Kitchen Tips for an Energy-Wise Holiday
Traditionally, the winter holidays are a time for delicious food shared with cherished company. This year, as you count your blessings, you might give a thought to the reliable energy sources that enable you to prepare those culinary delights so enjoyed by family and friends.
Today's new kitchen appliances use nearly 50 percent less energy than those built just a decade ago. Still, when holiday time rolls around, your energy bills can rise considerably, what with your stove, oven, and dishwasher running overtime, and the door to your refrigerator standing open frequently as family members search for hidden treats.
Thankfully, it's not difficult to keep added holiday energy costs to a minimum. Just follow these few simple tips from the California Energy Commission.
The turkey is traditionally stuffed early in the morning and roasted for hours. Since it's a long, slow cook, there's no need to preheat your oven, even when the recipe suggests it. This also holds true for a holiday ham. In fact, unless you're baking breads or pastries, you may not need to preheat the oven at all.
Don't open the oven door to take a peek at what's cooking inside. Instead, turn on the oven light and check the cooking status through the oven window. Opening the oven door lowers the temperature inside - by as much as 25 degrees - which increases cooking time and wastes energy.
As long as your oven is on, cook several items at the same time. Just make sure you leave enough room for the heat to circulate around each casserole and pie plate.
In an electric oven, you can turn the heat off several minutes before your food is fully cooked. As long as the oven door remains closed, enough heat will be stored inside to finish cooking your meal. The same principle applies to your electric range-top - the metal heating elements stay hot even after the electricity is turned off.
If you use glass or ceramic pans, you can turn your oven temperature down 25 degrees, and foods will cook just as quickly.
Self-cleaning ovens use less energy for normal cooking because of the higher insulation levels built into them. (However, if you use the self-cleaning feature more than once a month, you'll end up using more energy than you will save.) Consider using the self-cleaning feature immediately after using your oven, to take advantage of the residual heat.
When cooking on top of your range, match the size of the pan to the heating element. More heat will get to the pan and less will be lost to the surrounding air. Believe it or not, a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner will waste more than 40 percent of the energy!
Clean burners and reflectors provide better heating, while saving energy. If you need new reflectors, buy quality ones. The best on the market can save as much as one-third of the energy used when cooking on top of the stove.
Other Ways to Cook
Don't overlook the other cooking appliances at Thanksgiving. Fast and efficient microwave ovens use around 50 percent less energy than conventional ovens, and they don't heat up your kitchen. Consider using them to bake yams, steam your favorite fresh vegetables, or heat up leftover turkey and gravy for a midnight snack. They're especially efficient for smaller portions or items, but when it comes to the turkey or large items, your oven or stovetop are usually more efficient.
Remember your small appliances, great energy savers that can save you money all year long. Slow cookers (crock-pots) are perfect for busy families. On average, they will cook a whole meal for about 17 cents worth of electricity. Electric skillets can steam, fry, saute', stew, bake, or roast a variety of food items - and some can double as serving dishes. If you're baking or broiling small food items, a toaster oven is ideal because they use one-third the energy of a bigger oven.
If you're truly adventurous, don't confine your cooking to the kitchen. Most Californians live where the climate is mild enough to cook outdoors even in November. If you haven't tried roasting your Thanksgiving turkey on a charcoal grill, you're in for a treat. You might save a little on your utility bill, and you'll have plenty to talk about over dinner.
In addition to your stove, your refrigerator and freezer also get a real workout over the holidays. While newer refrigerators are much more energy efficient than older ones, they remain one of the largest energy consumers in your house, often accounting for as much as 15 percent of your home's total energy usage.
Help your refrigerator and freezer operate efficiently and economically by keeping the doors closed as much as possible so the cold air doesn't escape. However, leaving the door open for a longer period of time while you take out the items you need is more efficient than opening and closing it several times.
It's easy to keep your refrigerator and freezer full at Thanksgiving. It's also energy efficient, because the mass of cold items inside will help your refrigerator recover each time the door is opened. Don't cram it so full, however, that cool air can't circulate properly around your food.
One simple, fun, and cost-effective way to save energy at holiday time is to gather everyone together in the kitchen and wash and dry your dishes by hand. But don't keep a steady stream of hot water flowing, or you'll waste more energy than you'll save.
According to research, a load of dishes cleaned in a dishwasher requires 37 percent less water than washing dishes by hand. However, if you fill the wash and rinse basins instead of letting the water run, you'll use half as much water as a dishwasher.
If you opt to use the dishwasher, wash full loads only. If you must rinse your dishes before loading them, use only cold water so you're not running up your energy bill by heating water unnecessarily.
Don't forget to use the energy-saving cycles whenever possible. Dishwashers that feature air power or overnight dry settings can save up to 10 percent of your dishwashing energy costs.
Saving energy in the kitchen is a habit you should practice all year long - why not begin this Thanksgiving? Throughout the holiday season and into the New Year, you'll watch your energy bills drop even as you use less of our precious energy resources - just one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.
Making Holiday Lights Both Festive and Frugal
The bright news this holiday season is that Californians can turn on their holiday lights whenever they wish without worrying about an electricity shortage.
That wasn't the case in 2000-2001, when local utilities and state officials urged everyone to use electricity sparingly and to wait until after 7 p.m. to turn on their lighting displays.
Bright, twinkling lights - both inside and outside the house - are one of the joys and traditions of the season, but in California they consume nearly 1,000 megawatts of electricity. Fortunately, since the energy crisis that began in the winter of 2000, more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity have come online from new power plants licensed by the California Energy Commission - enough electricity to power approximately 10 million average-sized California homes.
But while there is plenty of power to go around this season, those festive little lights can still turn a once jubilant reveler into a bitter Ebenezer Scrooge when the old electricity bill rolls in. To avoid a "Bah humbug!" attitude come January, take an energy efficient look at the bulbs you're stringing on your trees and on the eaves of your home.
Did you know that those large, traditional colored bulbs you unpack year after year could be costing you a bundle? While most C7 or C9 lights use 5 to 7 watts per bulb, some of the older strings use up to 10 watts per bulb!
Consider buying new miniature lights, which use about 70 percent less energy and last much longer than the larger bulbs. If you prefer the brilliance of the larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, which use about 30 percent less energy than 7- to 10-watt bulbs. Although the new bulbs will cost money initially, you will see energy savings immediately.
To avoid accidentally leaving your lights on and running up your electric bill unnecessarily, use an automatic timer, both indoors and out. You'll remove the burden of turning the lights on and off and avoid leaving them on all night or during the daylight hours. Just make sure that the timer you use is rated to handle the total wattage of your lights.
Would you like to be the first in your neighborhood to try something new and different? Ask your lighting supplier for LED holiday bulbs, or look for them on the Internet. Now available in green, orange, gold, red, white and blue. They're shatterproof, shock resistant, safe to touch and won't burn your children's hands! They also present no fire hazard, save up to 80-90 percent of your energy costs, and are long lasting.
Don't forget that safety should play an important role in your holiday decorating. Here are a few suggestions:
- Make sure all lights you purchase contain the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, which means they meet UL safety requirements.
- While you're reading labels, be sure you're buying the right set for indoor use, outdoor use, or both.
- Before decorating, check all light sets for frayed wires, damaged sockets, or cracked insulation. If you find any defects, replace the entire set.
- All outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof. Keep electrical connections off the ground, and make sure wiring is kept clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent any risk of shock. It's also a good idea to use a ground fault circuit interrupter on each circuit. If current leaks through frayed or damaged wires, the interrupter will shut off the lights.
- Don't overload your electrical circuits. Circuits in older homes carry a maximum of 1800 watts each. Most newer homes can handle 2400 watts each.
To determine how many watts you're using, multiply the number of holiday bulbs by the number of watts per bulb. (If you're not sure of the wattage, use 10 watts per bulb just to be safe!) When you're calculating the total, don't forget to include appliances, normal lighting, and other electrical equipment already running on the same circuit.
- Remember that hot bulbs can ignite dry tree branches. To avoid disaster, keep trees well watered and keep extension cords and light strings away from the water. For safety's sake, light your tree only when you are at home and awake to enjoy it. As an extra precaution, keep a fire extinguisher handy, and be sure your home's smoke detectors have new batteries and that they're working properly.
If you're in the mood for a holiday that's old-fashioned and more energy efficient, consider decorating this year's tree with edible ornaments, like gingerbread men, candy canes, and strings of popcorn and cranberries. But stay away from burning candles on or around your tree. Although they may provide a soft, flickering light, they're a definite fire hazard, and aromatic candles have been known to cause indoor air quality problems.
And here's an unusual gift idea: since lighting is essential all year long, why not brighten someone's holiday by giving them compact fluorescent light bulbs?
Year-around, lighting can account for as much as 25 percent of a home's electrical use. You can increase the everyday lighting efficiency of someone's house - without sacrificing its lighting quality - by simply helping them replace their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. Compact fluorescents come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wattages. They provide a soft, warm light, and use up to 75 percent less energy.
At the store, compact fluorescent bulbs still have a higher price tag than incandescent bulbs, but the price has been dropping steadily as more and more people install them in their homes. The new style bulbs can quickly make up for their increased initial investment through energy savings, especially if they are used in porch lights or in other fixtures that are frequently left on. And compact fluorescents last as long as 10,000 hours - ten to twenty times longer than incandescents!
Maybe this holiday season is the time to replace an old halogen torchiere lamp with a brighter, safer, and more energy efficient compact fluorescent torchiere. Once considered the lighting of the future, some halogens use up to 20 percent less energy than incandescent lights and last anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 hours. Despite that, they are far less efficient than compact fluorescents and, because halogens burn much hotter than other lights, they may present a fire hazard. If you're using halogens, keep them at least six inches away from flammable materials.
So, no matter whether you're in competition to have the best and brightest lighting display on the block, or you're simply looking for practical gifts to give this holiday season, keep energy efficiency in mind.
It's a gift you can enjoy all year long!
This holidays is a time to be aware of some dangers that are around us.
Faulty plugs, lights and over-loaded electrical sockets could cause fires. The California Department of Consumer Affiars, reminds you to make sure you are using holiday lighting properly.
And because LED holiday lights are cool to the touch, replacing your old strings of 7-watt bulbs with LED lights can decrease the chances of home fires.
Our holiday tradition - Christmas trees - can be a hazard. The National Fire Prevention Association says Christmas trees were the cause of an estimated average of 300 reported home structure fires from 2000-2004.
An estimated 17,200 home fires started by candles were reported to public fire departments during 2004. Make sure open flames are not near drapes or flammable materials.
Home heating is the second highest cause of fires in the home, with chimneys and chimney connects accounting for the largest share of home heating fire incidents (40 percent). So, it may be a good time to have your chimney swept.
Underwriters Laboratories says consumers can cut their risk of dying in a home fire in half simply by having a smoke alarm in their homes.
So, if you don't have a smoke alarm...or if you know of someone without a smoke alarm...it would be a good holiday present.
Above all, be safe in your home and have an energy-aware and happy holiday!