Top 5 Things You Can Do to Compute Greener

Computing greener is as easy as tweaking your settings.
Computing greener is as easy as tweaking your settings.

If you were to rank your home appliances by how many watts they use in a year, your computer probably wouldn't rank in the top 10. That honor is typically reserved for things like air conditioning and anything that produces heat. But computers still rank high up there. For a typical PC and monitor setup and a four-hour-a-day computer habit, you're looking at about 400 kilowatt hours per year [source: Energy Savers].

You can run a high-efficiency refrigerator for just a bit more than that [source: ToolBase].

If you spend more than four hours a day computing, of course, as many people do, the numbers get higher. Computer energy use and the accompanying greenhouse-gas emissions become more significant when you figure in the rising number of people who work from home -- 4.2 million in the United States in 2000 [source: Energy Savers]. In that case, you can count on using more like 800 kWh per year -- and now we're into electric range territory [source: Energy Savers].

But the thing is, there's a broad efficiency range for computers. A high-efficiency model can cut energy use by 70 percent [source: Energy Savers]. And green computing habits can cut that even more. With that type of potential reduction, it makes sense to hone your green-computing skills, especially because some of the steps you can take cost nothing at all and will help save not only the polar bears, but also your money.

In this article, we'll talk about five of the most effective ways to reduce your computing footprint -- all without interfering with your work or play. The first method on our list is as simple as a few clicks and can make a significant dent in energy use.