By Erin Cooke
Tax time is upon us, which for my family means not just making sure the 1099s are in order, but also revisiting household spending over this last calendar year.
As we perused Mint.com for budget peaks, it hit me that what is overlooked while working towards spending resolutions are household expenses assumed to be static and out of our control (i.e. cable, utilities).
The truth is that these expenses may be the greatest source of unnecessary spending in our homes. Fear not! The next few paragraphs will not propose your family’s transition to quadruple-sweater-layered winters, but rather offer a literal toolkit of small changes that can add up to big savings for your Cupertino household.
Getting started on energy and water conservation projects can be daunting and the easy fix for some is to look to the skies for the catchall solution: an alternative energy source. Proceed with caution before investing in an expensive solar array, as cost-effective efficiency solutions speckle your home like a grown-up Easter egg hunt (see this McKinsey Study).
While lacking the “wow” factor of a rack of silicon reflecting from your rooftop, focusing on energy efficiency will not only reduce your home’s energy demand but allow you to “right-size” a future solar system that will cost less and offset more of your energy bill. Plus prioritizing efficiency allows you to start flaunting an awesome new vocabulary term: the negawatt!
Negawatts represent an amount of energy saved through conservation or increased efficiency (Wikipedia). And boy are your household appliances, windows, and HVAC system scared of negawatts, the focus of Cupertino’s energy efficiency program run in partnership with local nonprofit Acterra.
I could spend the next paragraph or two outlining tips to target your home’s energy and water hogs, but the Cliff’s notes, single-word, version is way more fun: Green@Home. Green@Home comes packaged in three forms in our City:
1. A HouseCall: Community volunteers arrive at your doorstep to help with simple space heating (41 percent of energy consumed), appliance and electronic (31 percent), and water heating (20 percent) retrofits. Participants can save up to $200 per baseline year and more with energy (~5 percent) and water (21.5 percent SJ Water Co.) rates on the rise this year and into the foreseeable future. Get started here.
2. A Do-It-Yourself Toolkit: Available to checkout at the Cupertino Library, which includes FREE equipment and an easy “how-to” installation guide. Learn more here.
3. A Growing Greener Blocks: Scales household conservation to the neighborhood level. The City helps coordinate conservation-themed block parties, a neighborhood energy sweep, and a friendly neighbor-to-neighbor competition (think “my house saved more than yours did” bragging rights)! Learn more here.
As your family sets this year’s budget, consider using our Green@Home “Rubik’s Cube” of savings possibilities to help solve your home’s utility cost puzzle. Set a date to get started in sourcing your home’s negawatts, Earth Day or Earth Hour are right around the corner, after all!
Erin Cooke is the City of Cupertino’s Sustainability Manager, working from the Office of the City Manager to help residents, schools, nonprofits and businesses conserve resources, cut costs, and contribute to a healthy community. She’s also an adjunct faculty member at the Presidio Graduate School, an alternative commuter, avid DIYer, a CSA eater, and a new guest contributor to the Cupertino Patch. Learn more about her here.