The change of each season is a great time to take note of how you can make small (or large) changes to improve your energy consumption. As gas, electricity, and water prices creep up, more and more homeowners are seeing the advantages that come with a seasonal energy tune-up for thier household.
Figure out your ideal level of investment and take things one step at a time -- before you know it, you'll have a greener home that saves money without sacrificing comfort.
1. Get an energy audit.
Most utility companies offer an energy audit, oftentimes for free. An expert will take a look at all your appliances, lights, windows, doors, and insulation-- then make recommendations for changes you can make that will save energy (and money) every month.
2. Swap out your lightbulbs.
Compact fluorescent or even LED bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they also last at least 10 times longer than incandescent and use only about 25% of the energy. As your incandescent light bulbs flicker out, consider replacing them with a greener alternative. And if you decide to swap them all out at once, you'll start seeing a difference pretty quickly in your utility bills!
3. Pay attention to the sun.
There's a lot you can do to heat and cool your home without spending any money at all by keeping tabs on where the sun is in the sky. Make note of where and when the sun shines into your home across every season, then adjust your habits (and your blinds) accordingly. For example, if the sun is shining directly into a room during the winter, you might be able to save some money on your heating bill by opening up all your curtains and blinds in the morning to allow the sun in. But if you're getting that direct sunlight in the dead heat of summer, then the opposite applies. Close your blinds and curtains in the morning to keep your house cool.
4. Unplug unused electronics (or use power strips).
Did you know that plugged-in chargers, appliances, and other electrical devices still pull electricity from the wall even when they're not in use? It's true! To eliminate the constant drain on your electricity, you should unplug any unused devices, or you can also use power strips with an on-off switch. Keep everything plugged in; just flip the switch off when you're finished using it.
5. Apply weather-stripping your doors & windows.
Especially in some older houses, your doors and windows might not be entirely airtight -- meaning that you've got drafts from the outside letting hot or cold air into your home and vice versa. A relatively cheap and easy fix is replacing the weather stripping. It's as simple as a trip to a hardware store and a few minutes of attention to each window and door.
6. Turn down your water heater.
Hot water feels amazing in the shower...but here's the thing: Your water heater is working to keep that water consistently hot, and if you've got the gauge set at a high temperature, then "consistently hot" takes a lot of energy to maintain. Turning down the temperature five degrees can result in some surprising savings -- and you might not even notice when you're mixing that hot water with cold for the perfect shower temperature!
7. Replace your water heater.
The older a water heater is, the more energy it's going to take to maintain. Consider swapping it out for a newer model, or a tankless water heater, which heats your water up as you turn the tap on. Not only will your hot water seem inexhaustible, but you'll also be saving a bunch of energy (and money) by divesting yourself of a 50-gallon tank that's constantly being heated and re-heated.
8. Swap out your showerheads.
If you like to take long showers, this fix can be especially helpful. Change your current shower head for a low-flow version that uses less water. These often have several settings for pressure and spray so that you can customize your shower experience -- and you probably won't even notice that you're using significantly less water once you make the change.
9. Upgrade your thermostat.
You don't necessarily need a "smart" thermostat for your home (although it's always nice to change the temperature using a phone app from the couch -- just saying!), but if you don't have a programmable thermostat, then you should definitely invest in one. For example, you could set your thermostat to lower the temperature of the house by 10 to 15 degrees when you're at work during the day, and then bring the temperature back up to "normal" an hour to 30 minutes before you arrive home. Many thermostats even let you designate temperature by days of the week, so if you know that you're almost never home on Saturday night or Sunday morning, you can adjust your temperature accordingly.
10. Air-seal (and maybe insulate) your attic and basement.
You may know that heat rises, and that applies as much inside your house as it does in the world outside. That means a drafty attic could result in a lot of energy spent keeping the house warm in the wintertime, and it won't do you any favors in the summer, either. An uninsulated basement can also let in cold air in the wintertime and out in the summertime.
11. Use ceiling fans instead of air conditioning.
Air conditioning is a wonderful invention, and it feels amazing in the heat of the day in the middle of summer -- but it sure is an energy hog. Instead of turning on the air conditioning, try opening all your windows and turning on the ceiling fans. When it's hot outside, sometimes just getting the air moving inside can make a big difference, especially at night after the sun is down.
12. Use cold or warm water to wash clothes.
Some stains just won't budge without bringing the heat, but for the most part, your clothes will get just as clean in cold or warm water as in hot water. And washing with cold water is also a little easier on the fabrics, making your clothes last a bit longer. Most washers have a cold-water setting, so try it the next time you're washing up a load and see what you think.
13. Only run full dish/laundry loads.
You can save a lot of energy, water, and money if you make sure you're only washing full loads of both dishes and clothes. This might mean you have to invest in a bigger laundry basket or buy a few more plates so you won't run out. Think about the best way you can make sure your loads are as big as possible and then commit to only running the appliances when they're at full capacity.
14. Add solar screens to windows.
The sun can be used to heat your home without using much energy, and that can be a really nice thing in the wintertime ... and not so nice in the summer when you'd really prefer not to heat your home at all. Solar screens can keep the sun out of any windows where it shines in directly, maintaining the cool cavern you've carefully cultivated. In the northern hemisphere, they'll be most effective on south-facing windows.
15. Install solar panels (or solar shingles).
Solar panels can offset your energy usage (and your bill) by quite a lot, and now there are even more options for making your roof an energy-catching addition to your house. Solar shingles are smaller and less obvious than full panels but still bring the same amount of generation goodness to your roof, so the next time you have to re-shingle the top of your house, look into adding some into the mix.
16. Choose a roof with a light color.
The sun beats down on your roof all day, and if you've chosen a dark-colored roof, then the roof is absorbing all of that sunlight (and associated heat) every day, which isn't always ideal. To keep your attic relatively cool, pick light-colored roofing materials; they reflect the sun's rays more than absorb them, allowing you to maintain climate control down below without using as much energy.
17. Add some storm doors.
Every time you open your doors to the outside, it's letting the outside in. Combat this leakage of warm or cool air into the great outdoors by installing storm doors, especially on the most-used entrance to the house. A storm door helps provide an additional layer of protection to the doorway (already a spot where a lot of your air-conditioned or heated air escapes), giving it an extra seal and allowing less to escape when you use the door.
18. Upgrade your appliances.
If it's been a while since you looked for a new washer, dryer, dishwasher, or refrigerator, then you might be surprised by how far they've come in terms of energy and water usage. Many appliances are now Energy Star certified, meaning they're more energy-efficient and "green" than their traditional counterparts.
19. Tune up your heat and air conditioning once a year.
This might be as simple as replacing the filters and as complicated as getting a full service from a professional, but if you just can't live without that heat or central air in the house, then this is a smart way to ensure your systems are performing at top efficiency (and save money, too). Look at your heating every fall and your air conditioning every spring to make sure you're getting it all tuned up before you really need it.
20. Replace your windows.
Windows are wonderful for letting in light and breezes, but when it comes to the warm or cold temperatures you've cultivated inside your house, windows are literal holes to the outside that will render useless your efforts to be comfortable. Your windows should be well-sealed and draft-free, and sometimes there's nothing you can do to ensure that but replace them. It's expensive, but you might be surprised how much your windows were contributing to the heating or cooling bill once you've taken the plunge and replaced them.
21. Plant trees.
A tree on the south side of your house can be a godsend in the summertime, creating a reservoir of cool air that spills over onto your house. It's an investment that can take a while to mature, but if you know you're going to be in the house for a while, then planting and caring for some trees around your house will increase your curb appeal while simultaneously making it a more pleasant place to live.
22. Add a roof ridge vent.
For attics that collect and trap a lot of heat, a roof ridge vent can be the perfect way to encourage that heat to escape and never return. They're vents that keep the attic protected from the elements but allow warm air to exit the attic, and if you're already getting your roof redone, they could be the perfect solution to a too-hot upstairs floor.
23. Replace toilets with low-flow versions.
Every time you flush a toilet, the older versions use gallons of water to clear the bowl. There are a lot of newer models on the market that are low-flow or even have different flush options for water usage on the same toilet. Like showerheads, low-flow toilets are one of those changes that don't feel like a sacrifice but yield savings on your water bill nonetheless.
Green lawns look nice -- but in a lot of climates, they use a ton of water and weed-killer to maintain that green, lush look. Many homeowners are turning to xeriscaping as a way to retool their outside space so that it still looks nice -- and natural -- but doesn't require irrigation to keep up. Talk to a landscaper about your lawn options and see whether it makes sense to revamp your lawn with some plants and gravel to replace the grass. It looks just as nice (sometimes nicer) and requires a lot less manual labor to maintain.
25. Use a manual push mower.
If you live in a region where grass grows like weeds and you don't need to water, then maybe it makes perfect sense to keep your lawn...but you'll still need to mow it regularly. One greener alternative to a riding mower or a motorized push version is an old-fashioned manual push mower. They do work, but you'll be using your own elbow grease instead of gasoline to power the blades, so you'll get a workout while you mow.
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