Easy Ways To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient
So, you have decided to conduct a home energy audit because you have made the fantastic decision to install solar energy. Or, you are just tired of paying the ever-increasing energy bill and want to make your home more energy efficient. Whatever the reason, turning your home into an energy efficiency powerhouse is smart move for your wallet and the environment. A self-audit can help you pinpoint the areas of your home where you are leaking energy and potentially a lot of money. During the winter and summer months especially, poorly insulated walls and inefficient heating and cooling systems waste energy and can exponentially increase your utility bills. Making your home more energy efficient will not only cut costs but you will also increase comfort as you standardize temperature throughout your home and improve air quality by reducing moisture and carbon monoxide.
The great news is that making your home more energy efficient is easy. By checking some basic things, you can identify easy-to-fix inefficiencies that will dramatically decrease your annual utility costs, without large upfront repair costs. In addition to completing an easy self-audit, consider contacting your utility company as well. Many large utilities, such as Southern California Edison, will provide energy audits for free. Professional auditors benefit from having equipment that is especially designed to catch minor air leaks and missing insulation. But while you wait for a scheduled appointment with a professional auditor, begin saving green by going green with these simple and easy quick fixes for your home.
If every home replaced 9 bulbs in their 5 most used light fixtures with energy efficient CFLs or LED options, the U.S. would save almost $9 billion each year in electricity costs and decrease our greenhouse emissions equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road. CFLs use about 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Many municipalities and utilities even offer 2 or 3 bulbs free per household or rebates for efficient lighting fixtures. Also, check the size of your bulb. If you have a 100-watt bulb in a lamp that only calls for 60-watts, you are wasting energy. About 12% of your monthly electric bill can be attributed to your lighting, so this is the ultimate quick fix for your home.
Plug Your Electronics into a Power Strip
Vampire power, also called phantom load or standby power, refers to the electricity that your electronics use when they are off or in standby mode, yet still plugged in. These devices “suck” energy from the power grid when you're asleep or away. Some devices, like your home entertainment system may offer a digital clock. Other things, like your computers’ power adapter consume power without offering you any benefit. About 15% of the average household's electricity use is from electronic devices such as televisions, computers, printers and DVD players and more than half of that (8%) is from devices that are in low power or standby mode. It’s estimated that Vampire power attributes to 100 billion kWh used annually in the America, which is about $11 billion in energy costs yearly. Solution? Plug your chargers into a $10 power strip and turn off these electronics with one switch. Although I wouldn’t include your alarm clock…you might need that.
Replace/Recycle Old Appliances
Many states, such as California, offer rebates for new energy efficient replacements. By upgrading your refrigerator, dryer, or your outdated air conditioner, you’ll increase the value of your home while saving money! Do you have an extra refrigerator in the garage that’s only holding extra beverages, like beer and soda? It’s costing you about $25 a month to keep these extra beverages cold…potentially much more if your unit is older. Many utilities offer cash rebates and will even pick up an old refrigerator if you choose to recycle your older unit. If purchasing new energy efficient appliances is out of your budget right now- even with the rebates- by following simple tips, you can dramatically reduce your energy usage when using major home appliances:
- Microwave - Reduce energy consumption by about 80% when you reheat smaller portions in your microwave or toaster oven. This will also reduce A/C costs in the summer as your generate less heat when cooking.
- Refrigerator - When installing your refrigerator, make sure it is located in a cool place away from ovens, direct sunlight, and dishwashers. Make sure air is allowed to circulate behind the fridge and that the condenser coils are clean. Make sure that the seals around the door are airtight; replacements can be bought cheaply at a local hardware store. Finally, keep the temperature between 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit- we promise your food won’t spoil.
- Stove - Use the right size pots! If you use a 6” pot on a 8” stove burner, 40% of the burner’s heat is wasted. Cover pots to keep the heat in. Also, with a gas stove, keep your burners clean. Blue flames equal efficient combustion. Yellow flames means they could use a good cleaning.
- Dishwasher - Pre-rinse your dishes and save up to 20 gallons of water per load. Use the rinse feature if your dirty dishes sat overnight- it uses less water. To use less energy, use the no-heat drying option. And always remember to run full loads, about the same amount of water and energy will be used, despite how many dishes are inside.
- Clothes Dryer - Use the right settings and clean the lint trap! Don’t over-dry!
- Clothes Washer - Similarly to dishwashers, washing full loads is the efficient option that in this case can save you more than 3,400 gallons of water per year. Also switching to cold water can save you about $40 per year. The hot water heating attributes to about 90% of the energy that your machine uses.
Reducing drafts would save you up to 40% on your heating bill. And because as much as half of your energy bill can attributed to heating and cooling costs, reducing air leaks could be a potentially massive energy saver. Air leaks predominantly occur wherever there are joints in your building envelope - this can include windows, doors, A/C units as well as electrical outlets, light fixtures, and faucets. Most of these air leaks are blatant and can be fixed with some new caulking or some foam insulation strips. For the harder to identify ones, consider the DIY building pressurization test:
- Close all windows, doors, and fireplace flues.
- Turn off all combustion appliances like furnaces and water heaters. Also turn off all exhaust fans, which are generally located in your bathrooms and kitchen.
- Use smoke producing incense or candles to identify leaks by placing them near potential air leaks (remember, don’t burn anything). Wavering smoke and cold hands are air leak identifiers.
- Rattle the doors and windows; any movement implies air leaks.
- Continue outside and inspect all corners and any areas where different materials meet, such as siding and brick. While roofs may be a large source of leakage, we recommend a professional for safety reasons (your roof will be inspected by a professional if you are pursuing solar installation).
The average household spends $400-$600 on water heating per year, which makes it the second largest residential energy use behind heating and cooling. Set the thermostat on your water heater to 120 F or lower. If your water heater is set too high, at 140 F or above, you waste $36 annually on standby losses from your water heater emitting heat to the physical surrounding area and $400 in general consumption. Turn your water heater off when going away on vacation and keep your pipes and heater insulated, decreasing excess heat loss as water travels to your tap. If you are looking for savings in the long run, consider a water heater powered by renewable energy. Photovoltaic solar panels are now a popular option; many utilities offer solar rebates specifically aimed at water heaters. Solar systems are a large investment; register for a free solar estimate and schedule an appointment with your local solar energy installers to evaluate if solar energy is right for you.
Heating and Cooling
While insulation and caulking up any air leaks will greatly reduce your heating and cooling payments, if you have an old A/C system, you have an energy hog on your hands. If your system is more than 15 years old, you should seriously consider replacing it with a new energy efficient one. Heating and cooling units require upkeep. Air filters must be replaced every month or two to reduce dirt build up, especially during peak summer and winter months. Dirt buildup can lead to early system failure, pricey maintenance, and slow down air-flow. Dirt streaks in your ducts, especially near the seams, indicate air leaks and can be sealed with duct mastic. Also, insulation with a rating of at least R-6 should be used on any ducts or pipes that go through unheated areas of your house, such as your attic. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve energy efficiency by 20% or more. Many utilities and governments also office rebates for the purchase of programmable thermostats. If you properly install and use a programmable thermostat, you can save on average $180 a year. If you have a window unit, make sure it has a snug fit so outside air can’t get in. Remove the unit in seasons when you don’t need it.
Home Energy Efficiency Tax Credit: 2011 Edition
Depending on where you live and your utility provider, a number of rebates are offered on energy efficient appliances or retrofits. Federally, for those who make applicable energy efficient improvements to their building envelope (walls, floors, roofs, windows, central cooling or heating system, etc.), there is tax credit for up to 10% of building costs or $500, whichever is less. While this excludes labor costs, this credit, in addition to any regional ones, assist customers greatly in improving the value and energy efficiency of their home. Read more about energy efficient tax credits here.
Wasn’t that easy? Making your home more energy efficient not only saves money and improves the comfort of your home, but helps the environment too - all possible through small home improvements and minor alterations to your normal lifestyle. So buy that power strip and only run the dishwasher when you have a full load! Remember that while shiny expensive energy efficient appliances and home solar panels sell, energy efficiency saves. Renewable energy systems are a luxury that not everyone can afford, but energy conservation is free. Save green by going green and improve not only your home, but your life, today!