Energy-Saving Products

The following energy-saving products are inexpensive, widely available and relatively easy to install.  A homeowner that’s reasonably proficient in doing light repair work around the house could probably do several of these energy upgrades in one weekend.  All of these upgrades should quickly pay for themselves. 


Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL’s)
Use a fraction of the energy used by the old, incandescent light bulbs, and generally last much longer.  CFL’s a typically more expensive than incandescents, but they pay for themselves in energy savings and fewer bulb replacements.  The cost of CFL’s has come down as their manufacturing has become more widespread.  Available everywhere light bulbs are sold.

Electric Mowers
They’re quiet, easy to use, non-polluting, and they can be recharged with a few pennies worth of electricity – instead of gasoline.  They start with the push of a button – no pulling a cord.  The question you’ll probably ask yourself after you buy one is, “Why didn’t a buy one of these sooner?”  These manufacturers all produce good electric mowers.

Electric switch plate foam insulation pads
Pre-cut foam pads that can be installed behind the covers of electric outlets and light switch covers on all exterior walls.  They are a dime or less each, and can be installed in about one minute per cover.  You can do your entire house for less than $5 and in about 45 minutes.  Available at most hardware stores.   Easy, good home-improvement project.

Filters (A/C & heater system)
Replacing your A/C and heater filter on a regular schedule allows air to flow through the system more easily and reduces the amount of energy required to run the system.  Available at hardware stores for under $15.

Hot water pipe insulation (pre-cut)
It’s sold in long pieces at hardware stores for a few dollars.  It’s easy to cut and wrap around pipes.  Simple home-improvement project that can really stretch your hot water budget.  Especially important to install in crawl spaces below houses and in the attic (if applicable), but also helps in cabinet areas under sinks and in the hot water heater closet.

Power strips
Plug your televisions, VCRs, stereos, etc. into the strips and turn off the power strips when you aren’t using the appliances.  It will eliminate the “vampire energy” the appliances use – even when they are turned off. 

Shower heads
Low-flow shower heads can save the typical American family of four more than 47,000 gallons of hot water per year (probably more if there are teenagers living in the house).  Available at most hardware stores for under $30.  Easy to install yourself.

Thermostat (Programmable)
It costs more than the other items, but you should be able to buy one for under $70 at almost any hardware store.  You may want to get a handyman (or a neighbor that is good at home repair projects)  to install it to ensure correct installation.  It will allow you to very accurately and easily maintain the most energy efficient temperatures in your house.

Weather stripping (doors)
You’ll need to check what type of weather stripping your door needs before going to the hardware store.  Most of the strips cost less than $15, and aren’t too difficult to install.  But since you need to take your doors down to replace the strips, wait for a day of nice weather.

Window caulking
Caulking around the edges of all windows can reduce or eliminate air leaks.  Tubes of silicon based caulk can be bought few less than $5 at any hardware store.  Easy to apply yourself, just follow the directions. 

Window insulation
A clear film that reduces cold air drafts and improves the R-value of windows up to 90%.  For less than $10, you can buy enough to insulate up to 5 standard size windows.  Just clean the inside of the windows, cut the film to fit, and use a hair dryer to shrink it into place and adhere to the panes.  Use a straight edge when cutting the film.  It would be a lot easier to use if the film was perforated to standard pane size.  Available at most hardware stores.

The following energy-saving products cost more than the previous products and are more difficult to install (you may need to hire a contractor), but they could also save you a lot more energy and money.

If you are in the market for new appliances, look for Energy Star rated appliances.  Because so many of certain types of appliances (like refrigerators) have obtained an Energy Star rating, look closely at the estimated energy consumption of the individual units.  You’ll see there are differences in energy consumption even among Energy Star rated products. 

Doors (insulated)
If your are planning to replace your doors, consider replacing them with insulated doors.  They won’t cost very much more, and they will sharply reduce the amount of heat loss through the doors.  They also look very nice.

Insulation (attic)
Some types of insulation settle and compress over time and their insulating ability is consequently compromised.  Also, the Department of Energy has recently increased the recommended amount of insulation in attics.  The cost of adding insulation is dependent on how much you need to add, what type you want to add, if you hire a contractor or DIY, etc. (and you might want to hire a contractor for this job).    BEFORE you start, you should spend 10 or 15 minutes reading this Department of Energy web page.  It is easy to read and could save you money.  It has great information on insulation tips, a Zip Code Insulation Calculator, and a U.S. map that shows the recommended Total R-Value for all areas in the country.

Insulation (walls)
OK, you’re definitely going to need to hire a contractor for this job.  Unless your house is old, it probably isn’t necessary.  If your house is old, start by hiring a specialist to determine the amount and condition of the insulation in your walls.  The new insulation will need to be blown in.  The cost will depend on the amount of insulation you need and what type you buy.  This will not be a cheap job.

Solar Water Heaters
Solar water heaters a/k/a solar-thermal water heaters are fairly simple systems that use the sunlight to generate hot water for your home.  They can be low-maintenance and cost-effective in any climate, but are obviously particularly beneficial in areas with mild climate and abundant sunlight.  Typically, a solar water heater should reduce your water heating bills between 50% and 80%.

When considering the purchase of a solar water heater, remember the federal tax credit of $1,500 for a solar water heater purchase.  That federal tax credit is good through 12/31/2010.  Also check on any additional state, local or utility incentives for a solar water heater purchase. 

You’ll need to hire an experienced, qualified solar water heater system contractor to install the system.

Solar water heater systems typically cost more to purchase and install than conventional, gas or electric fueled water heating systems.  But since they use the free energy of the sun, rather than fuel you have to pay for, they can save you money in the long run.  They can also help protect you from future fuel price hikes and shortages.  Even though they can produce most of the hot water you need, solar water heater systems almost always require some type of conventional backup system for cloudy days and periods of heavy demand.

For more detailed information about solar water heaters, click HERE

If you are planning to replace your windows, spend the little extra money to buy Energy Star rated windows.  They will more than pay for themselves over time through energy savings.  A great place to start is by checking out the Efficient Windows Collaborative website.  It provides unbiased information on the benefits of energy-efficient windows.  It probably doesn’t make economic sense to buy new windows just for the energy savings.  But if you are looking to buy new windows anyway, then definitely buy energy-efficient, Energy Star rated windows.

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.