Save Energy and Save Money

Energy conservation is the foundation of energy independence.
– TOM ALLEN

Before you buy a wind turbine and/or solar panels, start implementing energy conservation and energy efficiency measures first.  Many of them are cheap (or FREE!) and you can immediately began to reduce your utility bills and save money.

Would you like to cut your monthly home energy bill by 10% to 50%?  If so, you have two choices: use 10% to 50% less energy, or buy a wind turbine or solar panel that will produce an amount of energy equal to 10% to 50% of your home energy use. (Persuading your power company to only charge you half price is really not a option).

Think about what it would cost to obtain 10% to 50% of your current energy use from a wind turbine or solar panel. Making your house more energy efficient and using energy wisely can lower your energy consumption and energy bills by 10% to 50%.  The less energy you use, the more money you save. Your home may be costing you hundreds of dollars a year in wasted energy.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that energy use, and costs, can be dramatically reduced very quickly and cheaply if energy efficiency and/or conservation actions are taken. The cheapest, cleanest, most abundant, and most practical energy source readily available is simply to use less energy.  Energy efficiency can be achieved incrementally, with simple techniques and minimal life-style changes, without sacrificing personal comfort or convenience.

Energy efficiency means doing more or the same with less. It is using better insulation, more efficient appliances, equipment and lighting to waste less energy in doing what you’ve always done.

For example, a stick of butter can be melted in a microwave, on a stove, or in an oven.  With all three methods the butter is melted, but the amount of energy used to melt the butter is vastly different.  The point is that much less energy can be used to accomplish the same results.

Conservation means doing less with less. It is adjusting the thermostat, the water temperature in the hot water heater, taking shorter showers, turning off computers, TV’s and lights when you’re not using them – to use less energy. Nearly all conservation actions are FREE! Energy efficiency is great, and conservation can make it even better.

In descending order, the largest uses of energy in the home are typically:

  • Heating and cooling the house (about 42%; 28%-heating & 14%-air conditioning)
  • Heating water (about 14%; 37% of that amount is typically used for showers,with baths it’s about 50%)
  • Lights / appliances / equipment (about 33% combined)

The energy efficiency and conservation actions listed below are arranged in the same order, and start with steps that can make the biggest difference.  A number of the actions are cheap, or free, and simple. Please understand that some of the actions need to become routine if significant, long-term savings are to be achieved from those actions.

The beauty of conservation and energy efficiency actions is that even little things can make a big difference over time.

Many states and/or municipalities offer some type of tax credits, rebates, or other incentives for home energy conservation improvements.  You might be able to save a lot of money by spending a little time researching what is offered in your state and city.  North Carolina State University has compiled and maintains an extensive database of local, state, utility and federal incentives to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The database can be found at: www.dsireusa.org.

You can finance energy efficiency improvements to your house whether you’re buying, selling, remodeling or refinancing the house. Please see the section of this website titled “How”.

If you need another reason to make your house more energy efficient, a study published in the Appraisal Journal documented a $20 increase in the value of a house for every $1 decrease in annual energy costs.

Also remember that energy efficiency is a major selling point when it comes to marketing your house.

Keep a log or spreadsheet on your monthly electric and gas consumption.   Monitor your consumption each month to track the improvements from your conservation efforts. Keep the log or spreadsheet on the refrigerator, and get the family involved in the process.

Heating and Cooling:

  • Heating and cooling your house is the biggest use of energy and the largest part of your monthly bill, so the easiest way to save a lot of money is to just keep your house cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer – and insulate.
  • Keep your thermostat at 65 degrees or less in the winter when you’re home, keep it at 60 degrees while you’re away during the day and when you’re in bed.  To be comfortable, wear a warm up suit or sweater around the house.  Buy fine stitch wool or flannel sheets, they’re very comfortable and incredibly warm.
  • Keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or warmer during the summer.  Let it get warmer during the day while you’re away.
  • Purchase a programmable thermostat and set it for your week day and weekend patterns, so you won’t have to remember to adjust the thermostat. You can recoup the cost of purchasing it in less than a year with the energy cost savings.
  • Not surprisingly, significant heat and cooling losses can occur around exterior doors. Install weather stripping and a door sweep on all exterior doors.
  • Also place a draft stopper against the bottom of exterior doors.  They are inexpensive, but you can sew your own or just use a thick, rolled up bath towel.  If you sew your own, fill it with wool or heavy material.
  • Move a smoking incense stick or a candle around door frames and window frames to help locate leaks. If the flame or incense smoke dances, you have a leak.
  • For more advanced and high tech leak detection, use a Black and Decker Thermal Heat Detector.  It uses an infrared laser to detect temperature changes.  The laser changes color from green to red (hot) or blue (cold).  Only about $50; Black & Decker .
  • Service the furnace every couple of years.
  • Keep radiators clean and free from any furniture.
  • Clean or replace the AC / heater system filter on a regular schedule.
  • Have your equipment periodically maintained by a professional serviceman.
  • Use ceiling fans and set your air conditioner for a higher temperature.  The fans use much less energy and you’ll feel as cool.
  • Close the fireplace damper, and glass fireplace doors, when not in use.
  • In the hot months keep the blinds and curtains closed on the south and west facing windows during the day.  During the cold months leave them open during the day, but close them at night to slow heat loss.
  • Close the doors and vents of any rooms you don’t use.
  • Install small foam insulator pads behind electric switch plate and outlets covers on all exterior walls.  They’re cheap, easy to install and will save about 10 times their price per year in energy costs.
  • Use drapes or curtains to keep heat from escaping through the windows.
  • Add insulation to your attic.  Find out about the proper insulation R-values for your part of the Country, and install the correct amount of insulation.  Remember, the higher the R-value of the insulation the better the insulating ability. Additional insulation information, and a color-coded map of the U.S. that shows the recommended insulation amount for all areas of the country, can be found at the Department of Energy website about insulation at: https://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html.
    • *To avoid a fire risk, don’t insulate over the eave vents or on top of lighting fixtures or other heat producing equipment on the attic floor.  Keep the insulation away from any of those types of fixtures.
  • Install weather stripping and insulation to your pull down attic door or lift-up hatch, if they open into your house instead of your garage.
  • Insulate floors over crawl spaces and other unheated areas like garages.  If nothing else, put thick carpet on the un-insulated floors.
  • Think about insulating exterior walls.  It may be expensive, and you’ll need to hire a contractor to do it. But it might be worth it if you live in an extreme climate area.
  • Windows can account for up to 20% of heat and cooling loss.  Use a thick layer of caulk around all your windows.  If you are going to replace your windows, Energy Star* rated windows are only about $15 more per window than regular windows.  They will pay for themselves in energy savings.  See the link to Efficient Windows Collaborative.

Water heater / Hot water:

Heating water can be the second biggest use of energy in a home.  Take advantage of the following free or cheap steps to cut your monthly bill.

  • Lower the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees; you won’t notice any difference.  Make sure your dishwasher has a heat booster to get the water temperature up to 140 degrees, which is necessary for proper cleaning.
  • GE makes a nice hybrid electric water heater that uses about 60% less energy than a standard water heater and is programmable.  It costs around $1,600, but qualifies for a $480 federal tax credit for green appliances.  Can save you over $300 per year. See it at: geappliances.com.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes.  Don’t run the dishwasher with a few items in it.
  • Rather than using the dishwasher drying cycle, just open the door and let the dishes air dry. 
  • New water heaters are well insulated.  But for water heaters manufactured before 2004, wrap it in an insulating blanket.  It will cost less than $20 at a hardware store, and should save you about $30 a year in energy costs.
  • Wrap exposed hot water pipes with pre-cut pipe insulation, especially any pipes in crawl spaces or in the attic.
  • Time your showers.  Showers are one of the major uses of hot water in American homes,  and can use up to 5 gallons of water per minute.  Put a kitchen timer on the bathroom counter top.  Set it for 10 minutes or less.   Try to always finish before the alarm sounds.
  • Also, purchase a low flow showerhead, it can cut your water and energy use in half.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water.  It will save about half the energy it would have taken to heat the water.  Modern detergents are strong enough to work well in cold water.
  • Don’t keep the water running while shaving.  Fill the sink half way and rinse the razor in the standing water.  It can save up to 20 gallons of water, plus energy costs.
  • Float a thermal cover on your hot tub under the hard cover.  They cost less than $30, and can reduce hot tub energy consumption by about 1/3.

Lights / Lighting:

  • An incandescent light bulb uses four to five times as much energy as a compact fluorescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.  Significant savings can be realized by switching from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. Plus, compact fluorescent bulbs can last up to 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs. Even though compact fluorescent bulbs cost a little more to buy than incandescent bulbs, you’ll save a bunch of money in electricity costs and bulb replacements.
  • Replacing 10 incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 1,000 pounds per year and cut your annual electric bill by up to $55.
  • Regardless of which type of light bulb you are using, turn the lights off when you leave a room and won’t be back for a while.
  • Install timers on exterior lights so they will only be on when you need them, and won’t be left on all day.

Appliances and Equipment:

  • Many modern televisions, computers, video game consoles, DVD players, cell phone chargers and other electronic equipment use electricity even when they’re turned off.  Either unplug them when not in use, which can be inconvenient; or plug them into power strips and simply turn off the power strip. If you have more than one electronic device in the same area, you can plug several devices into one power strip and turn them all off at the same time.
  • Wash and dry only full loads of laundry.  Don’t run a washer or dryer for only a few items.
  • When purchasing a new clothes dryer, look for a model with a moisture sensor that will automatically turn off the dryer.  It can cut energy use by 10 to 15%.
  • For drying small amounts of laundry, use an indoor drying rack.  Set it up in a bathtub or shower.
  • Keep the oven door closed during cooking.  You can lose 50 degrees or more each time you open the door.
  • Put lids on pots.  Saves energy and speeds up cooking times.
  • Use the right size pot for the burner. A 6″ pot on an 8″ burner wastes over 40% of the heat from the burner as well as the energy required to heat the burner.
  • Clean your refrigerator’s condensor coils every couple of months.  It will work much more efficiently and save energy. 
  • When buying a new refrigerator, select a model with the freezer on top instead of a side-by-side model.  It will save about 20% of the energy use.
  • Only buy Energy Star* rated appliances when you purchase new appliances. A listing of Energy Star* rated appliances can be found at: www.energystar.gov/

For additional energy saving tips, please visit the Department of Energy website on energy efficiency at www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/.

Why not do the above suggested changes and use your energy bill savings to invest in a wind turbine or solar panel?

Bottom line: Use as little as you can, produce as much as possible yourself.

* Energy Star is a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.

About the Author

Mark H. Witte is a strong proponent for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and believes individuals should have more control over how the energy for their homes is produced.