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Efficiency and Conservation: Just About Every Way to Save Energy at Home and in the Office

Conserving Energy at HomeEnergy is used in many ways in the home, perhaps in more ways than you realize. In order for a modern home to run effectively, each room of the house must have enough energy to supply a variety of appliances and electronic devices.

Modern households need far more energy to meet the needs of their occupants than homes in years past, and that amount continues to grow. As a homeowner, you may find that you are required to pay more for electricity with each coming year. If you own an older home, you may be asking yourself if it's time to replace your electrical box to gain increased electrical service.

Energy is an inescapable requirement of living in a modern home. From the AC to the washer and dryer, energy is used constantly at all times during the day. The good news is that there are many ways to decrease energy usage in the home while still maintaining efficiency. By switching to energy-efficient appliances, by reducing your need for electrical devices and by improving energy efficiency in other ways, you can save energy and drive down your home's utility bills.

What Uses the Most Energy in the Home?

It's said that the average amount spent on energy in homes per year is about $1370, and 35% of that energy is wasted. Homeowners who reduce their energy usage stand to save hundreds of dollars annually, or thousands of dollars over the course of a decade.

Discovering which appliances use the most energy is one of the first steps you can take toward reducing the energy you use each year. Once you know where the energy is going, it becomes easier to manage its flow, and make decisions that can help you reduce your overall usage.

Cooling and Heating

The largest energy-consuming appliance in the home is the HVAC system, and more specifically, the air conditioner. Air conditioners are complicated: they function by pumping coolant through tubes at varying pressures to either absorb or release heat, depending on where the coolant is in the cycle. All of this work requires a lot of electricity. Air conditioner usage can comprise as much as 47% of your utility bills in the summer.

Problems that can cause your air conditioner to use more energy than necessary include:

  • You set your air conditioner to run all summer long. If you set your air conditioner to the "on" setting, rather than the "auto" setting, this causes the air conditioner blower to run at all times, even when it's not cooling your home.
  • Your air conditioner has a mechanical problem. Some mechanical problems can reduce the effectiveness of your air conditioner, which in turn could force it to work harder and longer just to keep up with your cooling needs.
  • Your air conditioner is 10 years old or older. The most energy-efficient air conditioners have been developed in recent years; older air conditioners work very inefficiently.
  • Your air conditioner is improperly sized for your home. An air conditioner that is too small for the size of your house may be forced to run all the time, which in turn could drive up your energy bills.

If you want to save money on your air conditioning costs, start by getting your air conditioner evaluated by a professional. Your HVAC professional can give you suggestions that can help reduce your energy usage. For example, your HVAC professional may recommend repairs that can help your air conditioner run more efficiently or may suggest replacing the unit all together. If you do decide to replace your air conditioner, talk to your HVAC professional to determine which energy-efficient model is best for you.

ENERGY STAR-rated products are generally best, as these products have been specially evaluated for energy efficiency and are deemed among the best on the market. If you're able to fit an ENERGY STAR-rated product in your budget, making this kind of purchase is likely to have the best results.

Water Heater

Hot water heaters can make up as much as 14% of the electricity bill, if they're an electrical appliance. (Not all water heaters use electricity; some are powered by gas alone.) If you're a homeowner trying to decide whether to install a gas or electrical water heater in your new home, check the local gas and electricity prices in your area to decide which one is the more worthy investment.

Water heaters use more energy as they age and become inefficient. One of the reasons this happens is because water heaters tend to build up sediment, which prevents the heating elements from sufficiently heating the water. This causes the water heater to run more than should be necessary, often without accomplishing the goal of sufficiently heating the water.

This problem can be avoided by routinely cleaning out the water heater and draining the sediment from the bottom. This can be done as a DIY project or with the help of a plumber. Water heaters only last about 10 years, and when they stop functioning, they often develop leaks that can cause costly damage. If you have an old water heater that is inefficient, you can save yourself money and avoid a messy problem by buying a new water heater. Purchase one that has an ENERGY STAR rating to get the best results.

Washer and Dryer

Washer and dryer usage makes up about 13% of the electricity bill. Replacing old appliances with newer, more efficient appliances can help you save money and use your energy more efficiently at home. However, there are many factors to consider before replacing either type of appliance in your home.

Dryer

Like water heaters, dryers can be powered by gas or by electricity, so choose the type of dryer for your home carefully. Assess the cost of gas and electricity in your area before deciding whether to buy a gas or electric dryer. Thinking about switching from an electric dryer to gas? Don't forget you'll have to hire a professional to install a new gas line for you.

Seeking one more way to make your dryer run more efficiently? Clean the vent periodically to improve its performance. A clogged dryer vent can make drying your clothes harder, which in turn can force your dryer to run longer, thus using more energy. Clean your dryer vent periodically to avoid this problem.

Other tips for saving energy on drying your clothes include:

  • Air drying whenever possible
  • Putting in the next load while the dryer is still warm
  • Not cramming your dryer too full
  • Using a lower heat setting, even if it means your dryer will run for a little longer
  • Drying lighter weight clothes separate from heavier weight clothes
  • Using a heat pump dryer (they're 20%-30% more efficient)
  • Using a moisture sensor to stop your dryer

Washer

When a washer is running on cold water, the majority of energy usage comes from agitating the drum, which requires the motor to spin the drum repeatedly. When the washer is running on hot water, however, the cost to heat the water accounts for 90% of the cost to wash that load. In other words, you can save a lot of energy by washing more of your laundry on a cold cycle whenever it's appropriate. Other ways that you can save energy through your washing habits include:

  • Buying ENERGY STAR products when replacing your washer.
  • Keeping up with the maintenance of your washer.
  • Washing full loads - your washing machine uses the same energy no matter how full it is!

Lighting

Lighting makes up about 12% of your electricity bill, but that depends on what kind of light bulbs you're using. Years ago, every home used incandescent light bulbs to illuminate their home. Today, most homeowners use a combination of energy-efficient bulbs. There are many types of energy-efficient light bulbs on the market, so you can choose the bulbs that fit your budget and look the best in your home.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs)

These light bulbs use about 1/4 the amount of energy as a standard incandescent bulb, but last 10 times as long. You probably recognize these light bulbs on sight because they're made from curly glass and were among the first energy-efficient incandescent replacements to be sold in home improvement stores.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LEDs use about a quarter of the energy of an incandescent bulb, but they last up to 25 times longer. LEDs are quickly becoming the most common forms of light bulbs because they're so long-lasting and energy efficient. Some homeowners stay away from LEDs because they can be sensitive. Using an LED in the wrong fixture can cause the bulb to fail early.

Smart Light Bulbs

Smart light bulbs can be turned on and off according to a timer, and can also be turned on or off with an app, even if you're not at home. Smart light bulbs can save energy because they can be so easily controlled.

Other Tips

Regardless of the type of light bulb you install, there are many ways that you can save energy by the way you use light in your home.

  • Use natural light whenever it is available.
  • Keep curtains open and replace heavy, dark drapes with lighter ones.
  • Cut back shrubs and trees that block natural light from entering the home.
  • Install a solar tube to bring natural light indoors.
  • Get in the habit of turning off lights as soon as you exit a room.

Vampire Appliances

Vampire appliances use energy even when they're turned off. This includes computers, gaming consoles, printers, routers and others. Some sources say that vampire appliances can account for up to 20% of your energy bill, depending on what kind of electronics are in your home and how many electronics are left plugged in at all times. Common vampire appliances include:

  • Stereos
  • Printers
  • Desktop computers
  • Garage door openers
  • Video game consoles

Some of these appliances use nearly the same amount of energy when they're in standby mode as when they're powered on. Other appliances that are left plugged in and operational all the time, like microwaves and digital clocks, also contribute to the use of power in your house.

There are many things you can do to stop appliances from wasting energy in your home such as:

  • Unplugging appliances when not using them
  • Plugging multiple vampire devices into a power strip, then turning off or unplugging the power strip when none of the appliances are being used
  • Buying ENERGY STAR-rated devices and appliances

Though it's not always practical to unplug every device you're not using, unplugging those devices that are not used frequently is a good start.

How to Save Energy In the Home

Smart Thermostat Energy Savings

There are many ways to save energy in the home. You can get started by implementing the following 10 suggestions, but don't limit yourself. By doing more research and thinking creatively, you can reduce your home energy usage by leaps and bounds.

Evaluate and Adjust Your Daily Habits

It's not just your appliances that waste energy - your behaviors and the way you use your appliances also contributes to energy waste. Evaluate the way you use energy throughout the day, and make changes to your habits as you notice yourself wasting energy.

  • Turn off lights when you leave a room, and teach the members of your household to do the same.
  • Decide what you want before you open the refrigerator.
  • Keep your refrigerator organized so you can find the food you want quickly.
  • Unplug your chest freezer if it's sitting empty.
  • Wash dishes by hand.
  • Hang your clothes to dry.
  • Empty your chest freezer if it's mostly unused - and then unplug it.

Chances are, there are other behaviors you currently engage in that waste a lot of energy. Evaluate all your energy usage throughout the day and throughout the week as well. Make changes as needed.

Utilize Smart Power Strips

Smart power strips are designed to monitor the appliances that have been plugged in. When an appliance is in standby mode, the smart power strip cuts the power to that appliance, reducing energy usage from vampire appliances.

How do they work? Imagine you plugged a printer into a smart power strip. After you've finished using the printer, it goes into standby mode and its power consumption drops. The power strip detects the drop in power usage and cuts the power to that circuit, leaving the other circuits to continue.

Smart power strips also come with one or two circuits that remain on all the time. These circuits are good for plugging in something that needs to be left on at all times, like your digital clock.

Upgrade to a Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats are one of the most impressive "smart" devices on the market. They work by learning your heating and cooling preferences, and then adjusting the heating and cooling activity in your home based on those preferences.

Smart thermostats come with a variety of tools at their disposal to make this possible. For starters, they're fully programmable. They can also connect to your Wi-Fi, which means you can communicate with your thermostat from your smart phone, tablet, computer, or any device that can connect to the Internet.

Smart thermostats save money for homeowners by adjusting the temperature of your home to the optimal temperature for saving money and staying comfortable. Some smart thermostats even know when you're coming home, and will adjust the temperature of your house to a more comfortable setting just before you return. Using a smart thermostat can save you up to $180 per year.

Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances

Energy-efficient appliances usually come with a higher price tag, but they have a 9%-25% lower operating cost, so you can save money on utility bills. The longer you own energy-efficient appliances, the more money you'll save. Not sure which appliances are most energy efficient? The easy way to find an energy-efficient appliance is to look for appliances that have an ENERGY STAR sticker, but there's more to it than that.

  • Search for appliances with rebates. Some energy-efficient appliances come with rebates from state or federal agencies, so shop carefully and compare the price and rebate at the same time.
  • Compare features. Not all energy-efficient appliances are created equal, so compare features of each appliance before deciding which one is right for you.
  • Read the Energy Guide label. The yellow Energy Guide label that comes with each appliance shows how much you can expect to spend operating your appliance each year.

You'll be able to save the most energy by replacing the oldest appliances in your home first, because older appliances tend to use more energy than the newer appliances. This is especially true of the energy-hungry appliances like the air conditioner and furnace.

Examine Your Water Heater Usage

A tank water heater's heating elements are constantly running to keep the water in the tank warm. Examining the usage of your hot water tank and making changes to the way you use your water heater can help you save energy.

Reduce How Much Hot Water You Use

Tank water heaters are filled with cold water from a pipe that feeds in through the top. As the heater fills with water, the elements inside the heater warm the water to the appropriate temperature. Once the heater is full, the elements in the tank maintain that temperature.

Your water heater will spend less energy heating water if you use your hot water less frequently, because it takes less energy to maintain hot water than it takes to heat water from a colder state.

Insulate Your Water Heater

A water heater insulator is a water-heater-shaped blanket that wraps around your water heater and keeps the water warm. Insulators are designed specifically for water heaters; don't wrap your unit with insulation unless it is specifically meant to be put there. Incorrectly wrapping your water heater with a blanket could result in a fire, so consider having this project done by a contractor.

Upgrade Your Water Heater

If your water heater is older, then you can reduce your home's energy usage by upgrading your water heater. Not sure what kind of water heater is right for you? Try a tankless unit. Tankless water heaters warm water on demand, so they expend less energy while they're on standby.

Weatherize Your Home

Weatherizing is a way to prevent energy loss in your home. Weatherstripping prevents hot air from entering the house in the summer or escaping the house in the winter, enabling you to heat or cool your home for less money (depending on the time of year). This can help you stay more comfortable at times of the year when the temperatures outside are extreme. Weatherstripping is a multi-step process.

Seal Doors

Install strips of rubber or foam around your doors to prevent drafts. These strips can be purchased at home improvement stores and hardware stores.

Seal Windows

Windows can be sealed with the same strips that you can use to seal your doors. Another way to seal your windows is to wrap them in plastic or put up your home's storm windows.

How Can You Tell if Your Home Needs to Be Weatherstripped?

Drafts by windows and doors are a warning sign that your home has energy leaks. Another sign that your home needs weatherstripping is uneven temperature throughout the house. If one room is stuffy and another room is cool, this could be an indication that your home has an energy leak, and your HVAC system is working hard to compensate for it.

Insulate Your Home

Insulation is one more way that you can prevent energy leaks in your home. Insulation can be found in your home's attic and walls. Your windows and exterior doors also likely have insulation. As with weatherstripping, you'll be able to tell if your home needs more insulation by the way your home is unevenly heated throughout the year. Other warning signs that your home needs insulation include:

  • Your HVAC system runs constantly just to keep up with the demand.
  • Your utility bills are continuously rising.
  • Your home feels unnaturally chilly in winter and warm in summer, even if you run your climate control.

Some insulation can be installed as a DIY project, but many homeowners choose to hire a contractor to improve their insulation.

Seasonal Energy Saving Tips

Your home's energy usage varies throughout the year, depending on the season and changes in your activities. Understanding your energy usage and how it changes from one season to the next can help you discover energy saving opportunities.

Summer

Air conditioners make up approximately 12% of the total residential energy usage in the United States, and of course, most of that energy is spent in the summer. You can dedicate a lot of energy to keeping your home cool by running the air conditioner - but there are other ways that you can maintain a comfortable household.

  • Take cold showers.
  • Install (and use) ceiling fans and box fans.
  • Open the windows at night to let cool air in, then close windows during the day to keep the cool air in.
  • Close blinds and curtains to prevent direct sunlight from entering the house.
  • Dine out to keep the kitchen cool.
  • If you must eat in, prepare meals that require little or no cooking (example: make sandwiches and a salad).

If you must use air conditioning to keep your home cool, turn it to a warmer temperature than is ideal. Turn off the air conditioner at night, if the air temperature outside is low in the evenings where you live.

Winter

Winter is cold and dark, so much more energy is spent heating and lighting your home in winter. Holiday lights, holiday cooking and taking hot showers can also lead to an increase in energy output. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to limit your energy usage in winter.

Change Heating Filters Monthly

Your HVAC filter cleans the air that flows through your home's HVAC system. A dirty filter can force your HVAC system to work harder than necessary to keep your home a comfortable temperature. The EPA recommends changing your HVAC filter every three months, or when it becomes dirty.

In most HVAC systems, the air filter can be found in between the return air duct and the blower. Remove the old filter from its slot and insert the new filter. Replacement filters can be found at hardware stores and home improvement stores.

Inspect Duct Work

Leaky ducts allow warm air to enter parts of your home that don't need to be heated such as your attic. Check your ducts for leaks, and use foil tape to seal them. If your ducts need more repairs than you can realistically handle, talk to an HVAC contractor about getting them replaced.

Weatherize

Weatherizing reduces the burden on your furnace by enabling your home to retain heat more efficiently. Installing weather stripping around your windows and doors is one of the ways that you can improve your home's energy efficiency, but it's not the only thing you can do. You can also install storm windows on your existing windows and a draft stopper on your exterior doors.

Year-Round

Some things can be done year-round to reduce your home's energy usage. By changing your habits and behaviors, you can save energy and money every single day.

Use a Microwave Instead of an Oven

Compared to ovens, microwaves use about 80% less energy to cook food. Microwaves also don't heat the kitchen like your oven does, so on days when it's warm, using a microwave can cut back on your air conditioning usage, which can also save you money.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water Instead of Hot

Many people believe that washing their clothes in hot water keeps their white clothes whiter and the colors brighter. However, this is not always the case. Washing clothes in cold water is perfectly adequate in most circumstances, even for stain removal. In fact, some clothes perform best when washed in cold water, including lace, silk, and dark, brightly colored fabrics. Washing clothes in cold water also reduces your home's energy usage, by requiring your hot water heater to run less often.

Inspect Your Crawl Space Regularly

Many things can happen in your crawl space that can increase your home's energy usage. Hot water pipes can start leaking, pests can chew through flooring, insulation can break down and air ducts can come unsealed. Inspecting your crawl space can reveal problems, which in turn can tip you off to ways that you can save energy. Inspect your crawl space on a regular basis to uncover issues that could be increasing your home's energy usage.

Home Energy Audit

Conducting a Home Energy Audit

Home energy audits are another way for you to identify energy leaks in your house. Audits can be performed by a homeowner as a DIY project, or they can be done by a professional. While a professional energy audit may be more thorough, performing your own can be eye-opening. If you're going to complete this task on your own, knowing what to look for is important. Without prior knowledge of how an energy audit works or what you're looking for, you could miss critical energy leaks.

DIY Checklist

There are many systems in the house, and they all link back to your home's energy usage in some way or another. Knowing what to look for when inspecting each system can help you identify problems.

Locate and Seal Air Leaks

Air leaks can happen in many places. Drafts can be found along cracks in walls, just beneath baseboards, along window seals and in air ducts. Reducing leaks and stopping drafts can result in energy savings of 10% or 20%, depending on how severe the energy leak is. During your home's energy audit, identify leaks and return later to caulk or seal them.

Check Insulation

Insulation is an important feature that can save energy in your home. However, many older homes do not have proper insulation because building codes have changed to require more insulation as time goes on. One easy way to check your insulation is to peek in your attic and look for the joists. If you can see the tops of the joists through the insulation, you need to add more.

Inspecting Heating and Cooling Equipment

Your home's heating and cooling equipment plays a big role in your home's energy efficiency. Inspect your furnace and air conditioner for signs of wear and tear. Look for soot around the pilot light, frayed wires, dirty coils, a dirty air filter, and so on. Make repairs as needed.

Lighting

Improvements in lighting have dramatically changed how much energy we use to light our homes. If you still use incandescent light bulbs in your home, switching to LEDs can save you over $1,000 over a 10-year period.

Appliances and Electronics

You can dramatically improve your home's energy efficiency by replacing your appliances with ENERGY STAR products. If that doesn't fit in your budget, check your appliances for settings that might reduce their energy usage. For example, you may be able to control how much light your appliances use in their digital display, or reduce their energy use by reducing the temperature at which they operate. Appliances that don't get used very often can be unplugged when not in use to save more money.

Professional Home Energy Audit

A professional home energy audit is a thorough search of your home's systems. When the audit has been completed, you will be given a report with prioritized recommendations to follow. This makes it easy for you to increase your home's energy efficiency in a systematic way.

During the professional energy audit, the auditor will check systems and rooms such as:

  • Attic
  • Crawlspace or basement
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchen
  • HVAC system
  • Lighting system
  • Concrete slab
  • Attached garage
  • Doors and windows
  • Mechanical ventilation system
  • Hot water heater
  • Renewable energy system

Your professional energy auditor will also perform tests of various systems like appliances and your ducts. These tests will tell your auditor if these systems have an unseen problem that you can't detect but is causing the system to leak or expend unnecessary amounts of energy.

A report from a professional energy auditor can cost hundreds of dollars, but you could save far more by making changes that the energy auditor recommends. The real value of a professional energy audit is how thorough it is. It's also a consultation, during which time you can ask your energy auditor questions about how to proceed with any updates your energy auditor is recommending.

Additional Energy Saving Tips

Energy Saving Power Strip Usage

These are just some of the many ways that homeowners save energy at home. Starting with a home energy audit is a good way to identify the most significant changes that need to be made around the house. It's also helpful to evaluate your habits throughout the year and make small lifestyle changes as needed. Remember that your energy usage changes from one season to the next, so it's not enough to evaluate your energy usage at just one time of year.

Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances is another way that you can save a lot of energy. If you don't have the money to upgrade your appliances at this moment, start budgeting for the expense a little at a time, as they are worth saving for.

Saving energy is an ongoing process. As time changes, your energy usage will also change. Households today often use two or three times as much energy as households just fifty years ago. At the same time, technology is always improving, and engineers are always looking for new ways to use our devices with less energy. By buying the latest and most modern pieces of technology and appliances, you can reduce your home's energy usage overall.