Green living is all the rage these days—and for good reason. The price of energy continues to trek into unprecedented territory. But we must balance the need for affordable power with environmental concerns. Of course, people like you want to know how to respond.
Here’s the positive side of the story: Conservation is simple. The basics don’t require much time or money, so start with the tips below. Then conduct your own energy audit to pinpoint problem spots in your home.
Heating and Cooling
You spend about half your energy bill staying warm or cool. That means you’ll save the most power by using your heating and cooling systems more efficiently.
- Put your blinds and curtains to work. In summer, shut them during the hottest part of the day. In winter, open them to let the heat in.
- Upgrade your windows. Consider installing storm or double-pane windows, which are at least twice as effective as their single-pane counterparts. Solar screens or window tinting will also boost your energy-efficiency.
- Check for leaks around windows, doors and ductwork. If you find any, add caulking, weather-stripping, insulation, or mastic (respectively).
- Install outlet and switch gaskets on all exterior walls.
- Plant deciduous greenery on the south and west sides of your home. Their thick leaves will block the sun in the summer. However, they lose their leaves in winter, so you’ll still enjoy the warm rays.
- Look into additional attic insulation if needed. If you have less than R-19 insulation you should consider bringing the insulation level up to a minimum of R-38.
- Consider a radiant barrier in your attic.
Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Unit
- Set your thermostat at 78 degrees in summer and 68 degrees in winter.
- Invest in a programmable thermostat to automatically raise or lower the temperature according to your daily patterns. You’ll save energy while you’re away or sleeping.
- Replace filters based on manufacturer recommendations, typically every 30 to 90 days.
- Keep exterior doors completely shut when running your HVAC unit. Interior doors should stay open to maximize air flow.
- Windows should remain closed and locked tightly when HVAC sytem is active.
- Service your unit regularly. Schedule a qualified professional one or two times per year.
- Buy a more efficient unit. Look for the ENERGY STAR® seal and a 14 or higher SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating.
Heating and Cooling Alternatives
- Circulate air with fans. It’s much less expensive to move air around than to cool or heat it. In summer, spin the fan counter-clockwise. In winter, spin it clockwise. (Most fans have a switch at the top to change the direction of the blades.)
- Turn off fans when you leave the room. Remember, fans don’t literally cool or heat a room. They only circulate air. So, when no one is there to appreciate it, fans waste electricity.
- Open windows and doors during the spring and fall seasons. Cool breezes flowing through the screens will keep you comfortable.
- Set the temperature to 120 degrees.
- Insulate with an inexpensive water heater blanket. (Electric-only homes.)
- Insulate hot water piping where possible.
- Use less hot water.
- Take short showers instead of baths.
- Install low-flow showerheads and faucets.
- Shut the water off when you’re not using it.
- Buy a more efficient unit. Look for the ENERGY STAR seal.
- Cover the firebox opening with tight-fitting metal or glass doors.
- Close the flue damper when you’re not using the fireplace.
- Opt for well-aged firewood, which burns hotter and cleaner.
- Caulk around the hearth.
- Plug and seal the chimney flues of fireplaces you never use.
Next to heating or cooling, lights are the second-biggest energy eaters in your home. Don’t stay in the dark about efficient lighting, and take this advice:
- Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They produce 75 percent less heat than regular bulbs and last 10 times longer. Even with the higher initial price, you can easily save $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime. Not sure how to recognize a CFL? Look for the ENERGY STAR seal. One more thing: CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, so follow the instructions on the back of the packaging for safe recycling/disposal. Or, contact your city to see if they offer a CFL recycling/disposal program.
- Shut off lights when you’re not using them. No need to illuminate the whole house if you’re just working in one room.
- Try task lighting. Instead of shining an overhead light on the entire room, turn on a floor or desk lamp while you read, write or sew.
On average, you can trace 20 percent of your power bill back to appliances. When you replace them, look for the ENERGY STAR seal to ensure you get an efficient model. These appliances may be higher-priced in the beginning…but, over time, you’ll save quite a bit more cash through reduced electric bills.
Refrigerator and Freezer
- Clean it. Regularly defrost models that aren’t frost-free, and clean the condenser coils of your refrigerator three or four times a year. (Don’t forget the refrigerator or freezer in your garage.)
- Shut the door. Don’t stand in front of an open fridge contemplating the contents. Decide what you need first, then get it and shut the door quickly.
- Fill the freezer. A freezer that’s two-thirds or three-quarters full requires less power to operate than an empty one. No food? Add water-filled plastic milk cartons or soda bottles instead.
- Test the seals. Fold a paper towel, shut the refrigerator door on it and then pull the towel out of the closed door. If you don’t feel resistance, you probably need new seals around the door to lock in cold air.
- Maintain the right temperature. Set the refrigerator between 38 degrees and 42 degrees (a little higher than the middle setting). For the freezer, anywhere between 0 degrees and 32 degrees is fine.
Stove and Oven
- Preheat selectively. Baked goods may require a preheated oven to come out just right, but other foods don’t. Skip this step when you’re cooking a main dish or warming up a casserole.
- Pick the right-sized pan. Don’t waste electricity with a pot or pan that’s too tiny for the burner, or that’s too big or bulky for the amount of food you’re cooking.
- Try heat-conducting pots and pans. Ceramic, glass and stainless steel cookware retain more heat, which means you can lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
- Cover it. Intensify the heat in your cooking pan with a lid. Remember, water in a covered pan comes to a boil faster.
- Turn off the oven and burners early. Since electric burners stay piping hot for awhile after you shut them off, try hitting that switch several minutes sooner. The food will continue to cook without eating up any energy.
- Close the door. The oven loses about 25 degrees of heat every time you open the door. Instead, set a timer to gauge when the food is done. Or, switch on the oven light and take a peek through the glass.
- Befriend the toaster oven. It’s a smart choice for small meals and snacks. Why? These miniature ovens use as much as 50 percent less energy than the full-sized versions.
Clothes Washer and Dryer
- Don’t run small loads. Instead, wait until your laundry pile is large enough to fill the machine.
- Wash everything in cold. Unless you’re cleaning dirty towels or baby diapers, cool water will do the job. If you want, try a detergent specially formulated for cold water, but it’s not necessary.
- Pre-treat stains. The more you can do to remove stains and heavy soil beforehand, the less likely you’ll need to wash a second time.
- Shorten the cycle. Cutting wash time from 15 minutes to seven minutes saves about 25 percent of the electricity needed to run your washer.
- Don’t over-dry. Select the cool-down cycle so clothes finish drying with just residual heat. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it to automatically stop the machine when clothes are water-free.
- Install a vent/filter kit. This allows you to vent clean, warm air from your clothes dryer into your home during winter, recycling heat that would otherwise be wasted.
- Hang a clothesline. Anytime you can dry clothes outside instead of in the dryer, that’s free solar power!
- Use it. Did you know it takes less water to wash a load of dishes in the dishwasher (about 10 gallons) than to wash them by hand (about 16 gallons)?
- Run a full load. The one time it’s OK to pile dirty dishes in the sink—when you’re trying to accumulate enough to fill the washer.
- Shorten the cycle. Don’t select the drawn-out “pots and pans” cycle if you’re only cleaning plates, glasses and silverware.
- Air-dry dishes. Skip the drying cycle altogether, and let dishes air out naturally.
Your flat-screen TV and surround-sound stereo devour more electricity than you might think. No worries, though. You can save cash with these tips:
- If you’re not using it, shut it off. That applies to TVs, radios, computers and any other device that plugs in.
- Unplug electronics when you go on vacation. If you plan to be away from home for longer than a day or two, unplug everything. Radios, cell phone chargers, TVs and other appliances draw electricity whenever they’re plugged in (even if they’re turned off).
- Tell your computer to “sleep.” Adjust the settings on your computer to enter hibernation mode after five or 10 minutes of no activity.
- Buy more energy-efficient electronics. Choose items with the Energy Star seal.
Pools and Spas
Relaxing in your pool or spa will be much more enjoyable when you know it’s not costing you a fortune. Follow these tried-and-true tips to make a big dent in your power bill:
- Cover it. Your pool/spa needs a tight-fitting, insulated cover when not in use.
- Use a timer. Run your pool only enough to keep the water clean and sanitary, any more than that wastes energy. Also, be sure to adjust the time of day and the amount of time your pool runs based on the season.
- Install a fence or hedge to protect your pool/spa from wind and heat loss.
- Get your pool/spa heaters tuned up annually by a qualified technician to help them run efficiently.
- Consider solar heating. It may be a more affordable way to maintain the warmth of your pool/spa. This type of insulation minimizes heat loss and holds water temperature steady.