This is the biggest chunk of our energy costs (42%!). Make your home as airtight as possible and you can reduce that cost by at least 10%.
There’s an easy way to find air leaks: Hold a lighted candle around each door and window on one side as a helper points a blowing hairdryer at that spot from the other side. If the flame flickers, you’ve got a draft.
Insulate outlets and light switches
Two unexpected sources of leaks. Seal them with a foam gasket specially made to fix the problem.
Turn down the thermostat
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) says that for every degree you set back your thermostat for 8 hours each day, you can save about 2% on your bill. Going from 70°F to 65°F, for example, saves about 10% (or $100 saved for every $1,000 of heating cost).
Haul out extra blankets so you can turn it down to 60°F at night and save even more. Install a programmable thermostat, which automatically turns down the heat at night and when you’re not home.
Nix exhaust fans
In just one hour, a bathroom or kitchen exhaust fan can expel a houseful of warm air, according to Habitat for Humanity. If you really have to use one, make it quick.
20% of your electricity bill typically goes for lighting, but only one-tenth of that amount is required to produce light. The rest is wasted on the heat that incandescent lightbulbs produce.
Switch to CFLs. It costs about a dollar a month to light a regular 100-watt bulb for three hours a day. Switch to a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) and watch that cost plummet to just 25¢ a month. The DOE estimates that changing only a quarter of your home’s bulbs can cut your lighting bill in half. Lesson learned: CFLs are more expensive (about $5 each), but look at what they save you in the long run. Turn ’em off. If you’ll be gone for more than five minutes, turn off the lights.
Keeping 20 to 80 gallons of water constantly hot is getting more and more expensive—in fact, some energy pros believe the big, monstrous tank is just about extinct. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, heat only the water you need as you need it. These heaters may seem pricey to purchase and install (about 2½ times as much as a standard water heater), but they cost about 40% less to operate than an electric water heater, or 30% less than a natural gas model. If you’re not in the market to upgrade:
Install aerating, low-flow showerheads
Engineered to create the feel of a full-flow shower, the showerhead actually restricts the amount of water coming through the nozzle to just 2½ or fewer gallons a minute. Compare that with an old showerhead, which delivers about 5 gallons a minute. Switch to low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to reduce water consumption as much as 50%. And while you’re at it, stop taking baths. They use an average of 15 to 25 gallons of hot water.
Lower the thermostat
Water heaters sometimes come set at 150°F, but 120°F is fine for most uses—including killing most bacteria and germs in the laundry. You’ll save 3% to 5% of the cost for every 10 degrees you lower the temperature. So at $40 a month for an 80-gallon electric water heater, lowering the temperature from 130°F to 120°F will knock about $24 a year off your water heating costs.
Insulate your hot-water storage tank. You’ll cut standby heat losses by 25% to 45%, which saves around 4% to 9% in water heating costs. (Be careful not to cover the thermostat; with gas water heaters, be extra-careful not to block the air intake opening and to keep the insulation from touching the flue.)
Change the laundry temperature
Switch from hot to warm water in the washer and cut that load’s energy use in half. Wash clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents and save even more.
AppliancesIf you’re ready for new ones, look for Energy Star–rated appliances, an EPA designation that indicates the most energy-efficient products. But you can also do the following:
Fully load the dishwasher
Whenever you can avoid running your dishwasher, it’s like saving a dollar—the rough cost of energy, water and detergent to run one cycle.
Air-dry dishes. Most dishwashers have two drying options: heat-dry and air-dry. Choose air-dry and cut your dishwasher’s energy use by anywhere from 15% to 50%. If your dishwasher doesn’t have that option, open the door to let everything dry after it rinses.
Whether you’re reheating pizza or preparing a big meal, use the smallest appliance possible. A slow-cooker uses less energy (another reason to love it); the microwave costs less to operate than the stove or oven. If you do use the stove, match the burner to the pan. Don’t waste energy heating the air around a small pan!
Clean out the fridge
Your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy drains. If it’s overpacked, the air can’t circulate, so the fridge eats up even more electricity trying to keep things cool.
Tonight when your house is dark, take a stroll through all the rooms. Notice the little green or red lights staring at you from TVs, cable boxes, sound systems, the coffeemaker and all your other gizmos? This is the “phantom loads”—electricity that’s squandered just to keep your electronics in “instant-on” mode. Six to 30% of the average U.S. home’s electricity bill can be traced to phantom loads—a total waste of electricity and money. You can save $40 to $50 a month by doing this.
Kill your watts
Use Kill A Watt (see “6 Money-Saving Gadgets” below) to find out just how much power your electronics are sucking up when they’re not being used. Once you stop the power drain, you just might recoup the device’s purchase price in the first month.
Diligently unplugging devices with standby power lops a big chunk off your electricity bill. Not everything needs to be unplugged, though: A toaster with no clock or other electronic display doesn’t pull power when it’s not in use. But leaving your computer with all those peripherals (monitor, printer, etc.) running 24/7 is just crazy. A typical PC can use up to 250 watts—so if you only use it four hours a day but it’s always plugged in, you’re spending an extra $212 a year.
6 Money-Saving Gadgets
1. Outlet and switch sealers Foam gaskets are simple to install behind outlet and switchplate covers to stop air from escaping. (10¢ each; at home improvement centers or blackenergy.com)
2. Refrigerator thermometer Settings that are too cold waste electricity, so use a thermometer to double-check the temp. (about $6; amazon.com)
3. Smart Strip Power Strip It has a brain! Plug your computer into the main outlet on the strip, peripherals into the other ones. When you power up your computer, the strip turns on the peripherals; turn off your computer and they’ll turn off too. ($39.95; smarthomeusa.com)
4. Kill A Watt EZ energy meter An electricity cost calculator that tells you the operating cost of any household appliance—in the same measurement units that your utility company charges you (kilowatt/hour), and in real cost per week, month or year. ($37.59; amazon.com)
5. Low-flow showerhead The Niagara Conservation N2915 Earth Massage uses only 1½ gallons of water per minute. ($14.88; watercheck.biz)
6. Programmable thermostat Install one and set the temperature you want at different times of day. The Honeywell 5/2 Programmable Thermostat is priced right and easy to use. ($44.99; shop.com)