Monday, April 16, 2012

Cut the Lighting Bill

When a person mentions ways to save on electricity, the first thing that pops into most people's heads is to cut lighting costs.  Lighting makes up about 11% of an average households electric bill according to the US Department of Energy.  Although, a search of the Internet reveals this can be anywhere from 7 to 25% depending on the site.

Turn off the lights

The easiest way to cut back on lighting costs is to turn the lights off.  While this goes without saying, I have seen plenty of households leave the lights on in every room of the house, even though no one was in the room or there was no need to have them on because of natural light.  My wife tends to leave the lights on when a room is fully lit by sunlight and it drives me nuts.

Dim the Lights

The next best thing to turning off lights is diming them.  Many times light bulbs in light fixtures are way over powering.  A dimmer switch can be added to the light fixture and enable a person to not only lessen the amount of light from the fixture but lessen the cost of lighting.  A dimmer also allows for the lighting to be cranked up in brightness when the need arises for more light.

Use the Proper Light for the Job

Another way to handle over powering lights is to put lesser bulbs in.  Many light fixtures have a few sockets in them for lights.  Instead making them all 60 or 75 watt bulbs, consider trying a couple of 40 watts mixed in with some 60 watts.  The lighting level might still feel comfortable without all the extra light.

Another idea would be to use a 30 to 40 watt light that is close to a person instead of illuminating a whole room.  This could be while working on the computer or reading a book.  At night we read and finish surfing the Internet in bed with a single 40 watt bulb.

CFLs

When thinking about saving money on lighting, an average person thinks of using Compact Fluorescent Lights or CFLs to lower their bills.  CFLs consume about a 1/4 to a 1/3 less power than an equivalent incandescent light bulb.  For me though, that is where the benefits really stop.  My biggest complaint is they are very inconsistent in lighting from one brand to another and one model to another.  Some take a second or two to turn on, which can be annoying.  Some take 20 to 30 seconds or so to warm up.  Of course, if these are in a pantry or closet, 20 to 30 seconds is all they are on for so the whole light experience is sad.  Some CFLs also give sub par lighting.  I have found them to put a strain on my eyes and there are reports of people getting headaches from CFLs, though, I never have gotten one.  I also noticed that some CFLs get dimmer as their life wears on.

Other CFL complaints I have that are not related to light quality are that some CFLs do not handle cold weather at all.  I have bulbs die within a few weeks of being out in the cold, others I have had last a decent amount of time, but no where near the 10,000 hours as promised.  The ones that did last were flood lights.  The 10,000 hours promised by CFL manufactures is also not true if they are in a light that is turned on and off quite frequently.  Such places would be the kitchen pantry, laundry room, the bathroom or the closet.  A normal CFL cannot be dimmed.  To dim a CFL a special CFL is required which will cost more.   Finally, the big concern is if a CFL bulb breaks.  Inside the bulb is mercury a very toxic substance.  This is something to really worry about with young kids running around and fixtures that can get knocked over like lamps.

Even with all my complaints, I still use CFLs in the celling lights in rooms where the lights stay on for at least a couple of hours a day.  This is my kitchen with recessed lights, for we like to cook a lot, and the living room lights.  I also have a set in my kid's ceiling fixtures since he tends to leave the lights on all the time.

LED Lighting

LED Lighting is my favorite lighting technology, well maybe second to BMW's new laser lighting.  About 7 years ago I tried an LED bulb in a reading lamp.  It was terrible, the light was very bright but also very directional only covering upwards.  Since then I have used LED night lights, flashlights and under cabinet lights and liked them all.  Just a few months ago I bought a motion sensor light that was LED and runs on batteries for under my stairs.  LED lighting works great in these situations.  In the last two years I have seen 40 watt bulb equivalents in stores, but for the money just could not justify them.

Two weeks ago, in need of some chandelier lights I came across a deal at Costco.  I bought a set of 3, 200 lumen chandelier lights for less than $15 for the set.  These were to replace some burned out 25 watt bulbs in my dining room table chandelier.  My chandelier uses 18, 25 watt bulbs or 450 watts of lighting.  It stays on for about 4 hours a day through dinner, kids activities, breakfast, lunch and homework.  Therefore, I figured I was burning about 1800 watts a day or 15 cents of energy each day or $54 a year from this one light.   I installed three bulbs under one of the lamp shades, 3 bulbs fit under one of the shades.   Lamp shades on chandelier hides the bulbs so what they look like does not matter and the light is reflected from the shade back down unto the table.  The light from the LEDs was actually brighter, albeit a little whiter than the existing bulbs.  Amazon has bulbs that are a bit more yellower but cost twice as much.  I went back to Costco and bought 15 more bulbs on the deal.  In total I spent less than $90 on the bulbs.

Each bulb uses less than 4 watts of energy so about 1/6 the energy and should save me about $45 a year giving me a 2 year payback on the bulbs.  LED bulbs are supposed to last 15 to 20 years.  They do come with a 2 year warranty so I am saving the receipt on that one just in case.  The advantages over a CFL is that an LED can be turned on and off without issues unlike CFLs.  They do not get hot.  They come in all sorts of different shades of colors.  The lights come on right away, they do not have to warm up and the quality of lighting feels much better.  LEDs also contain no mercury or deadly toxins if they are broken.  The drawback is that like a CFL, because of their initial cost they must be put into a light that is on quite a bit, 4 to 5 hours a day.  Otherwise the payback on the light will take forever.  Another drawback is like a CFL special more expensive dim-able bulbs must be bought if wishing to dim the light.  The light pattern has gotten a lot better on LED lights.  They are getting close to an incandescent bulb.




Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Working from Home

The other day I spent the day working from home.  When working from home, I find that I can accomplish more.  This is because I am not interrupted; thus, I can focus on my projects.  Working from home also provides a more relaxing environment than a cubicle. This is really my number one reason for working from home.  I find I get very frustrated when I can't get anything done at work because of interruptions and it makes me bitter.

Besides productivity advantages, there are personal advantages that can be had from working from home.  The obvious savings is fuel costs since my daily commute is 55 miles.  Even in a Prius, I am spending about $5 a day in gas.  Though, time is the the biggest savings.  I save about an hour and a half to two hours on commuting time.  This is time I can spend working in the yard, with my family, or blogging on working from home.

If a person is interested in working from home, the first thing is to have a job where this is a possibility.  I'm assuming if you made it this far through my post then that is possible.  You might already even have a connection setup from home or a company laptop with a connection.  If not, find out if the IT department supports working from home.  Our IT department provides a VPN connection and has information on how to set it up.  See if your IT department has a similar document.  Then setup your home computer and test out the connection.

Even with technology and a job that requires little office time, companies still may be hesitant to let a person work from home.  Thus, the hardest part is convincing management that allowing a person to work from home is not a waste of money.  Management always wants to keep good employees, but sometimes there isn't budget available to them for raises and promotions.  Therefore, negotiating working from home might be a bargaining chip that benefits both parties.  Companies want keep good employees and if the employee is more productive and happier when working at home, this really benefits the company.  The key is to negotiate a trial day to work from home.  This is where the person can figure out if working from home is right for them and prove the productivity will stay the same or increase.  My recommendation is to keep track of effort so that a person can show their manager what was accomplished.  This will prove that it is better for the company to let the person work from home and also helps the person set an expectation of what they can accomplish.  Once the initial ground work is laid out, work out a schedule, maybe one day a week, or a day every other week.

Another argument to try is the green argument.  Some companies have programs where they encourage carpooling or recycling.  Working from home and not commuting is a definitely an environmental benefit.  It might take more work to convince the environmental committee at the company to loosen the policies, but it is worth a shot.

The biggest area of concern when working from home is family life distractions.  These distractions must be managed up front.  The first task is to setup an office area that is not only comfortable but also has the ability to be isolated.  I actually have a desk in our bedroom.  I can shut the door to the bedroom and no one comes in.  I have headphones where I can listen to music and a nice view out the window.  The second task is to make sure the family knows that you are at work and to treat the situation like you are not home.  My wife and kids know that when I am at home in my room that they are not to disturb me.  In return, they are happy that I am home sooner and can eat breakfast and lunch with them.  At the same time I watch the little one while the wife takes the old son to school; this is my 15 minute break and de-stresses her a bit.  Creating win-win situations with the family and the business is key.


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