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Improving Home Office Efficiency
The average household will spend more than $5,000 on energy this year to power the home and the family vehicles, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based organization. And to the surprise of many homeowners, the home office will consume a growing portion of that energy.
More than 20.7 million Americans are now working from home in some capacity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and eight out of 10 are using a computer as part of their work. Add in imaging equipment such as fax machines, copiers, scanners and printers (and often more than one of these machines), plus lighting, heating and cooling, and you can see how the energy costs for a typical home office can start to add up.
These days, as homeowners look for ways to cut back on energy usage and trim costs from the family budget, what's needed is an energy plan for the home office. By following some simple strategies, you can not only improve the efficiency of your home office and cut energy costs, but also have a positive impact on the environment.
Point of Purchase
The quest for a more efficient home office begins at the office supply or consumer electronics store. In other words, it starts at the point of purchase. When choosing computer equipment, monitors and imaging equipment, look for models that have earned Energy Star certification, which means they will use on average about half as much electricity as standard equipment.
Energy Star-qualified computers and monitors have special power-management features that will help eliminate wasted energy. When not in use, the computer and monitor will enter a sleep mode during which they will consume about 80 percent less energy than they do in full-power mode.
Buying decisions can influence energy usage in other ways, as well. For instance, a laptop computer consumes about 10 percent less energy than a desktop model while taking up less space. If you do purchase a desktop computer or already have one in your office, consider buying a flat-panel LCD display instead of a CRT, as it will use less electricity, says Jeff Zbar, an author and consultant on home-based entrepreneurship and telework. A flat-panel LCD monitor uses between 30 percent and 70 percent less energy than a 17-inch CRT, he notes. It also generates less heat than a CRT, which can help keep your office cooler in the summer, reducing air-conditioning costs, Zbar points out.
These small changes can make a big difference in energy consumption and costs, not only in the home but on the national level as well. In 2003, Energy Star-qualified office equipment saved Americans about $3.5 billion in energy costs. What's more, if Energy Star models were placed in every home office in the country, enough energy would be saved to keep 289 billion pounds of greenhouse gases out of the air.
Need more convincing? How about this interesting fact from Energy Star: Over its lifetime, Energy Star equipment, including the computer, monitor, printer and fax machine, in a single home office can save enough electricity to light the entire home for more than four years.
OK, you're convinced - so what's available? You might be surprised at the wide range of options. All major computer and peripheral manufacturers, including IBM, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Acer and Sony, offer Energy Star-qualified models.
To view a list of qualified models, log on to the Energy Star website ( http://www.energystar.gov ), click the Products link on the left, choose Office Equipment, then a specific type of product (i.e. computers or monitors) and use the Find a Product tool. Through the website you can also locate a store in your area that sells Energy Star-qualified equipment and get details about any local sales tax exemptions, tax credits or rebates that might be available if you make energy-efficiency improvements to your home.
A Better Image
The computer and monitor aren't the only energy hogs in your home office. Nationwide, approximately 275 million imaging equipment products, including fax machines, printers, scanners and copiers, consume about $3.6 billion in energy costs each year, or about 2 percent of total electricity expenditures.
Energy Star-qualified imaging equipment, which is at least 30 percent more efficient than standard models, is projected to save consumers more than $3 billion over the next five years, according to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency. Perhaps more importantly, during that time the equipment will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of more than four million cars.
Printers are often left on for long periods of time - in some cases 24 hours a day - but are used only intermittently, so low-power sleep modes during periods of inactivity can help reduce energy costs. This feature alone can cut a printer's use of electricity by up to 60 percent, according to Energy Star. It also helps the printer run cooler and last longer.
Similarly, copiers, scanners and fax machines with low-power sleep functions can cut energy usage and costs significantly. And in many cases, the cost of an Energy Star-qualified imaging product is the same as a standard model.
To trim energy usage even further, a good option is to look for an imaging device that can serve a variety of functions, such as printing, scanning and copying. It saves space and energy by consolidating a number of machines into one, and it can save you about $220 on your electricity bill over its lifetime, according to Energy Star.
Other Ways to Save
Once you've located, purchased and booted up your energy-efficient office equipment, you can use a number of additional strategies to reduce energy usage, says Yalmaz Siddiqui, environmental strategy advisor for Office Depot, headquartered in Delray Beach, Fla. He offers these energy-saving tips for homeowners:
For many of today's consumer electronics and home office products, "off -- doesn't really mean off. They are still drawing power even when you think they're not. In fact, in the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. To completely shut the machines down, you have to either unplug the equipment when it's not in use or use a surge suppressor bar with an on/off switch to completely stop the power draw. (Don't worry - the surge suppressor is still functioning even when the off switch is depressed.) The same rule applies to cell phone and battery chargers: unplug when done!
Taking a coffee or dinner break? Shut the equipment down, since it actually uses more power to keep it running than to turn it off and on again. Shut off lights too; one 100-watt light bulb left on for one hour every day consumes 36.5-kilowatt hours of energy per year.
Whenever possible, buy green office supplies, such as paper made with recycled content or printer ink in recycled cartridges. Buying one recycled ink cartridge rather than using a new plastic and metal one conserves about half a gallon of oil. Also, using both sides of paper when printing can reduce printing and paper costs, and help reduce the energy used to manufacture paper.
Finally, Siddiqui suggests homeowners consider conducting a home energy audit, especially if they are in their home office all day. This will help them locate energy drains in the home office and throughout the home. "An audit may be available free of charge or at a low cost from your local government or utility," Siddiqui points out. "It can help identify ways to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on home heating and air-conditioning." (See "The Energy Investigators" in the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue, page 42.)
Heating and Cooling
This leads to another aspect of having a home office - the heating and cooling requirements. One way to reduce cooling costs in the summer is to install energy-efficient custom window coverings to reduce glare and minimize heat damage (such as the Duette honeycomb shades from Hunter Douglas; see the Jan./Feb. 2006 issue, page 6). Also, by choosing energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights over heat-producing incandescent bulbs, you can keep the temperature in the office down during hot summer months.
But what can you do when the weather turns cold? That's when zone heating comes in, says Vince Bossany, public relations manager for Hearth & Home Technologies, based in Lakeville, Minn. "Zone heating simply means heating only the area of the home where you spend the most time. This allows a homeowner to turn down the furnace and save money" by heating the home office, or any other room of the home, only when it's in use.
Another option is to use a space heater to keep the home office comfortable while the rest of the house stays cooler - perhaps during the day, for example, when the kids are in school and it's not necessary to heat the whole house. An electrical heater or a hearth product such as the small-footprint Tiara I gas stove from Heat & Glo can easily do the trick, Bossany suggests.
In the quest for energy and cost savings, it pays to take a hard look at all the areas of your home, including the home office. By implementing some smart strategies, you can make sure your home office is as efficient as possible.
Nancy Christie frequently writes about home tech subjects for Smart HomeOwner. She's based in Youngstown, Ohio.