Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lights Out

My apartment is pretty small, dark and airless so I have to leave the lights on in nearly every room to keep them lit sufficiently to work in them. It's not that there are no windows, but rather that the surrounding buildings block out a lot of the light most of the time. The only time they don't block out the light is around 4:30-5:30 am when the sun shines brightly just behind my husband's and my sleeping heads. Anyone who doesn't believe in daylight savings time should have to put up with all that candle power shining on them at an ungodly hour. It'll change your mind.

Because my apartment is so dark, my habit up until a month ago had been to leave the lights on in both the living room in which I actually teach and the kitchen which is directly behind me. The students walk through the kitchen to get in and out (floor plan here to clarify) and I felt it might make them uncomfortable if they looked out onto the yawning dark behind me as we spoke. Well, it's not a big space so it's more of a tiny yawn, but you may see my point.

There was also a bit of a logistical problem in terms of smoothly welcoming the student in (with the light on, of course), pouring tea or coffee as the student is seated in the adjacent room, and then having to break eye contact and interrupt preliminary chatting with the student to walk over to the entrance and turn off the light before carrying the tea into the room. Also, when the lesson was over, I'd have to again break eye contact and go turn the light back on before the student entered the kitchen. In order to avoid the feeling of being in a dark apartment and this awkward set-up, I just left the light on all the time and figured this was a sacrifice I'd have to make for doing business in my apartment just like I have to be sure to use heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer to be sure students are comfortable.

About a month ago, I decided that the environmental impact of running a light in my kitchen when no one was in there for between 40-50 hours a month was not worth the dubious benefits and I started to turn it off just after students sat down and on before they left. The situation is still a bit awkward for me, but the need to turn it on actually helps give me and excuse to get up at the end of the lesson time and head for the kitchen (to get the light) ASAP so the student can put her shoes on. This tends to have the highly desirable effect of getting them to pack up and hit the road a bit sooner and not steal quite as many extra minutes from me at the end of the lesson.

This month marked the first contiguous block of time where I could see the measure of my efforts in regards to the lights. Though my kitchen lights are fluorescent and I only use half of the strip (one tube instead of two), my electric bill went down by between 500-600 yen ($4.60-$5.50). This is a relatively insignificant amount of money saved, but it does show rather clearly that there was an appreciable amount of energy wasted in the use of just one fluorescent tube (albeit for quite a lot of total hours). Every time I forget to turn off a light after going to another room, I'll be keeping this little example in mind to motivate myself to go back out and turn it off.


ThePenguin said...

I forget which country it was - either the UK or Germany - but someone worked out that for that country, two power stations are needed just to provide power for all the domestic electronics which are in standby mode (plugged in and switched off, but still drawing small amounts of current).

That's why I keep all our stuff (and it's amazing how much accumulates) on power strips with their own on/off switches. I've never worked out how much it saves, but it must be better than nothing.

badmoodmike said...

Interesting! I don't believe that I saw the diagram from your linked entry before. Your place is quite small and cozy, kinda reminds me when I was living with my parents. I had my bedroom, a separate bath and an office and very little storage space.

You, of course, have the added challenge of having to maintain a kitchen and living area.

It gives me an appreciation for the size of my little house. I thought 820 sq. ft. was small!

I leave all the lights off when I can. I have a timer on my front porch light, and the backyard security light has a photocell. All of the lights I have are compact fluorescent, save the track lights in the living room which are halogens and don't get run much. My electric bill is still around $120 a month in winter because of the computer equipment I have running 24/7. It goes up in the heat of summer with air conditioner usage.

Thankfully I get a lot of light from outside, since the houses are not very close. My houseplants like that. :)

CMUwriter said...

I live in a one bedroom apartment, which is basically most of the top floor of a really old house. I hate to say it, but it actually makes Shari's apartment look like a broom closet. Anyway, there is a stairwell leading upstairs to my apartment, and the apartment of my upstairs neighbor. In that hallway there is a chandelier with three bulbs, and at the bottom of the stair is a porchlight and a small light inside the vestibule so you can see to unlock the inner door. I always make sure this thing is off during the night, but my neighbor always leaves it on. It is unclear who exactly pays for this light, as the house is old and the wiring is everywhere, but I have always wondered if it was attached to mine, and how much I would save if we kept them shut off.

Shari said...

Penguin: I want to do what you've done, but it's logistically difficult because of the need to either mount the strips in an accessible location, or on the floor and to make sure not too many items are on a particular fuse. Our air conditioners, for instance, need to practically be on one of 3 fuses all by themselves. There's also the problem of a lack of floor space (if they don't get mounted). I may sound like I'm making excuses, but I'm really not. There are lots of things you can't do in a small place and even the luxury of plugging everything in where it would be nice relative to the location of the appliance is one of them for me!

Mike: I think that a small house is better if you don't have kids. At the very least, heating and cooling bills are lower in a small place, though Japanese apartments are not insulated at all. I can feel air leaking in from cracks everywhere and my front door is so poorly set that daylight can be seen through the right edge when lights are off inside and it's day time outside.

I don't necessarily even mind that our apartment is so small, though it does mean that the place goes from perfectly tidy and neat to a huge mess in 10 minutes flat and it really doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility aesthetically or otherwise.

Personally, I think that big places mainly encourage people to keep a lot of stuff. However, I do wish we had more room for books, CDs and DVDs.

BTW, electricity for a place our size runs from $45 in the winter to about $115 during the hottest part of the summer. Those numbers pretty much apply to our gas bill in reverse seasonally (high in winter, low in summer) as we use gas for heating.

CMUwriter: My apartment is like a broom closet compared to a lot in the U.S.! LOL. You get used to it, of course, but it can be tiring in close quarters when you have more than one person in the place. My husband and I are in the habit of taking separate entrances in and out of the kitchen because of this. I go directly from the living room to the kitchen (and bathroom) and he goes through the bedroom to get there. This is because my computer sits right in front of the kitchen entrance to the living room and blocks the entrance enough to make it hard to get by if I'm not tight up against the desk.

Close quarters can be a pain!

Many thanks to all of your for your comments!