Saving energy saves money. Reducing your energy use will reduce your gas and electricity bills (which frees up funds for other, more meaningful things). It also benefits the environment and your health in a variety of ways. For example, using less electricity reduces power plant emissions from burning fossil fuels, which reduces air and water pollution, and that helps protect everyone’s health and our shared natural resources. It also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.
This checklist outlines a number of ways that you can conserve energy at home (or at work), by changing your household (or workplace) products and practices related to Heating and Cooling, Appliances and Equipment, Lighting, etc. Most of these strategies are easy and low- or no-cost, and saving energy helps save you money down the road.
HEATING AND COOLING
- Program your thermostat to provide less heating or cooling at night and during the daytime hours when your home/building is not occupied. If you don’t know how to change the settings on your programmable thermostat, read the manual or ask someone for assistance. (If you’d like to have an easy-to-program, energy-saving thermostat with an elegant design, take a look at the iPod-like Nest thermostat.)
- On hot and sunny days, cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, opaque curtains, or shutters; and turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are using conventional incandescent bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). And if you live in an area that regularly has hot summers, consider adding shade trees, awnings, or overhangs (particularly outside of west-facing windows) and putting a light-colored roof on your home when it’s time to replace the roof.
- Avoid or minimize your use of air conditioning, when possible. Air conditioners use a lot of energy, making them expensive to use. In warm weather, try using ceiling fans, floor fans, or a “whole house” attic fan (or in dry regions, an evaporative cooler) instead of AC. These options can often provide adequate cooling.
- Follow the recommended maintenance procedures for your heating and cooling systems. Replace or clean air filters as specified in the owner’s manuals. Have your furnace or air conditioner serviced if it isn’t operating properly or efficiently.
- Keep your heating/cooling vents dusted.
- Keep furniture, curtains, and other objects away from heater/air conditioning outlets, to allow conditioned air to flow freely into the room.
- Make sure your windows close properly. Fix any broken window panes, seals, or latches.
- Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning on if you open a window.
- Weatherize your doors and windows by using weather stripping or seals to minimize air leaks and drafts.
- Make sure your home is well insulated. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater, and add insulation (if needed) to your attic, walls, or basement.
- Hire a home performance contractor to do a home energy audit; they will inspect your home and identify any inefficiencies and seal up air leaks. In many homes, fixing air leaks can save more energy and money than installing a high-efficiency furnace. (One very experienced company that offers these services in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.
- When purchasing a new furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fan, water heater, windows, or doors, choose products that have a high Energy Star efficiency rating. (For windows, at a minimum, make sure you choose double-paned glass.)
Please continue reading. The rest of this post includes tips on lighting, appliances, electronics, and more:
- Turn off the lights when you are leaving a room or leaving the house, or whenever there is ample daylight and you don’t need artificial lighting.
- When bulbs burn out, replace them with LED bulbs. (LED stands for light-emitting diodes.) LEDs are highly energy efficient and they keep working for a very long time (up to 50,000 hours, which is more than 10 years of normal use). When you have used LEDs to dispose of, take them to an electronics recycling facility, as they contain small amounts of lead and other hazardous heavy metals. If you buy fluorescent bulbs, look for products that are labeled as “low-mercury.” And whatever type of bulb you choose, look for Energy Star labeled options.
- If you are using fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs, recycle any burned-out bulbs at the appropriate hazardous waste drop-off facility. Do not throw used CFLs into the trash. They are considered hazardous waste because they contain mercury, a very hazardous substance. Check with your city, waste facility, local environmental organization, or Earth911.com about where to take used fluorescent bulbs in your area. Also, be careful not to break fluorescent bulbs, due to their mercury content. Ask for assistance with removing and replacing bulbs if they are hard for you to reach. If a bulb breaks, refer to this information from the EPA on how to safely clean up broken CFLs.
- Avoid using halogen lamps. Not only do halogen lamps waste a lot of energy, but they also pose a significant fire hazard. If you have a halogen lamp, be sure to keep the bulb away from curtains or other flammable materials. (Also, when halogen bulbs need to be replaced, the replacement instructions should be followed carefully. Most types of halogen bulbs are not supposed to be touched with bare hands, until they are spent.)
APPLIANCES AND EQUIPMENT
- Clean your refrigerator door gasket/seal with soap and water, as needed, so that it will continue to seal tightly when closed. Clean the dust off of your refrigerator grill at least twice a year, and wipe dust off of the coils at least once a year.
- Before or after doing each load of laundry, clean out the lint from the dryer’s lint filter. This helps the machine run more efficiently and prevents the lint from becoming a fire hazard.
- Try to only wash fairly full loads, or select a light-load setting for small loads (if that setting is an option) when using the washing machine or dishwasher. Also, select the cold-water setting for most laundry loads. Much of the energy used to clean clothes is used to heat the water; selecting the cold wash cycle will save a significant amount of energy. If you have a dishwasher with an energy-saving setting, select that option, as well.
- Keep all exhaust/ventilation fans dusted and cleared of debris. (You might have exhaust fans in your laundry room, bathroom(s), kitchen, and/or garage.) Make sure that all outdoor vents (such as dryer vents) are working and they close tightly to keep outside air from coming in. Also clean grease off of your stove’s range-hood vent. If you need to purchase a new exhaust fan, select one with a high Energy Star rating.
- Choose the energy-efficiency settings for your computers’ sleep and shut-down modes.
- Turn off or unplug electronic equipment when it’s not in use. Electrical products that are always plugged in consume what’s called “standby power,” and they are sometimes referred to as “energy vampires.” Note: “A typical American home has forty products constantly drawing power. Together these amount to almost 10% of residential electricity use.” (Source: Lawrence Berkeley Lab) “The average U.S. household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.” (Source: EnergyStar.gov) Large-screen TVs are one of the worst culprits. Tip: If you plug a few electronics into a power strip, then you can turn off everything that’s connected to the strip with a simple flip of one switch.
- When purchasing any new appliances (especially refrigerators) or any electronic equipment (including computers, monitors, printers, televisions, phones, etc.), select units with high Energy Star ratings. (Note: Some local utility companies provide rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient appliances.) For electronics, also look for products that have the EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment) label.
Beyond energy efficiency strategies like these, you can also reduce the use of fossil fuel-burning energy sources by adding renewable energy sources to your property, such as solar panels (or building-integrated photovoltaics, or solar generators), wind turbines, or biomass boilers or generators.
There are also many ways that you can help reduce the use of energy (and fuel) indirectly, such as eating locally grown food (that wasn’t transported from a long way away), and conserving water (as a lot of energy is used to treat, pump, distribute, and heat water). One good way to conserve water is to swap out older plumbing fixtures (toilets, showerheads, and faucets) with high-efficiency, water-saving fixtures.
Other energy-related posts:
Climate and Energy-Related Solutions, Tips, and Resources [added Sept. 2014]
For more information on energy conservation, visit these websites: