If you’ve ever taken a look at your utility bill and gotten an immediate headache, you’re not alone.
The cost of water, gas, and electricity can be a huge drain on your finances—not to mention on the environment. Thankfully, there are many simple ways to stay on top of your energy usage and personal habits in order to maximize the energy efficiency of your home.
Below, we’ll take a look at eight tips for boosting your home’s energy efficiency, from simple and affordable to projects that may be a bit pricier upfront, but are likely to come with a huge return on your investment.
1. Be smart about your thermostat
According to Energy.gov, turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F from its normal setting for eight hours a day can save you as much as 10% of your yearly heating and cooling costs. A programmable thermostat is an easy and efficient way to cut back on your home’s energy usage and utility bill. In fact, if you set it back for the eight or so hours when no one is home, a smart thermostat will pay for itself in no time.
But if you’re not willing to make the purchase just yet, you can always try to start a habit of adjusting your thermostat manually. Dial it back by a few degrees when you leave for work, and then readjust it to your liking once you arrive back home.
Another great heating tip is to take advantage of the sun’s heat to make your home more energy efficient in winter. Open southern and eastern shades during the day, then close them when the sun goes down to keep the heat from escaping the home.
2. Turn off and unplug unused devices
It probably goes without saying, but an easy way to reduce your electricity usage is to turn things off when you’re not using them.
Start a habit of turning off lights when you leave a room, and find other ways to turn off devices whenever possible. Consider installing motion sensors or timers to help reduce the time that your lights are on. Switch off your computer monitor (or better yet, the entire computer) overnight. And don’t let ceiling or box fans run in empty rooms.
Don’t be afraid to go one step further, either: unplug devices that aren’t in use. Did you know that electronic devices still pull energy from the outlet even while they’re not being used?
Cell phone chargers, appliances, and devices that are left plugged in are often called “energy vampires” because they drain electrical energy even when they aren’t turned on or powering anything.
Consider turning off and unplugging the following devices that are commonly left on and running 24/7:
- Idle desktop printers, computers, and other office equipment
- Microwave, toaster, coffee maker, and other countertop appliances
- Phone and device charging cables
- TVs and video game consoles
The drain these energy vampires place on your household can account for up to 10% of your monthly energy bill. Why pay for that electricity if you don’t have to?
3. Reduce your water usage
There are many ways you can cut back on the amount of water your household uses, and most of them don’t even change how you live your life. You’ve probably already heard that it’s a good idea to turn off the sink water while you’re brushing your teeth or shaving, and to take showers rather than baths whenever you can.
But there are other less commonly-known ways to save water, too—like waiting to run a load of laundry until you have a full load. Running a full load washes more clothes at once, which saves both water and money.
Low-flow showerheads are another great way to improve your home’s water efficiency. While most standard showerheads use five gallons of water per minute, low-flow showerheads have a flow rate of less than 2.5 gallons per minute.
And make sure to do regular maintenance checks for leaky pipes. Although it may not seem like much, a small household leak can add up to gallons of lost water per day.
4. Dial back the water temperature
And did you know that when you run your washer with hot water, 90% of the energy is used to heat the water, and only 10% is used to run the appliance? Unless you’re dealing with oily stains, washing in cold water is generally sufficient to get your clothes clean. Washing in cold water is also less likely to make colors bleed, which is good news for those who hate sorting their laundry.
While you’re changing temperatures, don’t forget to adjust your water heater! Temperatures of approximately 120°F should generally be hot enough for your household needs.
5. Upgrade your lightbulbs
Energy-efficient lighting is another effortless way to save money and contribute to green living. The most popular light bulbs today are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen incandescents, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). They may cost more upfront than the traditional incandescent bulbs that you may be used to using, but they’ll save you money in the long run because they use less electricity and usually last many times longer than traditional bulbs.
You might also want to invest in dimmers, which can be used to lower light levels and minimize the amount of energy in use.
If you use outdoor lighting that’s left on for hours at a time (such as flood lights or porch lights), Energy.gov recommends CFLs or LEDs for maximal energy efficiency. You should also look for ENERGY STAR-qualified fixtures that are safe for outdoor use and come with automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors.
6. Check your home’s insulation
Make sure your home has the proper insulation and weather stripping to keep from leaking heat in the winter months. Sealing off any leaks or cracks in your home’s insulation is an inexpensive and simple way to lower your energy expenses:
- Caulk or foam any air leaks that have formed around doors, floors, and ceilings.
- Any drafty windows can be reinforced by adding weatherstripping around the frames.
- Also, check your attic, walls, and basement for any insulation weak spots.
You may want to hire an expert to go through this process for you.
7. Invest in ENERGY STAR appliances
If you’ve got the resources (or if you’re moving into a new home and need to buy new appliances anyway), consider opting for ENERGY STAR-certified appliances. When shopping for new models, look for the ENERGY STAR label, which indicates that the appliance has U.S. EPA and Department of Energy approval as one of the most energy-efficient products available.
Using an appliance with an ENERGY STAR certification is a great way to save electricity, water, and money without changing anything else about the way you live your life. For example:
- On average, a new ENERGY STAR-certified dishwasher will save 3,870 gallons of water over its lifetime.
- A new ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer will save 2,000 gallons of water per year on average.
- An ENERGY STAR-certified dehumidifier uses 15% less energy than a standard dehumidifier—in fact, the energy saved by one of these models in a year could power an ENERGY STAR-certified refrigerator for almost two months!
Large fixtures like dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers are some of the biggest energy wasters in a home, so if you have a chance to replace outdated models with more energy-efficient options, you should do it.
8. Hire a home inspector to perform a home energy audit
Finally, consider hiring a professional home inspector to perform an energy audit on your home. You may have heard that it’s a good idea for homeowners to order annual home maintenance inspections as a sort of checkup—and in the same vein, a regular home energy audit can help you pinpoint any trouble spots and savings opportunities when it comes to energy efficiency.
A professional home inspector should be able to tell you whether your heating and cooling systems are running at peak efficiency. And besides energy-saving considerations, a regular tuneup can help prolong the life of your HVAC system, a replacement of which can often run between $5,000 and $10,000.
The home inspector will likely be equipped with specialized skills and tools, such as infrared cameras and surface thermometers, that can help evaluate your home’s energy efficiency. These tools may be able to help the inspector diagnose some problem areas that might be missed during an unaided visual inspection.
Once the audit is complete, the inspector should be able to give you an inspection report with a list of improvement or repair recommendations, which you can then use to make energy-saving changes around your home.
Energy efficient upgrades for your home don’t have to be complicated
There are many appliances and systems in our modern homes that can keep us comfortable and safe, from heating and cooling systems, to lighting, to cooking and cleaning appliances, and beyond. However, there are also plenty of ways for these systems and appliances to waste energy if we don’t keep a close eye on them.
Thankfully, you don’t have to make the choice between living comfortably in your home, or being friendly to the environment and your budget. You can make small changes like dialing back your thermostat during convenient times of day, turning off and unplugging unused devices, and updating your lighting, insulation, and appliance choices.
And by having your home inspected annually by a professional home inspector, you can stay on top of any sources of energy leaks that might be adding sneaky padding to your utility bill. Using the tips outlined above, it’s possible to streamline your home’s energy efficiency so that you’re able to live comfortably with minimal waste, keeping the environment—and your bank account—happy.