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Earth Hour imagines a planet temporarily unplugged

Consumer Reports News: March 30, 2012 02:03 PM

First there was Earth Day, now for the time-crunched there's Earth Hour, which takes place at 8:30 PM Saturday when people around the globe are asked to turn off the lights. Earth Hour began in Australia in 2007 and by last year almost two billion people in more than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries had flipped the switch to call attention to climate change, according to its sponsor the World Wildlife Fund. Whether or not you join the collective effort, there are plenty of things you can do at home to save energy and money, if not the planet.

Most Americans say they turn off the lights, television or other appliances when not in use, according to a new Harris poll. And one in two people say they replace incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescent ones, use power strips, look for Energy Star when replacing appliances and reduce hot water use by taking shorter showers or doing cold water washes.

But energy-saving behaviors start to decline as the effort and expense to make them goes up. For example, fewer than 40 percent of respondents have installed a programmable thermostat or sealed gaps in floors and walls. And fewer still have installed low-flow bathroom fixtures, energy-efficient windows or added extra insulation to attics or crawl spaces. But the lowest compliance of all involves changes that take an upfront investment like installing a tankless water heater or such renewable energy sources as solar and wind power, according to Harris.

At Consumer Reports, we've incorporated energy-efficiency into many of our tests. We let you know how much it costs to run each refrigerator for a year and how energy efficient the new dishwashers and washing machines really are. We've tested hybrid and solar water heaters and estimated their payback times. And we have extensive test results and payback times for replacement compact fluorescent (CFL), light-emitting diode (LED) and halogen lightbulbs. So if you decide to turn off your lights tomorrow, consider replacing them with energy-saving bulbs before switching them back on.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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