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Light Switches

In June of 1752, Benjamin Franklin and his son, William, conducted the famous kite-in-a-thunderstorm experiment to demonstrate the relationship between lightning and electricity. By attaching the kite to a Leyden jar, which was an early type of battery invented seven years earlier, they attempted to collect “electric fire” to be discharged at a later time.

Fifteen years prior, while writing under the heading, “Necessary Hints to Those That Would Be Rich,” in “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” Franklin wrote, “A penny saved is twopence dear,” which as we know translates to, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Had the order of these two events been reversed, might he have written, “A kilowatt-hour saved is a kilowatt-hour earned”?

Though unlikely he would have, this modified phrase demonstrates one of the simplest energy-saving strategies: When a light is no longer needed, switch it “off.” Unfortunately, it is one of the most overlooked efficiency opportunities in our daily lives. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, the average single-family home has 85 lights. With so many, it is easy to see how one or more of these opportunities are often overlooked.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to manage this problem: Change the switch! Rather than relying on yourself or your family members to remember to turn lights off by flipping the toggle switch on the wall, install a switch that automatically turns lights, fans, or other electrical loads off when they are no longer needed.

In the bathrooms, change out the standard switch to the fan with a timer switch. While bathroom fans are essential for removing excess humidity, they often run long after bathing is complete. A timer switch ensures enough run-time but stops the unnecessary removal of conditioned air that your furnace or air conditioner will need to make more of.

Occupancy sensor switches are a great way to illuminate a room without flicking the switch. Occupancy sensors use passive infrared (PIR) and/or ultrasonic sensors to detect the presence or absence of occupants in a space. PIR detects occupants’ presence by sensing the difference between heat emitted by moving people and background heat. Ultrasonic sensors detect the presence of people by sending ultrasonic sound waves into space and measuring the speed at which they return. They look for frequency changes caused by a moving person. If no one is detected in a room after a pre-set period of time, the switch automatically turns the lights off.

A relative of the occupancy sensor switch is the vacancy sensor switch. Unlike an occupancy sensor, a person must manually turn the lights on. But when no one in the room is detected, a vacancy sensor switches the lights off just like an occupancy sensor. These work especially well in teenagers’ bedrooms, as I have found my daughters very capable of turning these lights “on” but seldom “off.”

A third option you may consider is a smart switch. Most smart switch options use either Wi-Fi or ZigBee communications and pair directly with your home computer network or smartphone. Many smart switches offer built-in smart dimming capabilities and operation scheduling and can be paired with motion-, occupancy- and photo-sensors. As home automation becomes ever-more desired, smart switches are becoming popular in newly constructed homes.

Your local utility wants to help you make the best choices to shine a light on these powerful subjects! This includes helping you make the most of the energy you use throughout the year. For more ideas on how you can make your home or business EnergyWiseSM, contact your local utility for more information.

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