With home heating oil and other energy costs still relatively high, and the sustainability of our environment in question, I thought it would be beneficial to share some tips, tricks and techniques to reduce your home’s energy use and subsequent energy costs (heating, electricity, wood, pellets, natural gas, etc).
If you find the following tips and advice helpful, please forward a link to this article to your family and friends!
How to Reduce Energy Used by Your Appliances
Insulate Hot Water Lines/Air Ducting:
Insulating air ducting, exposed copper and PVC hot water lines in your home (especially in a basement) will save energy and money. Most local home improvement stores will sell specially formed insulation that fits snuggly over the existing hot water lines or air ducting in your home.
Insulate Your Hot Water Heater:
If you have an older hot water heater in your home, you may benefit from purchasing a hot water heater jacket or “blanket”. This device will further insulate your hot water unit and prevent heat from the water from escaping out into the surrounding air. Over time your heater will run less frequently saving energy and money. According to the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, installing a water heater jacket can save 4-9% on your hot water heating bills.
Turn Down Your Hot Water Heater:
Many homes have their hot water heaters adjusted to 140 degrees or more when 120 degrees is more than adequate for most applications. Every 10 degrees you turn down your hot water heater’s thermostat will result in a 3-5% decrease in energy costs.
Clean Air Filters and Lint Traps:
Ensuring that your homes ventilation system has clean air filters (if applicable) maximizes your furnaces energy efficiency. New filters typically cost a couple of bucks and should be checked every month or so during the heating season.
Install Low Flow Faucets and Showerheads:
The less hot water you use, the less hot water you have to heat. Installing low-flow faucets and showerheads will have an immediate impact on your hot water heaters energy consumption.
Take Shorter Showers:
Need I say any more on this topic?
Keep Your Refrigerator and Freezer Full:
Your refrigerator and freezer will run less often and more efficiently when it is packed full of food. Freezing gallon jugs of water in your freezer will not only keep your freezer running less often, it will also help to keep your food frozen should you lose power for an extended period of time.
Do Full Loads of Laundry:
As obvious as this may sound, many households continue to do partial loads of laundry which significantly increases the operating costs of their washing machines. Even the latest energy efficient washing machines that self adjust based on the volume of the load will run more efficiently at full loads, saving water, energy, and money.
Reuse Your Towels:
Some of the bulkiest items in our laundry are towels. Generally speaking, there is no reason that a towel cannot be reused several times before it needs to be washed. Unless of course you are not thoroughly cleaning yourself in the shower!
Hang Your Clothes to Dry:
Buying a portable clothes rack to be used inside your home is one of the most effective ways to save energy in your home. It usually takes 24 hours (depending on your climate) for your clothes to dry on a rack, and as an additional benefit, your clothes will look nice and last longer since they are not subjected to the added wear from “tumbling” in a hot dryer.
One of my co-workers actually rerouted the dryer vent back into his home so that he wouldn’t lose any heat outside the house. I cannot recommend this but it stands as a testament to the lengths some people will go to fight the ever increasing cost of energy.
Clean Out Your Dryer’s Lint Trap:
Your clothes dryer will not run efficiently if the lint trap is full of lint. Cleaning out the trap after every load maximizes the air flow through the unit reducing the amount of time (and energy) that it takes to dry your clothes.
Set Your Washing Machine to Use “Cold” or “Cool” Water:
With very few exceptions, I’ve found that using the cold water setting on our washing machine is just as effective as using warm or hot water. Additionally, the cold water prevents your clothing’s colors from running and helps prevent shrinking as well.
Becareful Washing Your Dishes By Hand:
Washing your dishes by hand can be more efficient than using a dish washing machine, unless of course you fill up your sink with hot water only to wash a couple of dishes or leave your hot water running the whole time you’re scrubbing. Keep in mind however, that most modern dishwashers use less than 5 gallons of water and are highly efficient with energy and are truly a viable alternative.
Pay Attention to Your Dishwasher’s Settings:
Many dish washers (including mine) have several settings that waste a significant amount of energy.
Heat Dry: Instead of circulating your homes air throughout the machine to dry the dishes, the heat dry feature uses an energy consuming heating element to bake your dishes dry. Not only does this feature use more energy, but it can also have an adverse affect on some of your more delicate plastic bowls and cups.
Hot Water Booster or “Sanitation Mode”: Although it uses more energy, heat boosters on dishwashers actually save energy and money by allowing you to turn the thermostat down on your hot water heater. As mentioned above, every 10 degrees you lower your hot water heater results in a 3-5% decrease in the units energy consumption.
Purchase Energy Star Rated Appliances:
The federal government has set minimal efficiency standards for various household appliances. Appliances with an Energy Star rating typically exceed these federal standards by a substantial amount. Energy Star appliances cost more money but will invariably pay for themselves in operating costs, and lower environmental impact, over their projected life spans.
Unplug Unused Chargers and Power Strips:
Unused power strips and chargers still consume small amount of energy even when they are not charging anything. Many people have had success using a single power strip and connecting all of their cell phone, Ipods, and other electronic device chargers to the strip. When the chargers are not being used they simply turn off the power on the power strip.
Turn Off Unused Appliances:
It has been well documented that setting your computer to sleep, can save a surprising amount of energy. Your computer’s printer, speakers, monitor, router, and other peripherals all use energy even when your computer is turned off. Additionally, your home’s audio and video equipment, coffee maker, and other appliances all consume a small (but noticeable) amount of electricity even when not in use.
Install a Programmable Thermostat:
Usually, there is no need to maintain your homes temperature at 70 degrees 24 hours a day. A programmable thermostat allows homeowners to program their furnaces or air conditioners to come on only when the home (or specific rooms in the home) is like
ly to be occupied. Programmable thermostats are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.
Tips to Save Money on Heating and Cooling Costs
Turn Your Thermostat Down:
Dropping your thermostat’s setting down 2 degrees saves a noticeable amount of money in your home heating and cooling bills. Every degree that you lower your thermostat results in 2% decrease in your home’s heating bill.
Get Your HVAC Unit Serviced:
An annual inspection of your homes furnace or air conditioning system will ensure that the unit is running as efficiently as possible. A licensed technician may also be able to repair minor problems before they escalate into major problems in the future.
Clean Baseboard Heaters and Radiators:
If your home uses baseboard water heaters or radiators, make sure that you vacuum any excess dirt and grime off of them. Also, be careful not to let furniture, drapes, or other obstructions block your homes baseboard heaters and radiators.
Add More Heating Zones to Home:
Many homes only have one or two “zones”. If you have a larger home with many unoccupied rooms, you may want to consider adding additional “zones” to your heating system. This will allow you to control which rooms you want to focus your heat in. There is no need to heat bedrooms that you don’t use. Depending on your home’s furnace arraignment, this upgrade may cost anywhere from a $100-500.
Replace Old Windows With Energy Efficient Models:
According to the Consumer’s Guide to Home Energy Savings about 1/3 of a homes heat loss is through its windows and doors. Although replacing windows in your home can get expensive ($400 or more installed for each one) they will typically pay for themselves in only a few short years. Generally speaking, the older your current windows, the more you will save by replacing them.
Add More Insulation:
Check for proper insulation in your attic, and basement. According to the US Department of Energy, only 20% of homes built before 1980 are properly insulated. Crawling up into your attic and rolling out more insulation is a fairly simple task and can save you a bundle in home heating bills. You can also lose a significant amount of heat through your home’s basement foundation walls. To learn more about exactly how much insulation you should have in your home check out the Department of Energy’s Insulation Calculator Program.
Install Door Sweeps:
In homes with unfinished basements, there is a great likelihood that you are letting cold air in from underneath the door leading down into your basement. This can easily be remedied with the installation of a door sweep. Door sweeps can be purchased for a few dollars at most home improvement stores or can be made yourself by cutting up some old weather stripping, or other rubber material you may have lying around your house.
“Winterize” Your Older Windows
If you have older windows in your home and can’t afford to replace them (or you rent), a great alternative is to seal the windows with plastic film and tape. You can buy kits from most home improvement stores for under $10 that will do an average sized house. They don’t look attractive but older draft windows properly winterized can reduce your energy loss by 15% or more.
Learn How to Use Your Window Shades Properly
During the Cooler Months: Leave the window shades on the south facing side of your house open (north facing side in southern hemisphere) to let the warm sun light in. At night keep your window shades closed to help keep the warmth from being reabsorbed outside.
During the Warmer Months: Leave the window shades on the south facing side of your house closed to keep the sun’s warmth from radiating into your home. Apply reflective sun-control or solar shade material to your windows to help keep the sun’s solar energy out of your home.
Get a Portable Space Heater:
If you heat your home with heating oil or other petroleum based products, you undoubtedly noticed a significant increase in your home’s heating costs. One effective way to combat this is to purchase small portable 1500 watt heaters and use them to heat the areas of your home that you spend the most time in. Set your furnace’s thermostat to 60 degrees and plug one of these heaters in an outlet in the room that you spend most of your time in.
Ceiling Fans Can Save Huge Amounts of Money:
I can’t say enough about the benefits of installing ceiling fans in your home. They are energy efficient and significantly improve the comfort level of any room they are in. Even if your home has air conditioning, a properly utilized ceiling fan can save you a significant amount energy costs.
Install a Geothermal Heating and Cooling System:
If you have a fairly large budget, perhaps the greatest thing that you can do around your home to save energy is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system (ground source heat pump) to regulate the temperature of your home. These unit are expensive to install ($15000 and up) but can pay for themselves in only a few short years. Your state may also have various incentives for the installation of geothermal heating and cooling systems.
You may also be interested in my do it yourself geothermal cooling system, all you need is a basement, a fan, and a dehumidifier.
Install a Solar Water Heater:
For a relatively modest investment (typically $2500-3500 installed) a solar powered hot water heater can generate 2/3 or more of your homes yearly water heating needs saving the average homeowner over $240 a year in home energy costs. A solar powered water heater will typically pay for itself in 10 years but the environmental savings start as soon as the unit is put online.
Install Child Safe Outlet Protectors:
Not only do these devices prevent your children from sticking metal objects in the receptacles (YIKES), they also help keep out cold winter drafts, especially along exterior walls in your home. There is less insulation behind these receptacles because of the hollow plastic (or metal) outlet box that is housing the electrical wires. I first realized this in an apartment I was renting in Quincy, MA. My wife and I kept feeling a draft running through our newly constructed apartment. After some hunting around I discovered a chilling breeze billowing in through two of the power outlets on the wall. At the time I just used duct tape to seal them off, but outlet protectors work just as well.
Tips to Reduce Lighting Costs
Install Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL):
Replacing a singe 75 watt incandescent light bulb with an equally bright 20 watt CFL will save you over $50 in energy and replacement costs over the life of the bulb. Read more on compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Turn Off Lights When Not in Use:
This is another master of the obvious tip however, my wife still reminds me constantly to turn off the lights when I am done working in the basement, garage, or some other area in the house. I am willing to bet that I am not the only one in the world that forgets to turn off the lights when leaving a room.
Purchase Solar Powered Landscape Lighting:
Many people like the security of having outside lighting during the darkness of night. Unfortunately, these outside lights can be expensive to run and in many cases (myself included) the homeowner will forget to turn these lights off during the daylight hours. One simple way to combat this problem is with inexpensive solar battery powered landscape lights. These lights can be purchased from most home improvement stores for less than $30 a set and not only will they save you money, they will enhance the ambience of your home!
Install Motion Sensors on Your Outside Lights:
If solar powered battery landscaping lights are not an option for you and you want the security that powerful outside lighting provides, consider fitting your current outside lights with motion sensors. These are especially beneficial mounted above your garage door, or driveway when coming home at night. One word of caution on these, it can be freaky in the middle of the night when an “animal” trips the lights on.
An Explanation of how Geothermal Heat Pump Systems Work
Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF): Green Building Technology
Do It Yourself (DIY) Geothermal Cooling System
Should You Pre-Buy Your Home Heating Oil for 2011/2012?
Do It Yourself Home Energy Audits