Office of Sustainability
Energy Efficiency & Conservation - More Information

Energy efficiency means using less energy to provide the same service. For example, using an Energy Star certified refrigerator will use less energy to provide the same service that a traditional refrigerator provides, or using a compact fluorescent light-bulb to produce the same light as an incandescent while using less than one-fourth of the electricity. Efficiency improvements are often the most cost-effective methods to reduce energy use and carbon emissions; in fact, most energy-efficiency improvements pay for themselves in energy savings relatively quickly.

Saving energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants like mercury, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide. Because electricity in this region comes mostly from coal, saving energy also slows the pace of fossil fuel extraction, which can have negative impacts on water quality and wildlife habitat. According to the International Energy Agency, the world could achieve a one-third reduction in energy use by 2050 simply by improving the efficiency of buildings, industrial processes and transportation.

Buildings are one of the biggest users of energy in this country, accounting for 39% of the energy used ( site link - opens in a new window). Therefore, making homes and businesses more energy efficient presents a huge opportunity for environmental and economic benefits through energy savings. One of the first steps to making energy improvements to a building is an energy audit - an assessment of a building by a trained professional to determine how energy is being used and where building owners can get the "biggest bang for the buck."

While energy efficiency often means installing new, more efficient equipment, or materials like insulation that save energy once they are installed, energy conservation means making changes in our behaviors to use less energy. Examples include common-sense habits like turning off lights when leaving rooms, carpooling, and opening the windows or using ceiling fans instead of using air conditioning.

What is the City doing?

The City of Pittsburgh has undertaken many energy efficiency initiatives.

Energy efficiency intitiatives

  • Buildings
    The City owns nearly 300 buildings, which account for 64% of energy used by City government. In an effort to reduce energy usage, save money and make our buildings more comfortable and healthy for employees and visitors, the City has recently hired an engineering firm to complete a comprehensive energy audit of the City-County building, located downtown. The City will use a Department of Energy grant ($3.4 million) to complete the recommended retrofits. The resulting energy savings will be used to fund energy efficiency improvements to other City-owned buildings.
  • Traffic Signals
    Traffic signals and streetlights combined are responsible for 25% of energy used by the City. In summer 2008, the City replaced all traffic signal bulbs with LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), which not only save electricity and money, but also last longer, reducing the amount of outages.
  • Streetlights
    The City owns and operates nearly 40,000 streetlights, using approximately 27.5 million kWh of electricity annually and costing over $3.2 million per year. In early 2009 the City instituted an energy efficient streetlight pilot study. The goal of this project is to not only save energy and money, but to also improve the quality of light, increasing public safety and making the City more aesthetically pleasing. During the 10 month pilot installation, over 40 vendors donated three lights each to be installed on the City's South Side. Technologies include LED, induction, metal halide and high pressure sodium. Results are being used to develop specifications for new streetlights based on a combination of factors, including resident feedback, light quality, energy efficiency and maintenance costs.
  • Vending Machines
    While many of the City's vending machines are newer Energy Star models, there are steps that can be taken to retrofit existing machines to make them more energy efficient. Recently, the City installed vending machine misers on several of the refrigerated beverage machines in the City-County Building. These devices reduce the amount of energy a vending machine uses by decreasing the frequency with which the compressor runs. A study by Tufts UniversityExternal site link - opens in a new window found that vending machine electricity consumption can be cut in half with the use of a "miser". Initial measurements showed that machines with a miser installed saved $118 annually per machine.
  • Community Ball Field Lights
    The City used to purchase over 2 million kWh annually to light its sports fields. Beginning in 2006, the City began converting some of the community ball park lights to more energy efficient fixtures. The City also installed a central control system for ball field lights in 2007. When a community group reserves a field, the control system turns lights on 15 minutes before their reservation, and turns the lights off 15 minutes after the reservation. This project saved 130,000 kWh in its first year, equivalent to 101 tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent.
What can you do?

There are many things that you can do to make your home or business more energy efficient, ranging from cheap and simple adjustments, to major, long-term investments.

Home Energy Efficiency Tips

Free changes that save money

  • Turn your water heater temperature down to 120°F.
  • Set your thermostat to 68°F or less in the winter when you are home and 55°F when in bed or away.
  • Turn your lights off when you leave the room.
  • Use the energy-saving setting on your refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.
  • Hang-dry or air-dry your clothes when possible.
  • Avoid wasting hot or cold water when possible.
  • Close window shades in the summer during sunny days, and after dark in the winter.
  • Lay an old blanket, rug, or towel along the bottom of a drafty door.
  • Close heating vents in unused rooms.
  • Clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator once a year.

Cheap and easy changes

  • Install water-saving showerheads and faucets, which saves energy by reducing the amount of hot water used.
  • Clean or change your heating unit and cooling unit air filters when dirty, or at least every 3 months.
  • Install a programmable thermostat.
  • Install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) in the lighting fixtures that you use the most.
  • Install an insulated water heater wrap.
  • Replace and repair broken window panes.
  • Install insulation on hot water pipes.

More extensive measures

  • Have a home energy audit completed.
  • Seal all leaks identified by the audit.
  • Have your cooling and heating systems tuned up every couple of years.
  • Insulate and seal your heating and cooling ducts.
  • Insulate hot water pipes in unheated areas.
  • Install insulating storm windows and put insulating shades on windows

Large-scale home improvements

  • Home insulation is assigned an "R" rating. The higher the R rating, the better the insulation value.
  • Insulate your home's foundation to below the frost line with R-19 insulation or higher.
  • Insulate the floor above unheated crawlspaces with R-19 insulation or higher.
  • Increase your attic insulation to R-50.
  • Add wall insulation. It can be more difficult and expensive than other upgrades, but can be cost-effective.
  • If outside lights are on more than a few hours a night, install daylight or motion sensors.
  • Upgrade your furnace, water heater, refrigerator, air conditioners, and boiler to high efficiency models.
  • Upgrade to high-insulating windows.
  • Install removable awnings over windows that overheat your home in the summer.
  • Plant a deciduous shade tree in front of your largest south- and west-facing windows.

If you are a renter, talk to your landlord about making some of the above improvements. This can help lower utility costs and will increase the value of their property.

Business Tips

Most of the efficiency changes for homes can also be applied to businesses. That said there are many special considerations that business owners should take into account. For access to a local sustainable business network, as well as more detailed descriptions of business efficiency measures, please check out:


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