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list of tips you can implement in your home today, and save up to 66 percent of the energy you currently use — saving you money on your electricity bill, and helping you live more lightly on the Earth!Level 1: Simple Things You Can Do Today
Take these actions and save up to 33 percent of your energy use!1. Turn Off Lights You're Not Using.
Take the step: Make a pact with your family to be extra mindful about shutting off lights when they leave a room. A good rule of thumb is that there should be a maximum of one light on in your household per person at any given time. You can even put little reminders around your switchplates—download our template here. Or, install motion sensors (about $20 each) that turn the lights off after a room has remained empty for a certain amount of time.
Why: Illuminating rooms that aren’t in use is a huge waste.
2. Schedule an Energy Audit.
Take the step: Get an energy audit performed on your home.
Why: Get expert advice to help you identify ways you can use less electricity and plug energy leaks in your home. You’ll get the most cost-effective and useful steps that will help you reduce your energy use, lower your home’s global warming footprint, and lower your energy bills, too. Your local utility will probably provide an energy audit for free, but you may get a more comprehensive audit—allowing you to save even more money in the long run—by paying for a whole-house energy audit.
The big picture: Taking all of the most cost-effective strategies for energy efficiency can cut your energy use in half, save you 50 percent or more off your energy bills, and halve your household global warming emissions, too.3. Let Your Dishwasher Breathe.
Take the step: Skip the energy-intensive drying cycle on your dishwasher and choose the “air-dry” option, or open the door overnight for some zero-energy dish-drying action.
Why: The drying cycle uses up a lot of energy and money, while just letting dishes air-dry will accomplish the task for free.
4. Shift Your Load to Off-Peak Times.
Electricity demand goes down at night and begins rising in the morning, peaking at mid-day before falling back down at nightfall again. Because power sources have to produce the electricity around the time of its use, without any capacity for long-term storage, it is our peak demand that determines the expansion of dirty coal-fired power plants and other polluting forms of energy generation. Someday, utilities may use smart meters to help us even things out, but until then, you can do your own private “load shifting” by trying, whenever possible, to wash laundry or run the dishwasher at nighttime and as far possible from mid-day. “Delay” settings on appliances sometimes make this easy to do—many dishwashers, for example, can be set after dinner to go on in four hours and wash the dishes while you sleep.
Bonus: Your utility company may shift to time-of-day metering in the future, so you’ll actually pay less when you use electricity at night.5. Don't Heat or Cool Empty Rooms.
Take the step: If there is a room in your home that is largely unused, close the vents to save on heating and cooling costs. Always turn off room air conditioners as you leave a room. When you go on vacation, set the thermostat at least ten full degrees below (in winter) and above (in summer) where it’d be if you were home; no need to heat or cool a house when no one is home.
Why: Heating and cooling rooms no one is in wastes energy (and money!) and generates needless emissions.
6. Turn Off Your Electronics.
Take the step: If you’re going to be away from your computer or other appliance for more than an hour, turn it off as you leave the room.
Why: Some people mistakenly think it takes a giant burst of energy to power up a television, computer, or game console, and so they leave these electronics on continuously. However, even on an “energy-saver” setting, a computer, game console, or television wastes much more energy when it’s on all day than if you really turn it off.7. Eliminate "Phantom Load".
Take the step: Many electronics use electricity even when they’re turned off—so your best bet is to unplug electronic devices and appliances when they’re not in use. Or, plug your TV and accessories into one power strip and switch off the whole strip to eliminate this “phantom load.”
Why: At least five percent of the average household’s monthly utility bill goes towards powering devices that are turned off. TVs, DVD players, computers, printers, and cell phone chargers are just some of the devices that leak power even when they aren’t on—in fact, a quarter of the energy used by your TV each year is consumed when the TV is off.8. Eliminate Your Second Fridge, and Show the First One a Little Love.
Take the step: If you’re paying to power a second refrigerator or freezer in your basement, try to make do with one fridge in the kitchen and unplug the extra one.
You can help your first fridge function more efficiently by placing jugs of water in any empty space inside (water retains cold better than air does), and by taking some time once every six months to pull the fridge away from the wall and scrub down the grime that accumulates on the coils. (One of our editors found that her fridge was so much more efficient post-scrub that she could set the thermostat higher for the same chill!)
Why: The refrigerator is often the biggest energy-using appliance in a home. A typical refrigerator uses more than 1,300 kWh a year and costs the average American household $120 a year in electricity.9. Wash Clothes in Cold Water.
Take the step: Turn the knob on your washing machine to “cold/cold” today, and leave it there.
Why: With modern washing machines and detergents, washing your clothes in cold water gets them just as clean as washing in hot water, but it uses half the energy. In situations where you do need hot water—for example, to kill dust mites in bedding— choose cold water for the rinse cycle.
10. Give the Dryer a Rest.
Take the step: Consider skipping the dryer and hanging your clothes to dry on a rack or a clothesline. (For support in line-drying your clothes and to help fight anti-clothesline ordinances in your neighborhood, join Project Laundry List.) You can avoid wrinkles by using your dryer for five minutes, then hanging clothes on the line. Please note that if you have pollen allergies, you’ll want to skip the outdoor clothesline and use an indoor drying rack instead.
Why: It takes a huge commitment of energy to run a dryer— all to do something that the air, given a little more time, will do for free. Many households spend more than $100 a year on the energy used by their dryer.Level 2: A Little More Time, A Lot More SavingsTake these actions and save up to 56 percent of your energy use!
11. Replace Your Light Bulbs.
Take the step: Replace the incandescent light bulbs in your house, even if they haven’t yet burned out, with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
Why: You’ve been hearing about the wonders of CFLs for years now—they last ten times longer and use one-fourth as much energy as incandescent bulbs—but you might still have some old incandescent bulbs around your house. Incandescent bulbs are inefficient because they give off 90 percent of their energy in heat—while CFLs give off little heat. Don’t let the higher price of a CFL stop you—because CFLs use so little energy and last so much longer, a CFL bulb will save you $30 or more over its lifetime.
Please note that CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury. However, CFLs still result in fewer mercury emissions than incandescents. The average coal-fired plant spews about 13.6 mg of mercury to power an incandescent bulb, while it only emits 3.3mg to power a CFL. Add that to the 5 mg of mercury the average CFL contains, and you still come out ahead. Be sure to dispose of CFLs properly: call your local solid waste authority for local options, take them to an Ikea store for recycling, or recycle them by mail with a Sylvania RecyclePak.
Light-emitting diode, or LED, lights are also becoming more widely available for uses around the home. A mercury-free LED light lasts about 50 times longer than an incandescent bulb. You can now find LED reading lamps and LED Christmas lights. A strand of LED Christmas lights uses 90 percent less energy than incandescents.
The big picture: If each home in America replaced one bulb with an Energy Star CFL, it would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from 800,000 cars.
Resources: The Energy Star program’s page on CFLs includes information about clean-up and disposal of broken CFLs, as well as energy-saving calculators and purchasing tips.12. Plug Your Air Leaks.
Take the step: Plug the energy leaks in your home. Call your utility for a free energy audit, or call an energy auditor in your area—they will be able to find the air leaks in your home and assess how you can fix them. A local contractor can help you plug those energy holes, or you can seal leaks around windows and doors yourself with weatherstripping or caulk available at your local hardware store.
Why: Investing in energy-efficient heating and cooling systems will only take you so far if your home is leaking out the cool or warm air you’re putting in it. The EPA estimates that properly sealing and insulating the “shell” of your home—its outer walls, ceiling, windows, doors—is often the most cost-effective way to improve energy efficiency in your home. By properly sealing and insulating your home, you can save anywhere from 5 to 50 percent of your energy bill each year. Only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 are well-insulated, so if you own an older home, you should assess if you need more insulation.
The big picture: If one fourth of US households weatherstripped and caulked their doors and windows, it would save enough energy in heating and cooling costs to prevent 8 million tons of CO2 from being emitted.
Resources: The Energy Star program's Do-it-Yourself Guide to sealing and insulating your home includes step-by-step information on how to find and plug air leaks. Find nontoxic insulation made from recycled cotton; ask your local hardware store, or look in the "Building—Supplies/Kits" category of our National Green Pages™.13. Reduce Your Water Use.
Take the step: Reduce the water you’re using. Simple ways to save water include fixing any leaks around your house and replacing faucets and showerheads with low-flow alternatives.
Why: According to the EPA, American public water supply and treatment facilities consume enough electricity each year to power more than 5 million homes. So think of turning off your faucet when you don’t need it as you do turning out the lights when you leave a room. In fact, the energy used to transport and treat the water that runs out of your tap for five minutes would power a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. Additionally, water shortages are becoming a harsh reality for many communities—a recent government survey found that at least 36 states are anticipating water shortages by 2013.
The big picture: If just one out of every 100 American homes changes to water-efficient fixtures, we would avoid adding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, says the EPA.
Resources: The EPA’s WaterSense program has information about installing low-flow water fixtures, low-water-use landscaping, and more.14. Cut Waste Through Windows.
Take the step: Plug window leaks: Make sure that the edges of your windows are properly sealed. Fill any gaps with caulk (find no-VOC caulk from AFM Safecoat) to stop air leaks.
Cover up in winter: By covering windows with heavy curtains or drapes, you can greatly cut down the heat loss. You can also purchase storm-window kits from your local hardware store. These kits come with plastic film and a special tape, and will cost you about $3–$8 per window. Reflective “low-e” films are also available, which reduce the amount of heat that escapes through windows while still letting light through.
Shade for Summer: While your AC is working to cool your home in the hot months, the sun shining through uncovered windows is heating up your home. Reduce solar heat gain by installing window coverings like drapes, blinds, or awnings. Awnings on the outside of your windows are about 50 percent more efficient than indoor drapes, because they stop the sun before it even hits the glass. Consider installing awnings on south-facing windows, where the sun comes in most intensely (you can retract them in the winter).
Why: Windows take up about 15 percent of wall space in the average home, and offer far less insulation than your walls. In the winter, up to 16 percent of heated air in your home can escape through your windows, and in the summer, solar glare coming in through windows heats up your home. Installing window coverings or using low-e film can stop heat gain and loss by up to 50 percent—and can save you up to ten percent of the energy you use for heating and cooling.
Resources: Gaiam has do-it-yourself window-insulating kits and more. Look in the National Green Pages™ for eco-friendly blinds and curtains, like insulated bamboo shades from Earthshade Natural Window Fashions.15. Help Your Hot Water Heater.
Take the step: Add an insulating cover to your hot water heater and the pipes. If you have an electric hot water heater, it’s an easy job to do yourself. If you have an oil or gas-powered heater, you may need a plumbing professional. (See p. 14 for information about when to replace your hot water heater with a new, more efficient model.) You can find a blanket for your hot water heater at most hardware stores.
Why: In a typical American household, about 13 percent of the energy used goes to heating water. Insulating your hot water heater can reduce heat losses by 25–45 percent, trimming as much as ten percent off your water-heating costs. The insulation will pay for itself in less than a year.
The big picture: If half of US households simply turned down their hot water heater by ten degrees, it would prevent 239 million tons of CO2 emissions.16. Install Ceiling Fans.
Take the step: Install ceiling fans in your most-used rooms. When shopping for a ceiling fan, look for the Energy Star label—Energy Star fans use 50 percent less energy.
Why: By helping the air in your home circulate, ceiling fans can help make your heating and cooling systems more efficient. In summer, using a ceiling fan can create a “wind chill effect” in your home, making it feel cooler than it really is, meaning you can either turn down your AC or turn it off altogether in mild weather. Using a ceiling fan in the summer can save you up to 40 percent on your cooling costs. But don’t let your fan gather dust in the winter—instead, switch the rotation direction so that the blades move clockwise—this helps circulate the warm air that is rising to the ceiling back down into the room and can save you ten percent on your heating bills.
Resources: DoItYourself.com has step-by-step instructions to help you install a ceiling fan in your home.
17. Get a Programmable Thermostat (or learn to use the one you have!)
Take the step: Check if you already own a programmable thermostat, and use it. If you don’t have one, get one at your local hardware store.
Why: Almost half of American households already have programmable thermostats, but only one quarter of their owners actually use them—a big mistake, because they can save you a lot on heating and cooling costs. A programmable thermostat allows you to automate when your heating or cooling systems come on and off—for example, it can be programmed to come on to warm the house shortly before you get up, and to automatically shut off during the hours when you are sleeping or away at work. It will pay for itself in energy savings within a year.
The big picture: If everyone who has a programmable thermostat started using it to make their heating and cooling more efficient, we would save 15 million tons of CO2 from being emitted.
Level 3: Bigger Changes, Better PaybacksTake these actions and save up to 66 percent of your energy use!
18. Upgrade Your Appliances.
Take the step: Any time an old appliance gives out, make sure to replace it with an energy-efficient model—and follow our guidelines below for replacing existing appliances. When shopping for appliances, look for the Energy Star logo—it will ensure that you’re purchasing an energy-efficient model, and may make you eligible for a tax break.
Refrigerators: In most homes, refrigerators are the most energy-consuming appliances, accounting for about one-third of the electric bill in the average household. If your fridge was purchased before 1993, it’s very inefficient. Replace it as soon as you can with a new fridge marked with the Energy Star logo—it will pay for itself quickly in energy savings.
Washing Machines: An efficient washer expends 50 percent less energy than a standard washer and uses 15 to 22 fewer gallons of water per load, saving you about $100 per year. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends replacing washing machines older than ten years with Energy Star models.
Why: Appliances account for 20 percent of home energy use. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), efficient appliances use ten to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. An Energy Star fridge can be 50 percent more efficient than a pre-1993 fridge, saving you over $70 a year on energy costs. When you upgrade, make sure to recycle your old appliances, instead of giving them away to be an energy hog somewhere else. Search Earth911.org for an appliance recycler near you, or contact the Steel Recycling Institute at 800/YES-1-CAN (that’s the number one between “YES” and “CAN”).
Resources: For more about how to make sure you’re saving energy through your appliances, see our Real Money article, “Buying the Best Appliances.”
19. Upgrade Your Hot Water Heater.
Take the step: Save energy, and space, by upgrading to a tankless or solar hot water heater.
Why: In the average home, 14–25 percent of the energy bills each month are going to powering the hot water heater.
Tankless Hot Water Heaters: Tankless, or on-demand, hot water heaters heat water when you need it, rather than constantly heating a tank of water to be ready for use. When you turn on your hot water tap, cold water moves through a pipe and is heated either by gas or electricity just before it gets to you. On-demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. According to the Department of Energy, on-demand water heaters can be 24–34 percent more energy-efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters for homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily. Plus, you’ll never come home to a burst hot water pipe.
Solar Hot Water Heater: If you want to switch some of your energy off the grid but can’t afford to install a solar electricity system, consider installing a less-expensive solar hot water heater.
Resources: Find out if a solar-powered hot water heater is right for you by reading our Real Money article, “Try a Solar Water Heater.”20. Green Your Roof.
Take the step: Consider installing a green roof.
Why: Green roofs—roofs that have been upgraded by covering them with a “carpet” of soil, rocks, and small plants—help save energy for building owners by insulating against cooling loss. They also aid the environment by absorbing rainwater that would otherwise contribute to polluted
Energy savings provided by a green roof will differ depending on your climate—those in warmer climates will experience greater energy savings. Environment Canada found that a green roof on a typical one-story building would result in a 25 percent reduction in summer cooling needs.
Resources: For more information about green roofs, read our Real Money article, “Is a Green Roof Right for You?”21. Save Energy Through Landscaping.
Take the step: Taking a conscious approach to the landscaping around your home.
Why: Doing so can help you beautify your environment and save up to 25 percent of your energy use for heating and cooling. The US Department of Energy says that the proper placement of only three trees will save an average household between $100–$250 in energy costs annually. In warmer months, strategically planted trees and other plants can shade your windows and help reduce your cooling costs. Air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25°F cooler than any surrounding blacktop, thereby keeping the air around your home and windows cooler. A small tree that shades your windows now will eventually grow to shade and cool your roof. Shading an AC unit can increase its efficiency by ten percent. In winter months, trees and shrubs can act as wind blockers to stop chilling winds from reaching your home.
Resources: The Department of Energy’s “Consumer Guide to Landscaping” can help you decide which landscaping steps are best for your local environment. Find a local, eco-conscious landscaper in the “Landscaping/Lawn Care” category of our National Green Pages™.22. Replace Your Windows.
Take the step: In "Level 2," we gave you ways to keep your windows from losing precious warm or cool air from your home. For even greater energy savings, explore whether or not replacing your windows is right for you.
Why: The Department of Energy recommends that home-owners with single-pane windows replace them with more energy-efficient models, although adding a good storm window may be nearly as effective. Double-pane windows will help better-insulate a home, and extra features may be a good idea depending on your climate. In colder climates, consider gas-filled windows (a layer of gas between panes helps prevent cool air from coming through) with low-emissivity (low-e) coatings to reduce heat loss. In warmer climates, select windows with spectrally selective coatings (a special kind of low-e coating) to reduce heat gain.
The big picture : Replacing windows with Energy Star triple-pane windows can prevent almost 3,400 pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere—and the windows can save you over $3,000 in energy costs over their lifetime.23. Don't Waste Energy on TV.
Take the step: With the switch to digital TV coming in 2009 (for more information, see www.dtv.gov), many people may be buying new, digital-ready TVs. If you must shop for a new television, look for an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen instead of plasma.
Why: Plasma screens can use up to six times the energy as LCD screens. But each TV model uses a different amount of energy, so always look for the Energy Star label, which indicates that the TV uses at least 30 percent less energy than conventional TVs. Philips recently launched its new Eco-TV, an LCD model that saves energy by dimming the screen when the TV sensors tell it the room is dark, among other measures.
Resources: Learn more about the switch to digital TV, and about the importance of recycling e-waste—check out our Getting to Zero Waste CAQ.
For more tips on sustainable living, watch www.ConsciousLivingTV.com.