When I’m in budget mode I start thinking energy efficiency. There are some drastic measures that can be taken to reduce power cost but the easiest and most affordable way is to become a conservation champion.
One of my day jobs includes helping our members understand their power cost and how to save money while maintaining a comfortable home and I put all that good advice to the test in our home.
Energy efficiency… doing more with less energy. Saving money, improving the economy, helping the environment, improve national security and enhancing the quality of life are most commonly noted as the top five reasons that people, companies and governments choose to use energy more efficiently. However, if you’re like me it’s most likely just a way to keep your family expenses within budget.
There are over 100 million residences in America today and they collectively use an estimated 22% of the country’s energy. It’s important to know what your usage is and what it cost you. To do that you need to know what a Kilowatt is. When you use electricity to cook a pot of food for one hour; you use 1,000 watt-hours of electricity. One thousand watt-hours equals one kilowatt. Your utility bill shows what you are charged for the kilowatt-hours you use. A typical household consumes about 11,800 kilowatts per year. Knowing that, let’s get down to the number one reason you’re interested in energy conservation; saving money.
You may be under the impression that becoming an energy conservation champion requires a lot of expense and hard work. Not necessarily, if you are ready to make some changes start by completing an energy usage audit with your family. Ask yourself some very basic questions like, do you leave unnecessary lights on? Is the computer always in standby mode? Has your thermostat been set at 70 degrees all winter? Has your family become accustomed to 20 minute showers? All of these lifestyle choices increase your energy usage. Imagine if each member of your family made a single energy saving change; that cost savings can really add up.
Start by raising or lowering the thermostat a few degrees. By setting the temperature at 78 degrees Fahrenheit during the warm summer months or lowering the thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the cold winter months, you could save up to eight percent on monthly cooling and heating bills. Programmable thermostats make it easy to save by offering pre-programmed settings to regulate your home’s temperature. I got ours on Amazon.
- Air that transfers in and out of homes through cracks, crevices and holes can increase energy consumption. Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other places where air may leak. If the smoke travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping.
- Seal around pipe penetration coming through walls. Ensure weather-stripping around doors and windows is tight.
- When your fireplace is not operating, its flue should be closed tightly.
- Check the ceiling behind the cornice of built-in bookshelves for holes cut during construction.
- Drop-down, disappearing stairways should fit tightly into the ceiling and be carefully weather-stripped.
- Whole-house attic fans should be sealed tightly during the winter.
- Make sure your outside dryer vent door closes when the dryer is not in use.
- Check the insulation in your attic, exterior and basement walls, ceilings, floors and crawl spaces.
One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door. To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness. If you have R-19 or less insulation in your attic, consider bringing it up to R-49 in cold climates. If you have R-11 or less floor insulation, consider bringing it up to R-25. Jump over to the Home Depot website for tons of great energy saving products.
Plug home electronics, such as computers, printers, TVs, DVD players and gaming devices, into power strips; then, turn the power strips off when the equipment is not in use. Computers, TVs and DVDs in standby mode still use several watts of power. Head back over to Amazon and check out this smart energy saving surge protector.
Now take a look at your appliances, they account for about 13% of your household’s energy costs, with refrigeration, cooking and laundry at the top of the list. If you’re interested in making a small investment in you pursuit of energy conservation here are some things to consider. When you are shopping for appliances, think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price… view this as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You’ll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. If your lucky enough to be receiving your power from a cooperative you should contact them about energy saving appliance rebates.
When it comes to your household appliances maybe all you need is a little maintenance to trim energy usage. For example make sure refrigerator and freezer seals fit tightly when doors close. Keep outside coils clean. Dirty coils make your refrigerator compressor work longer to remove heat. Setting your freezer below 0° F uses extra energy as does setting your refrigerator below 37° F. Heating and air conditioning uses the largest chunk of your home energy dollar. Keeping it running “lean and mean” increases its efficiency. Have an HVAC technician check your systems to verify they are moving the correct amount of air. Heat pump and air conditioning systems should be checked annually to verify they are properly charged, strictly in accordance with manufacturers’ guidelines. Inside and outside coils should be kept clean and free of debris.
Say you decided to upgrade your refrigerator to one of those energy efficient models but you haven’t notice a big savings. In order to be assured you’re buying the most energy efficient model look for the Energy Star logo. Energy Star products meet strict efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Properly disposing of old appliances is an important part of the energy conservation process. If you hauled the old refrigerator out to your garage and plugged it in, you’re not saving any money. Mistakes like this are very common.
Let’s talk lighting; by replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient halogens, CFLs or LEDs you can save 30-80% on energy bills. That adds up to annual savings of $50 to more than $100. In addition, LEDs light-emitting diodes or LED bulbs are rapidly expanding in household use. Energy Star qualified LEDs use only about 20-25% of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. They come in a variety of colors, and some are dimmable or offer convenient features such as daylight and motion sensors.
Water heating is the second largest energy expense in your home. It typically accounts for about 18% of your electric bill. There are ways to cut your water heating bills. The first is to use less hot water; take short showers instead of baths and wash only full loads of dishes and clothes. The second is turning down the thermostat on your water heater to 120°F, third is to insulate the water heater, and finally, if your current hot water heater’s warranty has expired, consider replacing it with a new, more energy efficient model.
Windows can be one of your home’s most attractive features. They provide views, day lighting, ventilation and heat from the sun in the winter. Unfortunately, they can also account for 10-25% of your heating bill by letting heat out. If your home has single-pane windows, consider replacing them with double-pane, high performance glass, low-e or spectrally selective coatings. In colder climates, select gas-filled windows with low-e coatings to reduce heat loss. Windows with low-e coating on the glass reflect heat back into the room during the cold winter months. If you can’t make the investment in new windows right now, simply keeping curtains and windows closed tightly and locked will add up to significant savings.
Making small changes at home has proven to ease the pressure of high power cost, but being an energy conservation champion also helps improve the economy. Unfortunately, a lot of energy is wasted. When we waste energy in our homes, we are throwing away money that could be used for other things. The typical U.S. family spends at least $2,000 a year on home utility bills. Investing in energy efficient appliances, windows or insulation is putting money back into our economy. Spending the money we save on family vacations or entertainment also contributes to a healthy economy.
Since we have more money available to spend it’s important to make sure we have a healthy planet in which to play on. It’s a no-brainer; when we use less energy, we save precious natural resources and cut down on pollution. Because of energy-efficient technologies and policies the United States is now using 56% less energy. Investments in energy efficiency across the biggest sectors of our economy could decrease up to 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – that’s equal to taking all U.S. cars and trucks off the road for one year.
Optimizing your quality of life can be accomplished when you become a conservation champion. The power of feeling good about lessening your environmental impact on our planet is just the beginning. The results of the small changes you make are endless. Your home is more comfortable because of the heating or cooling changes made, your appliances run more efficiently and you have more money in your pocket because of it. Now is the time to turn your family into conservation champions. Complete a household energy audit and start a project list of small changes that you can make. Whether you take simple steps or make large investments to make your home more efficient, you will see lower energy bills. Over time, those savings will typically pay for the cost of the improvements and put money back in your pocket.