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The good news is there are many inexpensive or free ways to save energy in the home that will not diminish your comfort level or standard of living. Some measures require paying a bit more attention to our appliance and energy use for a while, but they will soon become habits that will have significant benefit. Try as many of these ideas as you can for the maximum amount of savings.
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Where to Begin
For homeowners, making energy-saving home improvements can reduce your energy bills and add value to your home. Some ideas would be adding insulation, weatherproofing, installing energy-efficient windows and doors, and purchasing EnergyStar rated appliances. To help make these home improvements more affordable, there are very attractive tax credits, rebates, and loans available. You can visit the U.S. Department of Energy Home Energy Saver for a free analysis of your home’s energy usage and good places to begin for the best return on your home improvement dollars.
If you're a renter, or if you cannot afford updates to your home at the moment, there are still many of ways to reduce your energy use. Keep reading for our tips.
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Save on Heating & Cooling
Heating and air conditioning can account for 45 percent of energy usage. A significant source of heat-gain in the summer and heat-loss during the winter months is the windows. Applying heat blocking window film, available at hardware stores, can be done quickly and inexpensively. This film reduces up to 70 percent of window heat entry in the summer without blocking the view and its low e-coating helps to retain heat in the winter. It also blocks UV rays to protect your furnishings from fading.
Programmable thermostat controls are small investments for big returns. They will automatically adjust the interior heating or cooling usage to avoid excessive use when you aren’t at home. They are easily installed so renters can take advantage of them and even take the thermostat with them when they move, simply re-installing the older unit.
Ceiling fans or box fans help to reduce the use of air conditioning by keeping the space feeling cooler. With a fan moving the air, 78 degrees will feel like 72 degrees. During much of the summer, even in warmer climates, a fan in the bedroom can allow the air conditioning to be turned off completely at night, for considerable savings. Likewise, in winter, a space heater can offer the comfort you need where you need it without having to heat the entire home or apartment.
Many use air conditioning when fresh air and a fan will provide adequate comfort. During the evenings and mornings when the outdoor temperature is in the 70s or lows 80s, turn off the air conditioner.
Savings: Using 2.5-ton central air conditioning 24 hours a day costs about $260 a month. A 48" ceiling fan costs about $3 a month to operate 12 hours a day. Using central air conditioning only 12 hours a day with the addition of three fans at night in three rooms will cost about $139 a month for a savings of $121 a month in energy costs.
The water heater accounts for an average of 13 percent of home energy usage. To save in your water heating costs, invest in an inexpensive timer that turns off your electric water heater at night when you don’t need hot water. This can save over $150 a month for the average home at the rate of $0.10 per kwh. It doesn’t work well for gas water heaters due to the pilot lights, unfortunately.
Most water heaters are set at a temperature of 140 degrees, which is unnecessarily high for most. You can save between 3 percent and 5 percent of water heating energy costs with each 10 degree reduction in the water temperature. Reduce the temperature to 120 degrees, entirely adequate for most households, to save up to 10 percent of the cost.
Savings: An electric water heater costs about $283 a month to operate at 140 degrees. Reducing the temperature to 120 degrees will save between $17 and $28 per month.
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Reducing Energy Costs on Applicances
Using your lighting and appliances wisely can save you considerably in energy bills. An excellent resource for finding out just what those appliances are costing you and how much small adjustments can save can be found at Michael Bluejay’s Saving Electricity website. Note: electric costs and savings estimated below are based on the national average electrical energy cost of $0.10 kwh.
When you need to replace a light bulb, replace your incandescent bulb with an energy efficient CFL bulb. It will save you up to 75 percent in energy costs and the CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulb will last ten times as long. Additionally, 90 percent of the energy for incandescent bulbs goes towards generating heat, not light. Switching to cool, CFL bulbs will save on cooling costs as well.
Savings: A single 60-watt incandescent bulb used for 6 hours per day costs $2.24 a month. The equivalent CFL bulb costs $.66. If you use five lights each evening for six hours, your savings in energy costs every month is $7.90. Being diligent by turning lights off when they aren't needed saves even more.
The Coffee Maker
Your coffee maker can actually be one of your biggest energy-wasters. Most people leave the warmer on to keep the coffee hot every morning which adds to your energy bill as well as scorches your coffee. Instead of leaving the warmer on, turn the coffee maker off as soon as the coffee is brewed and pour the coffee into a thermos to keep it warm.
Savings: Leaving the warmer on for two hours every morning costs about $5.60 a month. About 15 minutes of brewing time costs $.70. Turn off the coffee maker after brewing for a savings of $4.90 a month.
Many appliances have stand-by settings that result in energy usage even when they are not turned on and being used. Use power strips to plug in your home electronics, including computer equipment, TVs, DVDs, battery chargers and other electronics and turn them off at the power strip when not in use. These items in stand-by mode will still use power that can add up to equaling the power use of a refrigerator. This can save between $5 and $15 or more a month.
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Though it may seem intuitive that hand-washing dishes would save in energy costs over using the dishwasher, it is not always the case. Much of the cost of dishwashing, as much as 80 percent, is used to heat water. If you wash your dishes by hand and leave the water running, it can actually cost more than to run a full load in the dishwasher. Where you can save is in the drying cycle. If your dishwasher has an air-dry option, use that instead of the heat-dry option to save from 15 to 50 percent in energy use. If it doesn’t have that option, turn off the dishwasher after the rinse cycle and open the door to allow the dishes to dry.
Savings: Running the dishwasher every day with the heat-dry cycle costs about $8.50 a month. Air-drying will save between $1.28 to $4.25 a month.
Washing and Drying Clothes
About 90 percent of the energy used for a washing machine is used to heat the water. Washing your clothes in cold water saves on the energy bill and saves your clothing from shrinkage and faster fading of colors. Drying your clothes in the machine rather than hang-drying is also costly and damaging to clothing. Wait to do laundry only when you have full loads for additional savings.
Savings: At five loads a week, washing your laundry in hot water costs about $22 a month. In cold water, it costs about $17 per month. Drying laundry in the dryer costs about $.33 per load. The monthly savings of cold water washing and hang drying is $11.60.
These are just a few energy saving suggestions that, in combination, can save $40 to $200 or more on your energy bills every single month. You can find more suggestions at the U.S. Department of Energy Energy Savers website and Saving Starts@ Home from the Federal Trade Commission. Using the Energy Calculator at Saving Electricity is both fun and informative to show you where that money is going every month and how to save on those costs.