There’s a lot of talk these days about being more energy efficient. But what does that term actually mean? What are the benefits of energy efficiency? And what does it take to effectively reduce energy consumption in your home?
We’ll break it down for you with some quick and simple ways you can help the environment — and your bank account — by reducing your household energy usage.
What does “energy efficient” mean?
Energy efficiency is the equivalent of reducing energy waste. To put it simply, it means doing the same task with less energy.
Think of all the items in your home that use energy: light bulbs, appliances, air conditioning, water heaters, electronics, and more. When your home uses excess energy to power these items, it not only adds to your utility bill, but it also causes pollution and harms the environment.
You may not realize it, but you probably have some well-established, energy-indulgent habits that can be adjusted. For example, does your thermostat need to be lowered all the way to 65°F when it’s hot out, or could you bump it up a few degrees? Are those four long baths each week really necessary, or would a couple suffice with some short showers in between? Maybe you could scrape your dirty plates in the garbage before they go in the dishwasher to save water. You get where we’re going with this. Small actions can have a big impact, so think about some behavior modifications you’re willing to make.
By making a few easy changes, you can improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save money. Not sure where to begin? We’re here to help.
1. Ask for a free energy audit
Let’s start with how energy efficient your home is already. Many utility providers offer homeowners a free home energy audit. These assessments examine all of the energy use in your house and your past energy bills. Energy auditors will figure out where your energy use is going so you can eliminate any waste. This is a great place to start when it comes to an energy evaluation.
2. Make the most of natural shade and sun
Did you know that the bulk of your utility bill amount comes from your heating and air conditioning use? To help lower your bill, set your thermostat at 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter. And remember, you don’t have to rely only on your thermostat to keep you comfortable.
If it’s hot outside, draw your blinds and curtains to block the sun’s rays. Alternatively, when it’s chilly, use that sunshine to warm your home.
If you’re still uncomfortable in your home, think about how you’re dressed. It might be a good idea to put on an additional layer in the winter and dress down in the summer. Although it seems minor, it will take the heavy lifting off your heating and cooling unit.
3. Use cold water when possible
You may not realize how much hot water your household is using. Sure, no one relishes the idea of taking a cold shower (and we’re not saying you have to resort to that), but if you’re using hot or warm water for your laundry and dishwashing cycles, you could be burning (no pun intended) more energy than what’s needed.
Try washing your clothing in cold water — especially those items that only need a light refresh and aren’t heavily soiled. As an added bonus, you may start to notice less color bleeding, fading, and shrinkage of your clothes after switching the water temperature.
4. Don’t forget to unplug
This may seem obvious, but electronics play a huge role in your home’s energy usage. Did you know that the electronics keep running even after you turn them off, though? It’s actually estimated that 75% of the energy used to power household electronics is consumed when they are switched off.
To truly stop the energy currents from flowing, you need to unplug the devices. If you don’t want to go around your home unplugging every individual device, use power strips to disconnect multiple items at once.
5. Replace your light bulbs
The U.S. Department of Energy says that just by replacing five of your home’s most frequently used light bulbs with energy-saving light bulbs could result in a $75-a-year savings in energy costs. Imagine what you would save if you replaced all of your bulbs — inside and outside!
6. Look for oven alternatives
If your oven and stove are your go-to cooking appliances, it’s time to consider some other options. If you don’t need a lot of space, use your microwave, toaster oven, slow cooker, pressure cooker, or an air fryer. They’re quicker, and they use significantly less energy.
If you do have to use your oven, try not to open it while food is cooking inside. Why? Because every time you open the door (even for a peek), the temperature drops and the oven has to overcompensate to raise the temperature back to the desired degree.
|Pro Tip: To be even more energy savvy, turn your oven off a few minutes before your food is finished cooking. The temperature won’t drop rapidly, but your oven will spend less time in “cool down” mode.|
7. Go from good to great when you insulate
Did you know that 25–30% of your home’s heating and cooling usage (and, therefore, cost) is due to heat gain and loss through windows? Insulating them or investing in triple-paned glass can keep the weather where it belongs — outside your home. You can stop drafts, too, by insulating your doors, attic hatches, outdoor-facing pipes, and ceiling-to-wall joints. And, speaking of attic hatches, when’s the last time you checked the depth of your attic insulation? Is it the recommended 10–14 inches deep?
|Pro Tip: Although necessary, insulation can create quite a mess. The easiest way to tackle an insulation project may involve moving furniture and other home items out of the way. No worries, though. Portable storage containers are a simple, convenient solution for getting those items out of the way and back in place on your schedule — and without even leaving your property.|
8. Make some energy-efficient investments
While you can obviously save energy without spending money, there are some larger investments you may want to consider that go beyond energy-efficient windows and insulation. There’s an abundance of energy-efficient appliances, fans, and electronics, as well.
If you’re remodeling your home or in the market for a new washing machine or dishwasher, for instance, ask your retailer if the products you’re interested in are ENERGY STAR certified. This means that the products are federally guaranteed to consume less energy than similar makes and models.
It’s important to note that many energy-efficient appliances come with a higher price tag, which may seem counterintuitive. However, these are upfront costs that could actually save you money in the long run. The sticker price is only one part of the equation; you also need to consider the annual operating costs. Many people shy away from the more expensive appliances, only to pay higher bills in the future.
9. Install solar panels
Solar panels on homes are used to convert light from the sun (i.e., solar energy) into electricity. These clean and renewable energy sources are quickly growing in popularity for businesses and households alike.
While solar panels are expensive to install — averaging about $12,000 after federal tax incentives — they generate their own power (!) and can greatly reduce your electricity bill. Also, once they’re installed, they last a lifetime without needing repair or replacement. That sounds like an investment worth considering, huh?
10. Buy an energy-efficient home
Ok, hear us out. We’re not advising you to sell your home and buy a new one just to be more energy efficient. However, if you’re already in the market for a new home, consider purchasing one that’s ENERGY STAR certified.
These homes have done it all, including installing energy-efficient appliances — like energy-efficient air conditioning & heating units — and following strict standards for air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, and materials. Utility cost translation: They’re typically much cheaper to heat and cool.
If buying an already energy-efficient home isn’t a possibility, you can consider turning an energy guzzler into an eco-friendly house by taking out an energy-efficient mortgage for renovations (yes, that’s a thing). It’s important to ask about the home’s energy consumptions during the purchasing process. Inquire about past utility bills, for instance, to get an idea of how much energy the home is using. While some of these changes are easier to make than others, the important thing is that you’re interested in finding ways to make your home more environmentally sound. Whether you’re committed to running fewer warm laundry cycles or installing new, energy-efficient windows, any action is helpful. The planet — and your wallet — will thank you.
LB Gabriel is a freelance writer and frequent PODS blog contributor. When she’s not on a deadline, you can find her on a tennis court or golf course.