Save Energy in Four Easy Steps
Our accelerated pace of technological advancements has helped to create this gap… but another significant contributing factor is how inefficiently we use energy. There seems to be a mental hurdle that people have to clear when it comes to becoming more energy efficient: it is purely an economic advantage for you. With little to no sacrifice in quality, performance or human energy expended, the average energy consumer can drastically reduce the monthly energy bill by making just a handful of minor changes.
Energy efficiency is easy. It also happens to be incredibly simple to make the kinds of adjustments that would help you see those savings. Many physical changes – for example, switching out inefficient light bulbs – are easy to execute and the savings are immediate. Others, like replacing inefficient boilers, cost more up front but the savings (environmentally and economically) are long-lasting.
Use the following four step guide to make your home more efficient and save money!
Gather some basic information about your home (its size, utility bills, energy sources, etc.), and get advice on how you can save money. On helpful tool you can use to learn more about your electricity usage is the Citizens Utility Board Power Calculator
2. Professional Audit
You may opt to hire a professional to perform your home’s energy audit. The auditor will conduct a detailed survey of your home, and then help you analyze your behaviors & your set-up to recommend changes.
3. Baby Steps
If you are new to the energy-saving scene and just want to dip your toe in the water with something simple, there are a few basic tweaks that you can make right now in your home that will save you energy… and save you money. Jump ahead to our Adjust section to read more about small changes you can make that will have a big impact on your energy bill.
One of the most powerful potential energy-savers in your home isn’t a gadget or a new appliance, it’s you. This section suggests small adjustments in your behavior that will save you energy and money.
Some people are hesitant to adjust the thermostat when they leave their home for the day, because they worry that it will cost more money for the furnace (or A/C) to “catch up” when they return. That’s a myth: it will always cost you more money to keep your home at a constant temperature.
Programmable thermostats will have these settings built in, but if you do not have a programmable thermostat you can make manual adjustments. Adjust your thermostat 5-8 degrees for times you’re away from home, and you can save $100 a year.
A computers can be a tremendous energy vampire if you allow it to be, especially if you have a desktop computer. Make sure to turn it off when you’re not using it, especially at night. Windows desktops have power management settings that can save you energy — be sure to activate them. And most computers in use today don’t need a screen saver; in fact, screen savers cause the monitor to burn more energy.
It’s no shock that you save money by hanging your clothes out to dry when weather permits. But also keep in mind that you’ll save energy by drying towels and heavier cotton materials in separate loads from lighter fabrics. Additionally, if your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it and save 15% on energy costs… and add on to the life expectancy of your clothes by not over-drying them!
If you are judicious about cleaning the lint filter with every load you will see a tremendous efficiency boost with your dryer. One other handy tip is to scrub the lint filter with a soapy old tooth brush once per month if you use dryer sheets, because that will remove the residue they leave behind… and allow your dryer to perform that much more efficiently. It’s also a good idea to periodically vacuum out the lint trap with the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner… and of course to periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it’s not blocked.
Just like your sink drain after you wash dishes, your water heater accumulates some sediment in the bottom. Depending on how hard your water is, it’s not a lot – but it adds up. Drain your water heater annually to remove any sediment that may have built up in it, which will help it run more efficiently and add years to its life.
Tune up your furnace yearly. Fall is recommended, because contractors are busier in winter and therefore more expensive. Don’t forget to replace the furnace filter regularly. You should be replacing it:
- When it is visibly dirty;
- Every 3 months;
- And monthly during heating season, to keep the furnace running most efficiently
If it is not in the shade of a tree, plant a tree near your air conditioner. This simple step will reduce the load on it tremendously. As a part of your spring cleaning routine, you should also clean the indoor and outdoor coils of your air conditioner… as well as all blower components. Clean air conditioners run much more efficiently and cheaply.
When you start going down the path of making your home more energy efficient, the first thing that comes to mind is dollar signs. Not the dollar signs symbolizing the amount of money you’ll save, but the “How much will this cost me?” variety. Good news, though: low cost investments can make a world of difference.
Most electronics that are plugged in draw power even when not being used. The average US home has 40 “vampire”s drawing energy at any given time. Use power strips for all electronics that you are not using to prevent phantom power from being drawn. The average US household spends $100 per year powering items that are off or in “standby” mode. Purchase a “kill a watt” meter to see which of your appliances draws the most energy, and plug them into power strips.
If your water heater is older than your favorite sweater, then it is probably not energy efficient. Replacing it is always an option, but one quick fix is to insulate water heaters older than 7 years with blankets… and to get some pipe insulation from the hardware store to insulate the first three feet of pipe that extend from the water heater. These simple steps will keep the water heated by your water heater warmer for longer, saving you energy and money.
Save up to 20% on your total heating and cooling bill by ensuring that doors and windows in your home are well-insulated. Heating ducts too: ensure that they are properly sealed, because the typical house loses 20% of air moving through the duct system due to leaks and poor seals. Finally, your attic should have at least R-30 insulation. If not, add more insulation and save money on heating bills.
Temporary Window Insulation
Are your windows a little drafty? As a stop-gap measure before replacing them, you can use temporary insulation in winter. Caulking, weather-stripping, and applying plastic to windows in winter will help to keep heat in.
The Citizens Utility Board provides a very helpful Guide to Energy Efficient Lighting. In short, to make your home and/or business more energy efficient, consider using CFLs or LEDs. CFLs use 75 percent less energy than traditional light bulbs and can last up to 10 times as long. Each bulb can cut your electric bill by up to $10 a year. LEDs can last more than 25,000 hours — roughly 25 times the lifespan of an incandescent bulb — making the cost per hour of usage less than any alternative.
If your home does not have ceiling fans, consider installing a few in some main rooms. Using a ceiling fan in concert with A/C allows you to raise the thermostat 4 degrees without a reduction in comfort.
Programmable thermostats may seem daunting, but truly they’re not. Your home may even already have a programmable thermostat, but maybe you haven’t employed it because it’s simpler to just set it at a number. Well, take a look at it: spend fifteen minutes thinking about how your home is used (when is everyone gone? when are you all sleeping?), and program your thermostat accordingly. This tiny step can save you $180 per year on heating and cooling costs.
Big Investment, Big Returns
Replace aging appliances with more energy efficient (ENERGY STAR) models:
- Water heater – Switching to a more efficient model saves typical family more than $100 per year. Demand (otherwise known as tankless, or instantaneous) water heaters save the most money and energy, because you’re not expending energy heating water that’s destined to just sit there and never get used.
- Refrigerator – Newer ENERGY STAR models of refrigerators require less energy than a 60 watt incandescent bulb.
- Air Conditioner – If your a/c is more than 10 years old, replacing it with an ENERGY STAR model will save you up to $70 per year.
- Washing machine – ENERGY STAR machines, whether front-loading or conventional, use 50% less water and 30% less energy than conventional washers – Typical households save $50 per year by switching
- Windows and doors – Switching to ENERGY STAR windows and doors can save you 15% on your energy bill.
Other general investments that you can make to improve your energy bottom line include:
- Computer – Switching from a desktop to a laptop can save you 50% in energy costs.
- Dryer – Gas dryers save approximately 50% annually in energy costs over electric dryers.
- Roof – Merely using light-colored shingles on your roof will save you 10% on annual cooling bill.
- Windows – Switching from single pane to double pane windows (or adding storm windows) can cut down your energy bill by 10%.
Make energy efficiency a household name
The amount of energy – and money! – that you can save by in your home by making a few changes is staggering. Decide which steps you wish to take right now, and then commit your household to leading a more energy-efficient lifestyle. And come back to this website each season to get fresh ideas about new ways you can save money.
Teach your kids (or your parents!) about energy efficiency
If you do just a little reading about it, energy efficiency becomes something that you can’t stop thinking about. Take advantage of this natural excitement – and infect your family with it as well! Set up challenges for each other: how much can we reduce our utility bills this month? Remember, you’re not giving up anything by making these changes, you’re only being more efficient by not throwing money out the window (sometimes quite literally).
Make Adjustments Seasonally
Join the IEC
The Illinois Environmental Council serves as the environmental community’s eyes, ears and voice in Springfield. IEC is committed to creating policies at the state level that promotes clean energy, energy efficiency, and emissions reductions. Sign up for IEC’s EnviroBulletin here or make a contribution.