As the price of energy rises, we need to make reductions in our energy usage just to keep our same bill amount. By making small changes in our daily lives (and turning them into habits) we can keep the bills as they were last year, or even reduce them. There are many small and easy ways to use less. Some of these tips will cost little or nothing except concentrating on making changes, and others will be good investments that will save energy for years to come. Change what you can now. Then make the investments into the future as time and resources permit. For instance, choosing an energy efficient appliance when you have to replace one anyway.
Heating and cooling account for more than half of the energy people used in the typical home each year, according to the US Department of Energy. So for the first step in energy reduction, look at these options:
- Set the thermostat to 78 degrees F, or higher in the summer – Each degree you increase your thermostat can reduce 6% – 8% off your cooling costs, according to Orlando Utilities Commission.
- Set the fan switch on the thermostat to the “auto” position, instead of the “on” position when cooling. This allows the fan to run only when the unit needs to circulate cool air. This small change can save about $25 per month, according to Progress Energy.
- Change your air filters monthly – Clogged, dirty filters block normal air flow and reduce the system’s efficiency significantly. Clean filters can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5% – 15%, according to the US Department of Energy. Changing your filter once a month will:
- Reduce indoor air pollution – Indoor pollution levels can be 2-5 times higher than outdoor levels; changing your filter helps keep air cleaner.
- Reduce energy bills – You’ll save 1%-2% each month on those rising energy bills by changing that air filter.
- Increase A/C efficiency – You’ll get more relief on hot days by changing or cleaning your filter, since that’ll lead to optimal A/C performance
- Check your cooling system – “A well-maintained cooling system is the number one thing you can do for energy efficiency in the summer,” according to Rozanne Weissman, spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Energy. Having the system and ductwork inspected and maintained is a cost effective way to ensure your system is working at it’s most efficient.
Set the thermostat to 120 degrees F. Some manufacturers have a default setting of 140 degrees F. For each 10 degrees reduction in water temperature, you can cut 3 % – 5 % in energy costs, according to the US Department of Energy.
Free Home Energy Audit:
Check with your energy company to schedule a free home energy audit. Most companies now offer this free service. They will send out a professional to access energy usage and suggest repairs and replacements that can save you a bundle. Many are small (and inexpensive) changes that can really add up. They will check the ducts in your attic to make sure there are no leaks, inspect the insulation to determine if it meets current building standards and examining the evaporator coils inside your air conditioner to see if they need cleaning, just to name a few. This is especially important if your home was built before 1980. According to Dean Skipper of the Orlando Utilities commission, Older homes typically use a lot of energy, since they were built when energy costs were inexpensive.
Change to efficient light bulbs:
Switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is another idea that can provide big energy savings. CFLs with the Energy Star emblem on the package meet energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and Department of Energy. Although Energy Star qualified CFLs may cost a bit more to purchase, you’ll save $30 or more in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb. These CFLs use about 75% less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 limes longer (usually 7 – 10 years). Not only do CFLs use less energy, since they produce light more efficiently, they will not heat up your home as much as incandescent light bulbs do.Katie Ackerly, coauthor of Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (9th edition; New Society Publishers, 2007), states that incandescent bulbs are a great heat sources that waste 5-10% of their energy as light.
Eventually you will want to change all or most of your lights to CFLs, but you can start with the fixtures that are used at least 15 minutes at a time or several hours per day for the largest savings. To choose a CFL that will put out the right amount of light, pick one that’s labeled as equivalent to the incandescent bulb you’re replacing. There are also various light style options, such as “daylight” (for the locations you want it the brightest for intricate tasks, such as a craft room) and “soft white” light (for a cozy, more incandescent-like lighting, such as a bedroom). I have found that some bulbs take about a minute to heat up and achieve their full brightness.
CAUTION ON CFLs MERCURY CONTENT: Since CFLs contain a tiny amount of mercury, ideally they should be recycled and caution used when cleaning up broken bulbs. They actually contain about 4 mg of mercury in the glass tubing. For comparison, an old mercury thermometer contains about 500 mg of mercury. Don’t put CFLs in the trash, instead recycle them. You can find a recycler at (epa.gov/bulbrecycling) or (lamprecycle.org).
Unplug when not in use:
On average, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the appliances are turned off. Unplugging your blow dryer, and putting computers, printers, various chargers, kitchen appliances, and other electronics on a power strip can reduce usage greatly.
Check your freezer’s efficiency:
Check your freezer’s efficiency by closing the door on a dollar bill. If it slips out, the door’s seal may be faulty and leaking air. You don’t have to replace the whole refrigerator, though. Just replace the old strip with a new one, which you can get from your local appliance dealer.
Close the curtains:
Use curtains or blinds as insulators when the sun beats in on the southwest side of the house on a hot summer afternoon. Sun streaming through windows can make the air conditioner work two to three times harder.
Use ceiling or box fans:
Ceiling fans create a wind-chill effect, reducing the need for cooling by about 5 degrees. Rozanne Weissman, spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Energy, recommends Energy Star – qualified models, which can be up to 30 percent more efficient than regular ceiling fans. But turn them off when you leave. “Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms,” she says.
Get with the program:
A programmable thermostat can save up to 10% on your cooling bill if you program it to dial up the temperature at night and when you’re out of the house. Danny Lipford, host of the syndicated television show Today’s Homeowner, says installing the thermostat is a simple job to do yourself, or you can ask your air-conditioning contractor to install the thermostat while inspecting the cooling system.
Although most people consider this a winter job, it’s just as important in the summer. “One of the easiest, cheapest things you can do to reduce the cooling bill is seal cracks in the doors and windows,” Weissman says. Use sealant or caulking to plug leaks between nonmoving parts, and weather stripping around moving parts such as doors and windows. Choose good quality materials that will expand and contract with weather changes.
Just as you wear white clothing to stay cool in the summer, a light colored or reflective roof will absorb less heat. The Cool Roof Rating Council (coolroofs.org) can connect you to resources, members and appropriate products. Similarly, if it’s time to repaint your house, consider a lighter color to better reflect the light.
Choose energy star qualified appliances:
They’ve met strict efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. “Old appliances no only waste energy, they give off excess heat,” Ackerly says. “The top heat producers are old refrigerators, dishwashers and dryers.”
In warm climates, focus on the attic first. Heat rises through the house, and the sun beats down on the roof. “The attic can get up to 150 degrees in the summer,” Lipford says. “If you’re not insulated between that hot spot and the cooler temperature below, the air conditioner will have to work even harder to compete with the heat of the attic.” He recommends at least 12 inches of attic insulation in the Southeast. Visit (simplyinsulate.org) for more insulation information.
leafy trees to block the summer sun. According to the Department of Agriculture, a shade tree has the cooling effect of five air conditioners. Take cues from your house and note where the sun comes in hottest during the summer; where you Plant will depend on the direction your house faces.
LEARN MORE: Visit Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org) and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (aceee.org).
Photo Credit: Chris Cummings via stock.xchng