Be smart about cooking, cleaning, and using water

[singlepic id=92 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=right]By Bill Bullock

This is the second in a series of articles on energy use and practical information to help a resident of Memphis make wise decisions regarding ways to lower energy consumption and overall utility costs.

Last month’s article discussed how to reduce energy usage and save money when it comes to heating your home. This month’s focus is on cooking, cleaning, and water use.

Water Heating

Most of us heat our water with a natural gas–fired tank unit. If you are using electricity for this, you are spending about twice as much as the rest of us to heat water. Some of the energy used to heat the water is lost through the tank wall (standby losses), so more efficient units have not only more efficient combustion, but thicker insulation. Considering an “on-demand” model? While this will eliminate standby losses, it is not necessarily a wise decision for most of us due to water flow issues and natural gas and water infrastructure costs. See life cycle costing of water heaters at: Tip: Reduce the temperature to around 120 degrees or lower—the lower the temperature, the lower the standby losses. Additionally, turn it to vacation setting when away from the house for several days (mark the previous setting with a marker so you can return to your optimal temperature when you get home). If you have to mix in much cold water when you are taking a shower, it’s probably too hot. If you have an electric water heater, plan to convert it to natural gas. When your water heater fails, you are often more focused on quick repair than energy efficiency. Do some homework now so you know what model to get. For most of us, choose either a high efficiency gas storage unit or a natural gas condensing unit 
(if you can find one).

Clothes Washing

Most of the energy used in washing clothes is not from the washing machine, but it is the energy used to heat the water and dry the clothes. But don’t discount the efficiency of a washing machine. More efficient models use less water to wash, and they remove more water in the spin cycle. Tip: Use cold water whenever you can. When replacing a washing machine, consider front loaders that typically use less water and do a better job of removing water. Use a solar clothes dryer (aka, clothesline) when feasible.


While cooking uses a lot of energy to create heat, burners and ovens are usually on for such a short time that they are generally not contributing significantly to most of our utility bills. Tip: In summer, reduce the load on your air conditioner and use the vent hood to exhaust hot air from over your stove. In winter, use the hood less and take advantage of the heat, humidity, and aroma. Consider using timers to automatically shut off the oven or at least remind you it’s on. This can save some energy, salvage a pot roast, and give more life to your smoke detector batteries.


Like clothes washing, the energy here is not so much the appliance itself but the energy used to heat water. When washing or rinsing in the sink, don’t let the water run. Put some water in the sink and wash, then rinse. If you use a dishwasher, run it only with full loads. Use water sparingly to rinse dishes before you load the dishwasher. Forego rinsing and see how good a job it does without—you may be surprised.

Water Use

Other activities that use water include bathrooms and irrigation. Modern toilets use a fraction of the water old ones use, and there are models that do well with one flush. If your toilet leaks (you can usually hear this), you are sending water and money down the drain. If it takes a long time for hot water to get to your shower or sink when you first call for it, you are likely wasting a lot of water. Summertime irrigation of lawns and trees can account for a lot of our annual water use. And when you use water, you are also charged a sewer fee that is proportional to use. Tip: Collect the water running when waiting for the hot water to get there and use it for something else like watering plants or pets. If your toilet is leaking, fix it. Often the culprit is a leaking flapper that you can replace yourself. Fix leaky faucets as well, especially hot water drips. Install low-flow showerheads, and even consider the Navy shower: turn the water on and after you get wet, turn it off until ready to rinse. In your yard, as you add plants, choose drought-tolerant varieties. Keep track of rainfall, and only water when necessary.

Log on to and click on “In Home Evaluation Program” to learn of MLGW/TVA incentives for making energy improvements and investments. Look at “Energy Tax Incentives” to see how some of these improvements qualify for Federal Tax Credits. Use “My Account” to track your energy use, get energy conservation tips, view and pay your bill, or sign up for paperless billing.

Bill Bullock has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, has been working in the energy field for over 25 years, and is a long-time resident of midtown Memphis. If you have questions regarding this information or energy use in general, contact him at


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