There are many very good reasons to conserve energy these days, two of the largest being money concerns and reducing our impact on the environment for the future, often called a carbon footprint. Good stewardship of the planet is important and resources are not always renewable, or not at a rate fast enough to be helpful. While this world can take a lot of punishment and keep on going, that doesn’t mean we should purposely keep abusing it, or our pocket books, for that matter. Our money resources can run utterly dry, and yet we still manage to keep going, and Earth is similar. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, as Benjamin Franklin once said and a darn sight cheaper, too. Your ounces start here, with some easy energy saver tips that will prevent the much more costly cure by heading it off completely.
It Begins at Home
Saving energy starts where you live, just as saving money starts here, too. You made a huge investment to either buy or rent you accommodations, so that investment should be protected, and better to spend a few pennies now on some new items, than pay thousands of extra dollars over a lifetime. Over the course of a year, the average American family pays almost $2000 on housing utility bills. Sadly, a lot of that is just wasted money, money you probably can’t afford to throw away. It all adds up, whether you see it or not, so let’s look at cutting those costs by up to 25%, and saving some green, in both senses of the word.
One of the biggest ways to improve the health of your account and the planet at the same time is to purchase appliances that are ENERGY STAR certified. If they are over 10 years old, most household machines, like refrigerators, air conditioners, and washers and driers, consume 40% more energy than ENERGY STAR certified appliances, and those that are younger than 10 years but not certified, consume 25% more than ENERGY STAR certified appliances. If that sounds confusing, bottom line is go with ENERGY STAR qualified and replace appliances that are more than 10 years old when you are able. Yes, they still work, but they’re sucking up a lot of energy to operate, which is money out of your pocket and a needless drain on the planet’s resources.
Using compact fluorescent bulbs instead of the old traditional versions makes a big impact on your lighting bill. Technology has come a long way over even the past 10 years, designed rethought and new approaches found. Traditional style bulbs are more efficient than they used to be, but the compact fluorescents are even better at saving energy. Some fixtures may have to be updated to take advantage of this feature, though.
Old glass panes or poor insulation is a big part of money and energy going out the window, or the cost of heating going through the roof, literally. When you can, replace old windows, especially single-paned ones, with newer, high-efficiency double paned windows, which are 40% more efficient than standard. Caulk or add weather stripping to all windows, doors, or places with air leakage, but not around furnace exhaust pipes or water heaters. You can self-test for air leaks by using a lit stick of incense and holding it next to any locations that could possibly have a link or air path to the outside, such as windows, outlets, fixtures, electrical boxes, or attic hatches. If you see the smoke from the stick pushing out horizontally, you’ve found a leak that needs tending to. You can also install sunscreens, awnings, or window shades to help block summer light and keep your rooms cooler. Alternatively, in winter you open the shades and let in sunlight to help warm the house.
Air drying dishes and even clothes when possible saves a great deal on money and energy. Wash only full loads of clothing and dishes to make the most out of the energy being used, and try to wash clothes on cold when you can, as heating the water for washing is 90% of the energy usage. Prolonged use of cold water often makes the clothes feel less clean, so add a scoop of baking powder to the load for extra cleaning action that is energy-cost free.
Installing a programmable thermostat can help cut energy costs tremendously. It allows for the home to be heated or cooled on a schedule, so when you are work and the house is empty, you aren’t heating it for no one. Set the timing to kick on with heat or air conditioning about 10 minutes before you are due home, so the place is comfortable for you when you arrive. Be aware of your thermostat settings (and make it’s not located in a place that is unduly cold or hot), and try to set the heat for 68 degrees or lower and the air con for 78 degree or higher, as you are able. Up to 5% more energy is used for each degree above or below where the thermostat is set, respectively. Make sure you’ve sized the air conditioner unit properly for the room space, and have the unit placed in a shady area, as one in the shade uses 10% less energy than the same unit set in direct sunlight. Check filters and clean or have them replaced regularly to keep them functioning properly.
Ceiling fans are also an excellent way to keep cool during those hot months, and the operation of a ceiling often costs less than that of a light bulb. Too, if you raise the air conditioner’s temperature setting by five degree to save 20% in costs, ceiling fans can help you make the most of it, circulating the air more efficiently and helping to cool the room.
You can adjust you water heater by setting it to ‘normal’, or 140 degrees if you own a dishwasher. Otherwise, you can set it to 120 degrees, or ‘low’, and see if your dishwasher allows for 120-degree water; if it does, use that temperature as it saves a good deal on costs. Of course, follow your appliance manuals for yearly maintenance to extend the life of your products and ensure they are working properly.
A much-overlooked but very easy place to save up to $300 a year is to install aerator shower heads, or low-flow shower heads to reduce heating costs by up to 50% and cut water usage by about the same. That’s a huge difference and one of the easiest energy fixes to put into motion. Taking short showers is also more efficient than taking baths, another way to watch costs.
If you find your faucets leak or your toilet runs or any defective plumbing exists, it would be good to fix it as soon as possible. While it sounds like a staggering amount, one lone faucet dripping can waste over 210 gallons of water a month. Of course, this will increase the water bill, but it will also affect your electric or gas bill if the water is hot, hitting you twice.
It has been said a million times, probably by your parents, but there is great wisdom in turning things off when they are not in direct use. If no one is in a room, flip that switch to closed, turn off the TV if you’ll be away for more than five minutes, and enable computers to go into sleep mode when they are not in use, or shut them down entirely. Plugging lamps and other electronics into a power strip allows for all to shut off when no in use. Unplug items from the wall, like DVD players or cordless phones, if they are seldom used or if you will be away for a while. Because most electronics keep digital clocks and other functions working when they are, technically, turned off, they still suck electricity, so make sure they are fully without a source of power when you’re gone on vacation.
The Whole Picture
Use the whole house approach when you look into energy waste-proofing your home; your house is a whole unit, a system, and should be treated at as such. For example, your heater is not the only piece of the system used for heating the house, so are the vents, insulation, ductwork, doors, air seals, and windows. All these parts have to be working correctly and to their optimum ability, or the whole of the system is less than 100% efficient. Check into all its components to determine efficiency and if you’re not sure where to start, you can call in an ENERGY STAR contractor to offer an assessment and help plot out the best plan for tackling home efficiency problems and solutions.
It is not hard to be an energy saver, but it does take some planning, some work, and some knowledge before you delve into it. It may also some time to get the home where you want it to be, depending on how you’re set for appliances and the like. However, there are a lot of little points that can be tended to while you are working towards the biggest ones. Light bulbs, power strips, checking for drafts, sealants and caulking, turning lights off when not in the room, unplugging rarely used electronics from the wall, and so on. Make a family event out of it and get the whole house together to help identify and troubleshoot these areas. With everyone working together to help energy waste-proof the home, it is more assured that those efforts will continue forward, and you’ll continue to see savings after savings for a very long time to come, all while reducing your carbon footprints for future generations.
Resources to assist in further understanding and how-tos: