioning use inside. Setting the thermostat just a few degrees higher can make quite a difference. But to answer your main question, yes –– there are ways to save energy outdoors. Here are three:
1. Pumps and maintenance
Many of us have one or more pumps that service our yard or reside on our property. Pumps can supply water for a swimming pool, your lawn and garden or your septic system. It’s easy to let maintenance slip, which cuts the pump’s efficiency and shortens its life.
Maintaining pumps involves cleaning the filters or checking oil and belts. If you have multiple pumps and need to hire a professional for assistance, try to do all the maintenance at once to reduce the overall cost. You may also want to consider replacing older pumps with energy-efficient Energy Star-rated ones before they break down. While you’re at it, check for leaks in the water lines, which make your pumps work harder and longer.
2. Outdoor lighting
If you have security lighting, there’s a good chance you can save a little energy. Some security lights can be 500 to 1,000 watts. That’s the equivalent of 40 to 80 indoor LED bulbs –– quite a lot of energy. Adding timers, motion sensors and light sensors can reduce your bulb energy use. Plus, when you use your lights less often, your neighbors may appreciate a little less light pollution.
Switching to LEDs is another great strategy. Solar lights are also a good way to light walkways or a water feature or your deck without having to buy any electricity at all.
Using your oven can raise your kitchen’s temperature by as much as 10 degrees, increasing the need for running your air conditioner, so grilling outdoors is a great way to save energy. If you like to barbecue or grill most of your meals, you may want to consider the fuel you use. If natural gas is available, it’s usually much less expensive than propane. Natural gas is also convenient because you don’t have to refill any tanks like you would with propane. On the downside, if you don’t already have gas lines running to your patio or deck, the cost of installing them can be prohibitive.
Other fuel types like charcoal briquettes or wood take more preparation and can be fussy to work with, and charcoal grills emit three times as much carbon as gas grills.
Whichever fuel type you choose for your grill, you can save energy by barbecuing (keeping the lid closed during cooking) rather than grilling (cooking with the lid off at higher heat).
Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to [email protected] for more information.