16 Practical Tips for Saving Energy at Home

drawings by Alyssa Dennis

One of my favorite clients sent out long list of energy-saving tips after spending close to a year shaving her family’s energy use. Violaine Melancon is a musician who cares deeply about the environment and she got bitten by the energy efficiency bug. A good list is very satisfying, even if they have things you’re already doing, because that just makes you feel a bit smug. (Already doing! So in-the-know!)

A while back we wrote about this topic , aimed at reducing heating bills in winter. Here we present Violaine’s more comprehensive list, with links added by us for your convenience. Let us know what your experiences are with saving energy around your house.

1. Turn off lights! Use as little as you really need.

2. Change all the incandescent light bulbs you can to those funny-looking fluorescent ones.

3. Unplug appliances (washer, dryer, kitchen things like blender, toaster, hairdryer etc…) when not in use. This includes your cell-phone charger and any low-voltage lights that have those boxy AC adaptors on the plug end.

4. Turn off your computer when not in use and purchase a “smart strip" at SmartHomeUSA , which cuts the leaking current at the source. While you’re at it, purchase smart strips for the TV/DVD center and the sound system. All electronics still use a lot of power even when off.

5. Install motion sensor lights for outside. Retrofit any fixture with screw-in sensors available at Home Depot

6. Buy programmable thermostats and set them to off for times you’re not in the house (or on a floor of the house like bedrooms during the day), programming the comfortable temperature to kick in half an hour before your return to the house. During cold months, set it to no more than 68 when you’re home during the day and 64 at night. For the summer months, 78 during the day at home and 80 at night.

7. Go passive . When the outside temperature is between 65 and 85, try not to use any cooling or heating. If you use passive solar and cross-ventilation, you can keep the house full of fresh air and amazingly comfortable. Keep the sun out when it’s hot (hot daytime or cold nighttime) or keep the warmth inside when it’s cold by closing windows and lowering shades. Open windows and lift shades to cool or warm house depending on outside temperature and the need.

8. Switch to wind or solar energy through your utility company to stop contributing to the release of CO2 gases.

9. Purchase Energy-Star rated (energy efficient) appliances when you buy a new one (dishwasher, washer and dryer, computer, printer, refrigerator, water heater, furnace, etc…).

10. Laptops use about 5% to 10% of the amount of energy desktops do.

11. Weather-strip your doors (and windows if necessary) to make them more airtight.

12. Put an insulating blanket on your water heater and set it to a lower temperature. 120 degrees F (48.9 degrees C) is plenty hot.

13. When you go away for a few days, turn down your water heater to the lowest setting and unplug everything. If it’s for a longer trip, empty the fridge, unplug it and and leave the door open.

14. Run the dishwasher and washing machine only with full loads. Don’t use the drying mode on the dishwasher; most of the energy is used by that setting. Use cold water for laundry and air dry clothes. They’ll last longer, won’t shrink and fade, and you’ll save energy.

15. Check if your energy company has time-of-use savings : here it’s cheaper to run the big appliances between 9pm and 7am, and power is at its most expensive 7-11am and 5-9pm.

16. When you’ve saved up enough money, install energy-efficient windows that capture the warmth of the sun in winter and repel it in summer (it has to do with the angle with which the sun hits the window, higher in summer, and lower in winter).

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  1. To that I would add the following:

    1)Invest in a toaster oven. I’ve found that I can avoid heating my full-sized oven most all the time. A toaster oven uses between 50-300 kWh annually versus an electric oven’s 200-800 kWh.

    2) Check into BGE’s Peak Rewards Program for a free programmable thermostat. BGE will install a top of the line Honeywell intelligent t-stat that learns how long it takes your system to get to a particular temp at a certain time. This guarantees you’ll be at the right temp by the time you need it. (I paid $300 to have one just like it installed before I knew about this program.) Plus, they will give you a hefty signing bonus for trying it. The catch? You must agree to allow BGE to power down your AC at certain peak demand moments for a limited number of occurances per season. If you try the program but don’t like it, you still get to keep the t-stat. Programmable t-stats make a surprising difference in monthly utility bills…but only if you program them. Thankfully, the one from BGE is pretty straightforward.

    3) If you’re a gadget geek, this one’s for you: a monitoring device called The Energy Detective (TED). This easy to install device allows you to monitor your usage in real time and predicts your monthly electric bill in kWh or dollars. A recent study from the Florida Solar Energy Center revealed that the mere presence of an energy monitor in the home can significantly influence occupant behavior. Available only on the internet. Google it.

    4) Change your furnace filters regularly (at least every 3-4 months, depending on the season) and use the best quality you can afford. Put a note on your calendar to remind yourself and always keep a spare set on hand.

    5) If your home has accessible ductwork, such as in an attic or unfinished basement, seal all the seams and joints with duct mastic (not tape). You can do it yourself or hire it done. This will make your home far more comfortable and will also lower your bills.

    6)Feel around your switchplates and outlets on a cold day. You’ll be amazed at the amount of cold air you’ll feel entering your home. Install foam outlet sealers under the wallplates. You may need to add a little extra coverage with masking tape as they don’t always cover the whole leakage area.

    7) While you’re at it, with a damp hand, feel all along the baseboards and door and window frames for leakage. It’s easy to fix this with a tube of clear caulk. Choose paintable so it does not interfere with future paint touchups.

    8) Perform the same check underneath all sinks at the point where the pipes penetrate the wall. This is another common leakage site. If the gaps are large, you can use a can of sprayfoam to fill the area.

    9) Be sure the dryer vent duct is properly sealed to the outside. Use fire-rated foam to fill and seal all gaps around this opening. Caution! Leakhunting is addictive! The more you do, the more opportunities you will find to do more.

    10) Finally,take the plunge and have an energy audit. You’ll learn exactly where your home’s problems lie and how to get the biggest bang for your energy upgrade budget.

  2. Janice,
    A BIG thank-you for sharing all your trade secrets! Janice works for Elysian Energy (http://www.elysianenergy.com), a home-energy auditing company here in the D.C. / Baltimore area. She is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about saving energy at home and is an obvious candidate for guest blogger here at GOforChange!

  3. How exactly do you go about getting an energy audit? I’d really like to see how much my family is using but don’t know how to go about doing this.

  4. Sylvia, you should be able to do a Google search for home energy audit and your state and see what comes up. Check w/ your state’s Energy Office and/or your local utility — they often have listings of preferred providers. A good home energy audit should cost between $250 and $450, depending on the market. Going through your local utility can be a cheaper way. It’s a fascinating process — akin to a home inspection, if you’ve ever tagged along on that. They will issue a report w/ recommended repairs and — if you’re lucky — a pre-vetted list of contractors who do that sort of work. It’s usually air-sealing parts of the construction that typically are not well-done.

  5. A couple more ideas:

    1) Use your microwave – it heats food and water more efficiently than any stove-top or oven (though I echo Sylvia’s recommendation that a toaster oven is more efficient than a full-size oven).

    2) Close off any unused rooms. Close the door, close the air vents.

    3) When you replace your TV – go LCD, not plasma. LCD is much more efficient. Also, upgrade your old computer monitor from a CRT to an LCD screen – it uses about half the energy.

    4) If you have bare concrete or cement walls in your basement, paint (with waterproofing paint) and insulate!

    5) This one is more an energy saver in general than for the home, but is still valid: pay & receive bills online. Save paper, save postage, and save the energy of mail delivery.

    6) Plant deciduous (leaf-bearing) trees to shade your home in the summer, but let most of the sun through in winter.

    7) Plant to shade the external part of air-conditioning units; make sure the unit is clean and the air-flow around it is free and clear.

  6. Nice Infomation this will help keep up the good work.

  7. Great energy saving tips.

    I’d also add installing a programmable thermostat to the list.

    I like the honeywell rth7600D programmable thermostat shown here http://greenergreener.com/honeywell-rth7600d-best-programmable-thermostat-review/

    It can save around 33% on your energy usage and it’s inexpensive and easy to install.

  8. Thanks this really helped 🙂

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