Does your father still use that fancy fishing rod you got him last spring? Did your significant other like the new watch, and that witty custom engraving? Do you enjoy working on your new 4K monitor, sharp enough to slice through a medium rare steak?
These might be the perks and gifts you could have afforded, had you paid more attention to power efficiency in your home offices. While it’s true that Toptal’s goal is to screen and select the top 3% of freelance software engineers, it’s also true that many remote developers overlook being power efficient. Also, we don’t exactly have a corporate headquarters with fancy plaques, reserved parking, and corner offices for top brass.
Most of us work from home, or from our own offices – most of us pay our own bills.
Of course, most freelancers didn’t start off that way. About 15 years ago, I was sweating and freezing at the same time as I was overseeing a green screen shoot in a cramped studio. There were a couple of dozen kilowatts worth of lighting and other equipment and the AC was on full blast. But it wasn’t enough, because the studio was like a sauna from the waist up and a fridge from the waist down. The AC couldn’t keep up and all the cold air just sank to the floor in seconds. It went on for days, and my employers weren’t too happy to see the damage at the end of the month. Our makeup artist almost ran out of supplies too.
But I wasn’t paying the electric bill, the company was.
Granted, this is a drastic example and most remote workers don’t burn hundreds of kilowatts of power per week, but saving a few dozen watts every hour can make a big difference at the end of the year. So, if you want to save a few hundred dollars or more and use them to treat your loved ones or yourself to something nice (rather than burning dead dinosaurs for fuel), keep reading.
Obvious Home Office Power Efficiency Tips
Let’s start with some more or less obvious tips. I won’t waste much of your time with the basics. Anyone can Google “home office power saving” and come up with loads of different guides, but I’ll save you the trouble and list the most important points:
- Use power efficient lighting
- Set your thermostat correctly (if available)
- Use air conditioning unit for heating when possible
- Check your insulation
- Don’t forget to turn off lights and hardware
- Select the right hardware and set it up for efficiency
- Use good power strips, or smart sockets
Let’s take a closer look at these points, with an emphasis on the needs of the average Toptaler.
Power Efficient Home Office Lighting
Lighting is a good place to start. New bulbs are easy to retrofit, and high quality LED lighting is available around the world and on many e-commerce sites with worldwide shipping.
Traditional incandescent lighting is dead, and has been replaced by CCFL and LED lighting. Halogens are still used, but they can’t keep up with LEDs in terms of efficiency. Basically, you should focus on LED bulbs or modern fluorescent tubes. Both are available in a range of different color temperatures, so if you’re a “cool white” person like myself you should have no trouble finding something to match your needs – just make sure to check the Kelvin temperature rating and find the right one.
Since we cater to a tech savvy audience, we should also mention connected LED RGB bulbs. Philips pioneered the concept a few years ago with its Hue LED lighting range, and cheaper alternatives are starting to show up as well. These solutions allow you to change the color temperature and intensity with just a few taps on your mobile, so they are ideal for people whose living room doubles as their office. They allow you to work under daylight or cool white light, then switch to low intensity warm light when you unwind and get in the sofa to watch TV.
Heating and Cooling Your Home Offices
If you happen to have a big home, this may be a big item on your power efficiency list. In case you are used to heading out to the office and coming back home 10 hours later, you’ve probably set your heating and air conditioning accordingly. But what happens when you start working from home?
If you have central aircon and heating, the most obvious approach would be to keep everything on because you don’t head out for work anymore – but this may prove very expensive in the long run. If you live in a studio apartment, you don’t have much choice, but if you’re in a house you do.
While you are technically still at home, you don’t have to heat or cool every single room just because you’re working in your home office. You need to focus on one part of your home and that’s it – don’t bother with the rest and treat it as if you were out. Of course, if you have kids or share your home with other people, this is not an option.
You can try to maximize heating efficiency by double-checking insulation in your home office, maybe even investing a small extra compared to the rest of your home, because that’s where you will be spending most of your time. You can also consider using small space heaters and portable fans to cut costs when it’s not necessary to heat or cool your whole home. Depending on the local climate, air conditioning can also be a significant expense during the summer. If you install a standalone AC unit in your home office, you can use it to efficiently cool down just one room without wasting power on the rest of your home. Modern inverter air conditioners deliver exceptional efficiency, and in addition to cooling they are also the most efficient way of heating your office, provided the temperature difference isn’t too big (this really depends on your location).
Also, if you happen to live in a warm climate and use air conditioning several months a year, you also need to take into account heat generated by all hardware in your office and heat generated by yourself. I am not going to quote Morpheus from The Matrix, because his BTU figures were a bit off and we’re looking for watts, but the average person dissipates more than 100W of heat an hour while sitting. Depending on what you do, your computer and monitor could use 100W to 500W, inefficient lighting 50W or more, and so on.
In a warm climate, all this extra heat has to be removed via ventilation or air conditioning. You will pay for each wasted watt.
This wouldn’t be the Toptal blog if we didn’t mention some geekier alternatives as well, so we will mention smart tech designed to shave off a few pennies from your energy bill. The Nest thermostat is probably the best known solution out there. Home automation is the next big thing, and we will undoubtedly see a lot more connected thermostats and all sorts of clever smart home appliances that will save more energy.
Nest claims its thermostat will pay for itself in about two years, assuming it’s installed in an average American home with a programmable thermostat. In any case, Nest is just a sign of things to come. While smart technology can’t make up for efficient heating systems and good insulation, in some cases it could cut your heating bill by a few percent (and we are talking about relatively big bills).
Of course, the easiest way to keep heating costs down is to drop the temperature, but I am not going to advocate that you freeze just to save a few bucks. Setting a sedentary reminder on a smart device is a good alternative, plus it’s good for your health. Instead of sitting behind your desk for 2-3 hours in one go, make sure to take short breaks every 45-60 minutes or so. If you’re working from home, you can use this time to do some basic chores. You don’t have to exercise, but taking the trash out, doing the dishes, or something along those lines should be enough to get your blood pumping so you won’t feel nearly as cold. Plus, it’s good for your eyes, spine, and cardiovascular system.
Another geeky way of boosting power efficiency comes from Elon Musk’s Tesla. The electric car maker recently announced Powerwall, a massive lithium-ion battery pack designed for homes. It is supposed to store energy during “peak solar” and allow homeowners to reuse it when the sun goes down.
The idea is not entirely new, a similar approach has been used by power companies for decades. For example, power companies use pumped-storage hydroelectric plants to store power during the night and reuse it during the day. Powerwall allows the individual homeowner to store power in pretty much the same way. It’s not just about solar. In many cases utility companies offer better rates during the night, and sell more expensive electricity during peak hours.
The Tesla Powerwall is set to ship later this year, with prices starting at $3000. The price may be a problem, especially if you need to replace the batteries every few years. Another issue may be the whole peak rate angle – if everyone decided to use such solutions, the concept of peak rates would probably disappear altogether, as home power storage would make demand flat around the clock. Economy of scale is another question. As the world moves to sustainable power generation, using solar and wind power, we will need more power storage options. Utilities will be able to create them at a much bigger scale – you can store a lot more energy in an artificial lake than a bunch of expensive lithium ion batteries that have to be replaced every 5-10 years.
This article originally appeared on the Toptal website