Make holidays merry and energy efficient 

By Shaina Kilcone, Kate McKeown and Louisa Yanes in the Anchorage Daily News:  The winter holidays bring great cheer, great food and greater utility bills. Holiday cooking, festive lights and inefficient appliances all contribute to rising electric bills. Alaskans already pay some of the highest energy costs in the United States and use on average 40 percent more electricity in the winter months than in the summer. But before you say “bah, humbug,” check out some of these simple holidays tricks to use your energy more efficiently and give yourself the gift of lowered energy bills this season.

We know you have already checked your list twice — your grocery list, that is. What holiday fete is complete without a sumptuous spread and what better place to start seeing energy savings than in your kitchen. When using your oven, put in as many dishes as possible, since an almost empty oven requires the same amount of energy as a full one.

Resist sneaking a peek at those gingerbread cookies. Every time you open the door, the oven loses up to 25 degrees, which increases cooking time and wastes energy. Also, using glass or ceramic pans allows you to decrease the suggested recipe temperature by 25 degrees. When using the range, make sure to use lids and match the size of your pan to the heating element or gas flame. Using a smaller pan than your element means you are just heating open air.

Don’t underestimate your microwave. Although grandma may disapprove, microwaves use about half the energy required by a conventional oven. At the end of the night, remember to start your dishwasher only if you have a full load, which shouldn’t be a problem given the holiday feast. When your guests arrive, turn down the thermostat. The extra bodies, the baking and the snappy holiday sweater will warm the space more than expected. For every degree you lower the thermostat you save about 2 percent on your heating bill, which is significant in Alaska since heating is the largest part of our energy bills.

Go a step further and add a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats allow you to set a heating schedule in your home so you don’t have to remember to adjust the heat. According to Energy Star, a programmable thermostat can help a family save up to $180 a year when used correctly.

Of course, Thanksgiving is just the kickoff to the holiday season. Next come the festive lights and other holiday decorations. When choosing holiday lights, the choice is simple — use LED (light emitting diode) lights. They are cool-burning, which means they are not a fire hazard, and can save you up to 90 percent on decorative lighting energy costs.

Maximize those savings by plugging lighting into power strips to make it easy to turn them off when you are not using them. Using timers and photo cells for outside lighting can also help reduce power usage. Last, to make sure you are not haunted by the ghost of energy bills to come, consider adding energy efficient appliances to your wish list.

Look for the Energy Star label, which indicates that the product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy Star ratings have already helped Americans save nearly $18 billion on their utility bills in 2010. For example, Energy Star-rated televisions are on average 40 percent more energy efficient than standard models, meaning you will have even more to be thankful for when watching next year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on your new flat screen.

By following these simple tricks, you can enjoy seasonally low energy bills without sacrificing any of that holiday cheer. So this year, when the stockings are taken down from the chimney with care and the last of the fruitcake is … taken care of, lift a well-deserved glass of eggnog to yourself. Not only were you the hostess with the mostest, but you were also the hostess with the most energy savings.

Shaina Kilcoyne is energy efficiency director for the Renewable Alaska Energy Project (REAP). Kate McKeown is clean energy coordinator for the Alaska Conservation Alliance. Louisa Yanes is energy organizer for the Alaska Center for the Environment.

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