Workin’ it From Home: Conserving your energy.

Workin’ it From Home: Conserving your energy.

WFH: Workin’ it From Home! This series is about supporting our environmental efforts at work by taking sustainable actions at home. Through interviews with members of the Making Moves community, we’ll learn to:

» Host zero-waste events.

» Produce pollinator-friendly yards.

» Lower our energy consumption.

» Reduce food waste.

Conserving your energy.

The other day, I drove by a house with five window A/C units laid out on the lawn, which the homeowners were preparing to install. It was a striking visual reminder that hotter days are ahead, which are likely to be the hottest on record (again), and how much energy we use to keep us cool.

We rely heavily on energy to support our lifestyles, which makes reducing energy consumption at home a challenging behavior change goal. As Larissa states in her first response below, “Let’s be honest. We want to be comfortable in our homes.”

Is it possible to be comfy and sustainable??? Let’s find out!

To discuss all things energy, I invited Larissa Johnson, the Residential Energy Program Manager for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection – and a passionate Energy Edutainer!  – to share her top tips and resources for lowering our wattage at home.

Hi Larissa! I’m glad you’re here to energize us about how we can reduce energy use at home. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have spent all or part of the week working from home. Has this societal change shifted the attention or conversation on energy usage at home?

It is a pleasure to be here to talk about all things energy. I absolutely love talking about it because it is such an integral part of our lives. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to cook and store our food, wash and iron our clothes (and bodies), and keep our homes comfortable.

That said, the average American spends 8 minutes a year interacting with their utility bill, which is usually the only time they are thinking about energy consumption. Unfortunately, even with the pandemic, that hasn’t changed much. People realize they are using more energy because they spend more time in their homes and see the increase in their bills, but that hasn’t had a direct correlation to making changes or taking action to use less energy.

Let’s be honest. We want to be comfortable in our homes, and if that means keeping the thermostat at 72 in the winter (even though the recommendation is 68), then people are still doing that. Even though that minor four-degree increase could increase their bills by 12% (for every degree, multiply by 3%), people still take today’s comfort over tomorrow’s high utility bill.

You wrote this article about electrifying everything in our home. Why is “going electric” important to do, and how do we get started on this journey?

Going electric is important because 60% of our electricity in the country still comes from burning fossil fuels that have a direct impact on our air quality and climate. We want to transition away from burning fossil fuels. So actually, the most important thing we can all do is use less energy (conserve), make sure we are switching to the most energy-efficient appliances and items (like lightbulbs), and ensure our homes are properly insulated (weatherization).

Once we do all of those things, we are well on our way to using less energy in our homes. After that has been done, we can start talking about electrification. One term you may hear when talking about electrification is “heavy up,” which is about upgrading our electrical panels. Depending on how efficient we are, we may or may not have to do this, so I highly recommend taking the first three steps prior to electrifying appliances in the home.

If you had to pick one thing that everyone should electrify in their homes to have a positive impact on the planet (assuming budget isn’t an issue), what would it be?

Since heating and cooling our homes account for almost half of our utility bill and because you said that money wasn’t an issue, I would highly recommend that people upgrade to a heat pump.

Heat pumps are super energy efficient and take the place of traditional air conditioners and home heating systems (like a furnace or boiler). Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one place to another rather than creating it. And there is money from the Inflation Reduction Act that can help people make the transition easier!

Will electrifying our homes help us save money, or does it take a long time to see the financial benefits of making the switch?

Electrifying your home is sure to bring savings not just in terms of dollars but also the health implications that are connected to gas powered stoves. If people are looking for ways to keep money in their pockets – I would start with conservation and weatherization.

Many states have programs that provide homeowners with home energy audits, so that would be the first thing I would do if I wanted to see the number on my utility bill go down. And, of course, there will be long-term benefits to using less energy and to switching to electrification, but we won’t see those overnight.

Of the electric appliances we already have in our homes, like TVs, computers, refrigerators, etc., what tends to suck up the most energy, and is there a way to reduce it? (Or, how can we figure out what uses the most energy in our home?)

I love this question because everything that is plugged in is drawing energy unless it is connected to an outlet that has an on/off switch. Because of that, we want to make sure that we are using energy wisely so we don’t have energy vampires.

In Montgomery County, we have created forms called How Much Does It Cost to show people how much appliances cost per month. Depending on the cost per kWh in your area, you can use our estimates to determine how much it would cost you.

In terms of appliances, here are my top three picks for big-time energy users:

  1. Heating and Cooling—Remember to monitor your thermostat. Depending on where you live, the utility companies make recommendations for where your thermostat should be set each season. I would follow that recommendation as closely as possible because deviations mean an increase in your utility bill.

  2. Refrigerator – This is plugged in ALL the time please do NOT unplug it but get yourself a refrigerator thermometer to help regulate the temperature – or if you buy an ENERGY STAR refrigerator, they will tell you the temperature. But most of us have a refrigerator with a dial that says either “cold, colder, coldest” or “1-5,” so we don’t know the exact temperature. And if we are running the appliance too cold, we are spending more money on it. So to ensure it is as efficient as possible, it should be between 35-38 degrees F, and here are some more tips.

  3. Microwave/Cable box—Believe it or not, these two items have something in common—they both tell time! Although we do not use these items all day, every day, they are always telling the time, so I recommend turning off that feature if you can. It will help lower your costs.

In addition to changing appliances and energy sources, what habits can we adopt to reduce the amount of energy we use overall?

There are so many things that we can do to use less energy in our homes. Take inventory of how you use energy in one day or even a week, and then see where you can cut back.

Do you take a shower every day? If so, could you shorten those showers to five minutes instead of ten? Water is one of those “double whammies,” as I like to call them, because you usually have to pay for the water, and then we have to pay to heat the water, so being more conscious of how we are using it goes a long way.

Planning is a good way to use less energy. Whether it’s planning your meals so you spend less time in front of an open refrigerator door OR planning your trips for errands, you can find ways to use your time more efficiently and, in turn, you will most likely use less energy overall.

How can we help push for green energy sources locally and nationally?

I hope this doesn’t seem like it is coming out of left field but VOTE!!! Voting is one of the best ways to help push for green energy locally and nationally because policies and laws are being made by elected officials and they are determining the energy landscape in your area.

This is going to sound redundant but USE LESS energy – that is also something we all have the ability to do – make sure your home is energy efficient and sealed properly.

  1. If you can, buy clean or green power either through a utility company or use a service like Green-e, which helps verify which companies are actually providing residents with clean energy.

  2. Or, if there is Community Solar in your area, subscribe to a project, and you will help bring more solar energy to the grid.

  3. And when possible, install solar panels on your roof (or on your land), join a solar co-op,  or install a geothermal system.

There are so many options to choose from. Remember that we vote not only during elections but also every time we make a purchase. We are voting with our dollars, so spend wisely!

Where can we get additional information and resources on reducing energy consumption at home?

There are so many places to get information. My go-to for all things energy is the website I helped develop called Montgomery Energy Connection. Although it is tailored for Montgomery County, Maryland residents, most of the information is applicable regardless of where you live; it’s just that the programs and incentives may not be available.

Believe it or not, your utility company probably has programs or a marketplace to help you lower your bills, so look at those inserts that come in the mail! A company called OPower (now owned by Oracle) works with utility companies to send you letters about how you perform compared to your neighbors – you may have seen those!

Of course, there is the federal government. There are tons of resources out there, like,, and Don’t be afraid to contact your municipality or state government to find out what programs they may have available.


Learn more about Larissa’s Energy Edutainment work here. Members of the Making Moves community had the pleasure of participating in Larissa’s Formula for Fun sessions a few years ago. Highly recommended!

Next up! Reduce food waste at home before it heads to the compost bin.