In a 2008 study sponsored by the New York Times, it was found that two-thirds of electricity used by United States consumers was wasted . Other countries waste less, but even in the most energy-efficient locales like Scandinavia and Japan there is still plenty of fat to be trimmed.
Bad habits and a lack of knowledge are responsible for most energy waste. With a little education and more attention to detail, impressive reductions in home energy expenditures are achievable.
How to save electricity throughout the year: The ultimate guide
In winter, spring, summer or fall, opportunities to cut your energy use and reduce your utility bills are everywhere. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look…
Heating and cooling
Assuming you live in a climate with seasons, your heating and cooling bills will likely comprise nearly 50 percent of your total home energy costs .
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce these percentages:
- Adjust your thermostat settings. Setting your thermostat one degree higher in summer or one degree lower in winter for just eight hours a day will cut your daily heating and cooling costs by about one percent .
- Get a programmable thermostat. Once you learn how to use it, a good-quality programmable thermostat with an online interface can cut your home energy consumption by 15-20 percent . Programmable thermostats let you to customize your energy usage, based on time of day and occupancy habits, right down to the minute.
- Make more use of fans in the summertime. Fans use a miniscule percentage of the electricity that air conditioners do, and if properly located can handle the cooling load on many summer days. Options to consider include ceiling fans in rooms that are frequently occupied, floor and window fans strategically placed to set up cross-currents, and powerful whole-house fans that vent through the roof .
- Arrange for regular tune-ups, cleanings and inspections. Contact your local HVAC contractor and ask them to dispatch a trained technician to your home twice a year, in the spring (before the summer cooling season) and in the fall (before the winter heating season). These experts will keep your heating and cooling systems in tip-top working order.
Air conditioners and furnaces can be prodigious consumers of gas and electricity, but if you use them intelligently and responsibly they will deliver far better service.
For a long time, CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) were the gold standard in energy-efficient lighting. But LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are now the king of the mountain.
Compared to CFLs, LED bulbs installed in standard Edison fixtures can reduce energy consumption by anywhere from five to 30 percent, depending on the illumination required (the savings are less with brighter bulbs) . The typical LED bulb will last twice as long as a comparable CFL (20 years vs. 10 years), magnifying your savings even more .
Needless to say, regardless of their type lights should be turned off in rooms that are unoccupied. That is a hard and fast rule that should be memorized by everyone in your family.
Hot water usage accounts for about 14 percent of home energy consumption, and few families use it smartly or efficiently .
To save money on hot water, you should:
- Set the thermostat on the water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For every 10 degrees you reduce your water heater temperature, you can expect to save 3-5 percent .
- Take short showers instead of baths, and make sure low-flow showerheads have been installed.
- Install a heat trap on the water heater tank and put an insulating blanket over it . Each will boost water heater operating efficiency by preventing heat from escaping.
- Wash clothes in cold water only, they will get just as clean that way.
- Fix any leaking hot water faucets immediately. A constantly leaking faucet can increase water heating bills if it is left to drip indefinitely.
If you are in the market for a new water heater, one way to save energy is to replace your tanked heater with a tankless unit. Tankless water heaters produce hot water strictly on demand, with no pre-storage required.
Assuming you use 60 gallons of hot water a day (the average for a four-person family ), you can expect to reduce your hot water consumption by about 20 percent if you go tankless .
Do you have enough insulation in your home?
Most people don’t, and if you contact an insulation technician to arrange an inspection they may uncover multiple cracks, crevices, holes and missing pieces that compromise the integrity of your current insulation envelope. This is a situation that should be remedied, since poorly insulated roofs, walls and floors can account for up to 60 percent of your home’s heat loss during the wintertime .
You can choose to install new insulation yourself if you prefer, but some types of insulation will require the services of a professional.
Caulking and weather-stripping around windows, door frames, pipes and electrical outlets is an important DIY supplement to your insulation refurbishment project. You’d be surprised how much air exchange can occur through these easy-to-overlook openings.
Most appliances draw power even when they aren’t in use. This is done for the sake of convenience, but standby power use is highly wasteful and can increase your electric bills by 10-13 percent if you do nothing about it .
To solve your standby power issues, plug everything into power strips that can be switched off when no appliances or devices are in use.
Up to 30 percent of a home’s heated air may be lost through uncovered windows in winter, but in summer as much as three-fourths of the sunlight that hits those windows will penetrate the home as unwanted heat gain .
The answer to this dilemma is to use window coverings or screens, such as curtains, drapes, shades, blinds, shutters, awnings or window film . All are highly effective at preventing heat gain or loss, and with the exception of awnings and window film the others can be closed or opened as needed.
In northern locations awnings work well over southern windows: when the Sun is high in the sky in the summer awnings block it completely, but when it drops lower in the sky in the winter it can shine in below the awning to make rooms warmer.
Window film applied on the inside is especially good for preventing heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, but it can screen out sunlight on winter days and therefore might not be the best choice for south-facing windows.
In the United States, the Energy Star label is used to designate the most energy-efficient appliances, and the U.S. government has international agreements in place with Canada, the European Union, Japan, Switzerland and Taiwan to use the Energy Star designation in those nations as well .
Based on the age of the refrigerator, television, air conditioner, furnace, water heater, stove, dehumidifier, washing machine, dryer or dishwasher (the list goes on and on) you’re replacing, you could save anywhere from 10-50 percent on energy costs if you choose an Energy Star-certified appliance .
Why save electricity? Reducing the environmental impact of your energy use
On a worldwide basis, nearly 50 percent of total fuel combustion is linked to electricity and heat generation . In the United States, 35 percent of annual carbon emissions (5,171 million metric tons in 2016) come from power plants, and this massive electricity consumption makes the U.S. the largest carbon emitter on the planet .
When you as a consumer increase the size of your carbon footprint by using prodigious quantities of electric power, you’ll drain your bank accounts and compromise your financial security. That waste of energy also places a greater burden coal-, gas- and oil-fueled power plants, where the pace of fossil fuel combustion must be accelerated — and carbon dioxide pollution increased — to satisfy your insatiable demand for electricity.
This is a cycle of dysfunction that serves no one. It is in your best interest to change course now, and the good news is that you can do so without sacrificing your quality of life. Greater energy efficiency means that you can save money on your utility bills and still pursue the lifestyle you’ve come to enjoy, with full knowledge that you’re helping combat climate change and protect the environment as you do so.
Saving money while saving the planet
Some of the best ideas for saving electricity do require some upfront investment (adding window coverings or insulation, buying new LED light bulbs, purchasing new Energy Star appliances, etc.), and you might see that as a deterrent if you’re on a tight budget.
But you have to look at the bigger picture. By investing a few extra dollars in energy efficiency now, you’ll come out way ahead in the end. As time passes investments in energy-efficiency will pay for themselves many times over, and that should give you all the incentive you need to embrace an electricity cost-cutting plan.
And there’s something else. By aggressively reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll be living in harmony with your values as you support humanity’s ongoing transformation to a more sustainable way of living.