Automatically Green




About: Hello, my name is Toglefritz. That’s obviously not my real name; my real name is Scott, but on the Internet I use the nom de plume, Toglefritz. I like to make things and I like to share my work with others. ...

Everyday, we hear countless ways to "go green." From changing all the light bulbs in your house to turning off the lights whenever they are not in use, to remembering to raise the thermostat temperature in the summer or lower it in the winter while remembering also to replace the filter every two months. The problem is, no one has the time, the energy or the memory to do all these things.

This Instructable will show you how to be green without so much work on the going part. You will be presented with several easy ways to conserve energy by reducing the energy used by lighting and controlling the climate of your home, and in the process, save money, all automatically. When it comes to going green, less work is sometimes better. Automation is the key.

The steps in this Instructable contain comprehensive (and a bit expansive) background information and statistics which describe the usefulness of each method to be Automatically Green. This information is also meant to illustrate the economical and environmental advantages of these methods. If this information does not interest you, skip to the last step for the instructions without so much information.

Step 1: Change the Lights

The Problem:

About 12% of the annual energy budget for the average American home is used for lighting. This equates to about 1200 kWh/year per home or about $128, just to run the lights. What is more appalling, however, is that 90% of this energy is emitted as heat instead of light. Not only does this cost the average U.S. home about $115 each year, but it also contributes heat to the house in the summer, raising air conditioning costs.

The Solution:

We have all heard it a million times, but replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent ones is an essential step in improving your home's efficiency. No energy saving habits or switching gadgets can replace the vast improvement in efficiency between incandescent and compact florescent bulbs. Compact florescent light bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. Lastly, while compact florescent light bulbs are significantly more expensive than incandescent bulbs, the energy they save more than compensates for this difference. An Energy Star compact florescent light bulb saves about $30 over its lifetime and it also helps to reduce electricity use and greenhouse gas emission. If you want to know how much money you can save by replacing your conventional light bulbs with compact florescent, take a look at this calculator developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy: Savings Calculator. Yet another way you can save by switching to compact florescent light bulbs is through special rebates which may be available in your area; visit this website to find special deals where you live: Rebates

Step 2: Automate the Lights

The second way to save money in lighting expenses is another one you have heard over and over again: turn off the lights when you leave the room. The difference here, however, will be that you wont have to, it will all be automatic. The easiest and most professional way to retrofit your home with automatic light switches is to buy motion sensitive switches. These are fairly cheap and are easy to install with minimal electrical knowledge. I recommend buying a cheap switch because it will pay for itself in energy savings more quickly, but I do not recommend buying the cheapest switch you can find because these are often very low quality and are not reliable. I recommend searching or another online shopping site to find the greatest selection.

There is one cautionary note regarding the use of motion sensitive light switches: it is generally not a good idea to use them with compact fluorescent lights. Repeatedly switching on and off any light bulb will lower its lifespan, however, compact florescent bulbs are particularly vulnerable to this effect. In fact, a compact florescence's life can be cut by 85% making the cost of replacing the bulb far higher than the savings in energy gained by turning it off. So, if you plan to install a motion sensitive light switch with compact florescent light bulbs, make sure that it is in a room that you do not walk in and out of frequently. Incandescent or other light bulbs should always be turned off when not in use however. Because incandescent light bulbs are so inefficient and cheap to replace, it is advantageous to turn off the lights whenever a room is not occupied.

A great video guide for installing motion sensitive light switches can be found here: Installation Video Instructions. If you already know to to install light switches, just remember one thing: TURN OFF THE POWER BEFORE YOU START WORKING, it could save your life, and, like the video says, "if in doubt, consult a professional."

Step 3: Automate the Climate Control

Another extremely simple, and automatic, way to save money and reduce your home's carbon "footprint," is to change your thermostat temperature. In the summer, set the temperature higher, and in the winter, set it lower. For every degree closer to the outside temperature you set your thermostat you can save 1 percent on your energy bill. You can also save about 300 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per degree Celsius.
The easiest and most effective way to manage these temperature changes throughout the day is with a programmable digital thermostat. There are hundreds of programmable thermostats on the market and many are Energy Star certified. Different models offer different features as well and obviously range in price considerably. The cheapest, simplest models cost about $25 and, if you want every bell and whistle possible, you can spend $150. An instructional video detailing how to install a new thermostat can be found here: Installing A Thermostat. The man in this video is working with the simplest of climate control systems, but if your thermostat has more than just two wires, the process is still very simple. All you have to do is connect the colored wire to the connection of the same color.

The Schedule:
Don't drop/raise the temperature of your home to drastically; it takes time to get used to the new temperate and too sudden a change will probably make you and your family uncomfortable. Instead change the temperature by one degree each week until the desired, more eco-friendly temperature is reached.

Here are the the settings recommended by Energy Star, I found this information here: Programmable Thermostat

Step 4: Summing Up

This page contains brief instructions on the automatic, energy-saving home improvements presented in the previous three steps.

1. Plain and simple, replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent bulbs. Doing so could save you $30 per bulb and at least 150 pounds of carbon dioxide. Compact florescent light bulbs are relatively expensive, but over the course of their lifetime, they more than pay for themselves. There may also be a rebate program for compact florescent light bulbs in your area; check here: Rebates

2. In high traffic rooms in your home, install motion sensitive light switches. These detect when a person enters a room and automatically turn on the lights, then when there is no one present the lights automatically turn off. Motion sensitive switches can take some time to pay off from energy savings but in the meantime you will be saving greenhouse gasses and improving your home's energy efficiency, no to mention they are super cool. Check here for a video installation guide: Installation Video Instructions. The only caveat is: do not use these switches with compact florescent light bulbs.

3. Replace your existing, outdated thermostat with a digital, programmable thermostat. Use it to automatically regulate the temperature of your home throughout the day. For every degree closer to the outside temperature your thermostat is set, you can save 1% on your energy bill. If planned correctly a programable thermostat could save 25% or more on your heating and cooling costs. It will also greatly reduce greenhouse gas emission as climate control in U.S. homes is responsible for a large proportion of the CO2 the United States as a whole emits. Look here for an instructional installation video: Installing A Thermostat.

"We must all work together in order to save the environment and the world that we live in from further change." -Dave Foreman



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    12 Discussions


    There is an annoying problem with motion-sensor lights though - if you enter a room and then sit motionless somewhere (i.e. on a computer, reading, writing, etc.) the lights go off and you have to wave your arms or move to bring them back up. This would also kill CFL's far more rapidly. Are there any sensors that work as a motion sense toggle (the first time you pass directly in front of it, the lights pop on, and they stay on until you pass by leaving the room)?

    5 replies

    you could use the clapper. personally I say train yourself to turn off the lights when you leave the room or will be gone any length of time. just keep telling yourself to do it and after maybe 10 times it will be automatic

    Heh I tried that once a few years back. It was great, until I found one annoying flaw - the clapper also responds to gunshot sounds from Half-Life 2 or similar games, and the lights flashing becomes nauseating after a while. Yes, I could have turned the volume down (headphone jack was sadly busted then though), but it was easier to train myself to always flip the switch on the way out.

    Probably made the game way more immersion and cool at first, when it's flashing from gunfire... But then again I have a strobe light, not sure why though...

    If you want a great effect, play a racing game with a strobe shooting across the screen, especially for multiplayer on one screen (seizure warning in effect of course!). If you can place it right, the time jumps make the games far more hilarious.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You know, I actually did spell that right. The lights really do blossom.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    If you are going to tell us things that "we've all heard a million times" would you please correct the spelling of fluorescent?


    4 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    A lot of people do care about spelling (to a certain extent). Fluorescent is one that a lot of people seem incapable of getting right (including retailers of cheap fluorescent lights...) Incorrect spelling can spoil an otherwise well-written piece of work. L


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    If not many people notice it, and people easily kow what it is, it isn't that bad. Although, with the cheap bulbs, your right.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    No, it isn't that bad. The problem is that when people don't notice, it propagates until you have people incorrectly labeling thousands+ of products incorrectly. Then at some point a dictionary will include it because it's commonly used. Then you find your language has become more corrupted because a few people didn't care about using it correctly years before.