Working at Home Without Wasting Energy
Guest Post from Garret Stembridge
Working from home, whether you’re doing it one or two days a week or all the time, certainly has its advantages. For the most part, you can get things done on your own schedule, wear whatever is most comfortable and avoid the traffic and possibly the nasty weather that would otherwise await you on your commute to the office.
If there are downsides to setting up an office in your house, one is that staying home all day tends to run up your utility bills. Your computer, printer and other peripherals use energy, of course, but, while you are at home, the electric meter is also spinning because you’re using heat or air conditioning and maybe the television, oven, microwave and coffee maker.
You should follow some basic rules to help conserve the energy your computer and other work tools consume, but you also have the option to cut energy costs by taking advantage of government initiatives such as the Energy Star Program.
Check the Label
You probably don’t want to spend the money to buy all new electronic devices and appliances at one time, but when you replace the older models in your home, make sure they come with an Energy Star label. If you do nothing else, this will help you save a substantial amount of money on energy, according to the federal government. You’ll find a wide range of equipment with the Energy Star designation, including:
- Clothes washers;
- Heating and cooling units;
- Computer monitors;
- Desktop and laptop computers;
- Cordless phones;
- Hot water heaters.
Cutting Your Tax Bill
Choosing the most energy-efficient electronic devices and appliances is just the beginning if you are determined to control the cost of working from home. The federal government offers tax credits for people who purchase a wide range of products, and the savings can be significant. Here are some examples.
Through the end of 2013, you can score a tax credit of up to $500 toward the purchase of the following items to be used at your principal residence:
- A biomass stove that burns fuel such as agricultural crops, trees, wood or plants to heat a home or to heat water;
- A heat pump; central air conditioning unit; gas, propane or oil hot water boiler; or a natural gas, propane or oil furnace;
- Weather stripping, caulk, spray foam or other insulation;
- Metal and asphalt roofs that meet Energy Star requirements;
- Gas, oil, propane and electric water heaters;
- Energy-efficient windows, doors and skylights.
Through the end of 2016, you can earn a 30-percent tax credit for purchasing:
- A geothermal heat pump;
- A small wind turbine that converts energy from the wind into electricity for your home;
- A solar energy system used to heat water and produce electricity.
Don’t Let the Vampire Bite You
Even if you take advantage of the money-saving and energy-saving opportunities offered by the federal government, you shouldn’t ignore other ways to make your utility bills a little more bearable. The government won’t give you a tax break for using smart power strips, but they probably will save you a few dollars.
If you are using a traditional power strip, as long as your electronic equipment is plugged in, it will continue to suck up electricity – hence the term “vampire power.” A smart strip, on the other hand, senses when printers, computers, DVD players and televisions go to standby mode and cuts power to those outlets. The U.S. Energy Information Administration points out that vampire power eats up more than $3 billion a year in energy costs in the United States.
A smart power strip also guards against sudden and possibly dangerous surges in electricity caused by thunderstorms or by plugging too many devices into a single outlet and turning them on all at the same time.
Then, of course, there are the simple but useful steps you can take to get a handle on your utility bill.
- If you are working at home by yourself, buy a fan or space heater to regulate the temperature in your home office and don’t spend a lot of money heating or cooling the rest of the house.
- Open the blinds and let Mother Nature light up your office.
- Use a combination scanner/printer/fax machine rather than buying three separate, energy-hungry pieces of equipment.
- Don’t leave phone chargers plugged into the wall when you are not using them.
- Don’t block your heating and cooling vents with furniture such as file cabinets, bookshelves or your desk.
Your home office doesn’t have to batter your budget with unbearable utility costs. If you take advantage of tax breaks and keep a close watch on your energy consumption, you’ll eliminate one of the disadvantages of earning a living from the comfort of your own house.
About the Author: Garret Stembridge is part of the team at Extra Space Storage, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about sustainable practices for homes and for businesses.