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For most of us, “fall back” marks the change in seasons—winter is coming! As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, snuggling up with hot chocolate and a good movie (or four!) becomes even more appealing! But while you relax, your appliances and electronic devices are working overtime to keep you cozy. This can lead to a shocker of an electricity bill! And this is where energy efficiency comes in.
When it comes to reducing energy use, energy efficiency tends to receive less attention than innovations like renewable energy. Although it’s often viewed as a less exciting topic, energy efficiency is a powerful way to reduce your energy consumption.
In this post, we show why this is. We also present 10 effective energy efficiency investments in your home to save electricity and reduce your utility bill.
Energy Efficiency vs. Energy Conservation
First things first, it’s important to understand what we mean when we say “energy efficiency.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average US home uses around 914 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Assuming the national average electricity rate of $0.1319 per kWh, his results in a monthly bill of about $120. Energy efficiency and energy conservation share the same end goal: reducing this energy consumption.
On the one hand, you might say this is a case of po-tay-to po-tah-to; and at the end of the day, we believe in embracing both to minimize your footprint (and utility bill). However, we believe it’s important to differentiate the two:
- Energy conservation calls for a change in habits. For example, using the clothes dryer less often or layering up and turning down the heat in the winter.
- Energy efficiency, on the other hand, refers to ways that you can maintain your same “quality of life” using less energy.
Knowledge Is Power
To get started with energy efficiency investments, you must first understand how much electricity your home draws from the grid; then you must know what that energy is powering. WattDoesItUse is developing a comprehensive calculator that will allow you to estimate just that. You will be able to use it to identify the best opportunities for energy savings based on your lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a similar tool that can help in the meantime.
While these calculators are great starting points, direct measurement is ideal! We recommend either getting a professional home energy audit by a certified inspector or doing it yourself using a home energy monitor, like Sense. Sense slides into your breaker board, clamps around your mains, and reads the electrical current in real-time. It transmits that data to the Sense app via Bluetooth so you can track your home’s energy usage at any given point in time.
10 Energy Efficiency Investments, From Low-Cost Strategies to Big-Ticket Items
Opt for Central Heating
Heating accounts for almost one third of the average American home electricity bill. Although electric and gas space heaters keep your feet warm and toasty, they are quite inefficient in heating your home. Many space heaters use 1,500 watts of energy per hour to run—as much as a microwave!—and can easily drive up your energy bill. If you insist, make sure your space heater is energy-efficient.
Alternatively, smart thermostats are great investments. They can adjust your home’s temperature based on different conditions and whether you’re home or not. They can therefore save you money while ensuring you are still comfortable whenever you’re home.
Wash With Cold Water
Did you know that 90% of your washing machine’s energy consumption comes from heating the water? Running the machine only accounts for 10% of the energy it uses. With this statistic in mind, it makes sense that washing your clothes in cold water can make a big difference. Worried cold water won’t get your clothes as clean? There are many detergents that are specially formulated for cold water!
Maintain Your Dryer
Keep the lint screen and dryer duct clean to help your dryer run more efficiently. You can also decrease toss in a few wool dryer balls when you’re drying heavy sheets or towels. This will help agitate them, accelerating the drying process and allowing a shorter drying cycle.
Replace Incandescent Bulbs
If you haven’t you switched your bulbs to energy-efficient light bulbs yet, then get moving! Halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are a couple more dollars to purchase than incandescents. But they are more energy-efficient and offer longer lasting light. In fact, a CFL costs about one third of a comparable incandescent bulb when you account for purchase price, longevity, and the cost to run each bulb. Over the average of 40 bulbs per home, savings from these greener bulbs will certainly add up!
Shut it Off… Smartly
While turning off your lights, electronic devices, and appliances is certainly better than leaving them on. Most electronic devices and appliances continue to pull electricity from the grid when they are plugged in, even if they are in “standby mode.” One of these “energy vampires” won’t make much impact. But collectively, they can be responsible for 10% of your energy bill! In our previous post, we provide strategies to address this “phantom load.” One easy, cost-effective solution is to invest in smart plugs and smart strips.
Seal The Cracks
There are a number of places in your home where small leaks can create big heating (and cooling) inefficiencies. It is likely not cost-effective to replace your windows just to save energy. But if they are drafty, consider caulking any cracks and installing window films to the pains. You can boost efficiency by installing storm windows. If you are replacing windows for other reasons, the additional cost of Energy Star replacement windows (~$15) is worth it!
Install a Storm Door
Even if you have an energy-efficient door, adding a storm door will provide an extra layer of protection from the elements. Storm doors are typically made with low-emissivity glass or a protective coating that can help reduce energy loss by up to 50%. Most storm doors last between 25 and 50 years, and you can get one for as little as $75.
Invest in Insulation
Proper insulation of your home’s walls, attic, and air ducts will slow the rate at which heat flows out of the house (or into the house in summer). This saves your HVAC system from having to work as hard. It therefore reduced the energy required to heat (or cool) your home.
Properly installed fiberglass, cellulose, and most foam insulation materials can all reduce the heat conduction of a completed wall system. The key is that they are properly installed. For this kind of project, your contractor’s expertise is often more important than the insulation material you choose. Make sure that your contractor uses an infrared camera during or after installation to look for voids. It pays to do it right the first time.
Depending on your home, this kind of energy efficiency measure may require a bit more investment up front. However, the electricity and associated financial savings generated over the lifetime of an installment like this can more than offset the cost. Such an investment can also add value to your home when it comes time to put it on the market.
Tend to Your HVAC System
Insulating your home gives you confidence that your HVAC system won’t have to run any more than necessary. An annual tune-up on your heating and cooling system will do the same by ensuring that your furnace (and air conditioner) is running at peak efficiency. A home heating and cooling check-up improves efficiency by ensuring connections are tight, parts are properly lubricated, and coils are clean. Tuning up your HVAC system can also help you extend the life of your furnace. Who doesn’t want to avoid a $2,000 to $8,000 furnace replacement?!
Invest in Energy Star Products
Energy Star products meet energy-efficient specifications set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They use an impressive 10-50% less energy than standard appliances. It follows that they help reduce the cost of product operation and associated emissions of greenhouse gases.
Any new electronic or appliance is an investment, so it can be hard to spend any more than you need to. Energy Star products do sometimes come with a higher upfront cost. But it’s important to view these purchases as investments that accumulate savings over their lifetime. The math is therefore different from a typical purchase that is evaluated solely on its upfront cost.
You can improve upon this investment even further by keeping product configuration in mind as well as you compare products. Take refrigerators/freezers. The refrigerator with a top-mount freezer will use 20-25 percent less energy than a comparably sized side-by-side model. It will often also offer more usable refrigerator and freezer space! Similarly, if your desktop computer is on the struggle bug, consider replacing it with a laptop. Laptops use up to 80% less electricity and run on less energy than their desktop companions.
When it comes to energy efficiency, the best fixes are ones that don’t require you to develop new habits. All the recommendations above will empower you to create a home that does the work for you. That way, you can get back to those weekend cat naps without nightmares of spiking electricity bills!