Due to the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have found themselves working from home. Working from home cuts the daily commute and all related costs, but it also means you’ll be using more energy at home — which can take a bite out of your budget. And as we head into cooler weather, it may feel like you are playing a losing game with your heating bill.
Upgrade Your Lightbulbs
Take an inventory of your lightbulbs — if they’re the old-fashioned incandescent kind, they are likely generating more heat than you know. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, only about 10% of the electricity these lightbulbs draw goes to lighting your home. Roughly 90% is devoted to generating heat. Of course, you don’t want to stumble around in the dark, so upgrade to more efficient lighting sources.
About 5% of your energy bill is devoted to keeping you in the light. You can save up to $75 a year by installing Energy Star bulbs and fixtures. Choose from LED, halogen and CFL bulbs.
Open Your Drapes and Blinds During Cold Sunny Weather
During periods of cold weather, sunshine can keep your home warm, even on days when the temperature dips to uncomfortable levels. Open the blinds and curtains on windows that face south, and let those sunbeams stream in to keep you toasty. Just don’t forget to close them again at night when the temperature drops and on cloudy days, as well.
Turn Your Thermostat Up in the Summer
Avoid the temptation to keep the air conditioner churning while you’re away from home. Pacific Power recommends maintaining a temperature of about 85 degrees when you’re not home. You can save up to 10% on your bill with this smart energy strategy.
And if you’re in the market to replace your air conditioner, consider choosing a high-efficiency model, which can help you reduce air conditioner energy use by at least 20%.
Keep Cooling Systems and Appliances Clean
Regularly cleaning your appliances can help you save money on your next utility bill. Cleaning or replacing air filters on your air conditioner once a month or as recommended will help it to cool more efficiently. When the system has to strain to work, that extra energy needed can lead to larger electricity bills.
You should also regularly clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator because dust and dirt that accumulate on coils impair the refrigerator’s efficiency. An Environmental Protection Agency study found that dirty coils can increase energy use by 35%.
Finally, keep range-top burners and reflectors clean to help them heat better, so you can reap the savings.
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Invest In a Smart Thermostat
Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi-enabled devices that automatically regulate temperature settings for optimal performance. Look for a smart thermostat that has earned an Energy Star label.
Smart thermostats can learn the temperature you prefer, as well as when you are home and away to adjust settings accordingly. They also allow you to adjust your home’s temperature using your smartphone or tablet. Some Energy Star-certified smart thermostats are compatible with incentive programs that might be offered by your utility company, so you can earn rewards by using one.
Nest estimates that the average smart thermostat user will save $131 to $145 annually on heating and cooling costs. A Nest smart thermostat starts at $249, so it’s estimated that the device will pay for itself in under two years. Plus, you might be eligible for rebates on the purchase, which means the savings could add up even sooner. Enter your ZIP code on the Nest rebates and rewards site to find out what’s available in your area.
Check For Air Leaks
When the temperature starts to plummet, it’s wise to assess your home for air leaks. Fortunately, you don’t have to hire a professional to find them. For doors and windows, place a dollar bill in the jamb and close it. If you can slide the bill out easily, air can easily get in or out, too.
Or, do the smoke test by holding a lit incense stick near suspected areas. If the smoke doesn’t rise straight up, you have a leak. You can do the same test with a lighter or candle. If the flame flickers, the spot isn’t airtight. These tests work best on windy days. Make sure all your doors, windows and fireplace flues are closed first, so you don’t get any false readings.
You’re most likely to find leaks around pipes under the bathroom or kitchen sink and near venting behind “hidden” unfinished spaces in your home, like the attic or the backs of closets. Add caulking to plug leaks, and use weatherstripping to seal around windows and doors. Caulking works best when the gaps are narrow and small. You can save up to 15% on heating costs — and cooling costs — by sealing up these leaks.
Plug Up Drafts
Of course, your windows aren’t the only culprits when it comes to letting in the cold. You can shave up to 20% off your heating bill by upgrading the insulation in your attic. Additionally, your fireplace can actually remove heat from the home rather than generate it. In fact, about 90% of the heat created by a fireplace goes straight up the chimney.
Still, you can drop your thermostat to the 50 to 55 degree range for a while if you’re going to be in the room where the fireplace is located. Don’t forget to open the dampers at the bottom of the fireplace, and open a window about an inch to help draw hot air into the room.
When you’re not using your fireplace, follow the U.S. Department of Energy’s advice and close the damper. If you don’t plan on building a fire in the near future, you might want to plug and seal the flue. For best results, block it off with a piece of firm, tight-fitting insulation or buy a chimney balloon that you can insert and inflate. You can save up to $100 a year by blocking off your unused fireplace. Just remember to remove the balloon or insulation before attempting to build a fire in the future.
Open Your Windows
Mild spring temperatures don’t mean you’re off the hook as far as energy-saving efforts are concerned. Before summer hits in full force, you might want to start prepping your home for the hotter temps.
Consider opening your windows and turning fans and air conditioning off while you’re sleeping. Then, when you close the windows in the morning, you’ll trap that nice, cool air inside. Even if the day heats up, it might be a while before you have to turn on the air conditioner.
Additionally, you should keep the blinds and drapes closed during the day. You’ll want to block that warming sunshine as the mercury climbs.
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Move Furniture Away From Exterior Walls
Something as simple as moving your furniture around can help you save on energy costs. Get a jump on extreme weather by readying your living space for any type of weather.
Even though you’ve caulked and weather-stripped, your home is still going to be a little cooler or hotter by windows, doors and exterior walls. Consider moving sofas and chairs to the interior parts of rooms — maybe near the television or that big pole lamp that’s generating heat.
Appliances don’t just throw off heat in the summer. They do it in winter, too, only now you’ll want to make use of that warmth. If you stay away from drafty locations, you could set your thermostat a bit lower during the next snowstorm.
Move Appliances Away From the Thermostat
From cooking our food to broadcasting entertainment into our houses at night, home appliances are indispensable. However, these essentials also generate a fair amount of heat in the summer.
Try not to place your TV or lamps near your thermostat. The thermostat will sense the heat and ramp-up to reduce nearby temperatures. Your air conditioning unit will then run longer and harder, costing you money.
If the idea of washing dishes by hand makes you shudder, at least avoid running your dishwasher during the hottest part of the day. The same goes for your clothes dryer. Pacific Power recommends restricting the use of major appliances between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. when the weather is hot.
Adjust the Temperature on your Refrigerator
Items that are plugged in are energy drainers, and that includes your appliances. Large appliances, such as your refrigerator, consume a significant amount of energy. Consider setting your refrigerator to 38 degrees Fahrenheit to lessen the amount of energy used.
Additionally, avoid standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open. Instead, decide what you need to get out before you open the door. Then, open the door, retrieve it and close the door to minimize energy loss.
Run Ceiling Fans Counter-Clockwise
When you use a ceiling fan with your air conditioner in the summer, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that you raise your thermostat by 4 degrees without loss of comfort. It’s important to only run the ceiling fan when someone is in the room because the fan doesn’t change the temperature of the air. Instead, it produces air flow that can make you feel cooler.
A ceiling fan’s air flow can also make you feel warmer if you reverse the fan’s direction. If the fan has a remote, you may be able to change the direction there. If not, there will be switch on the fan’s motor housing.
In the summer, the fan should rotate counterclockwise because the blades will push cooler air down in this position. In the winter the fan should rotate clockwise on the lowest speed, which pulls air up toward the ceiling and displaces the warm air that rises and collects there.
If you happen to be in the market for a new ceiling fan, an Energy Star-certified ceiling fan with lights is 60% more efficient and can save you $165 in energy costs over the 10-year lifespan of the fan, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Hire a Home Energy Auditor
When you’re considering investing money in energy-efficient appliances or other items for your home, such as a water heater or new windows, you should know how your home uses energy first. A home energy audit can help you understand how energy is used in your home and the areas where energy waste is occurring so you can select the most cost-effective upgrades.
A professional energy auditor will analyze your energy bills, complete health and safety inspections and use special equipment to detect energy loss sources. You’ll receive a report detailing which energy efficiency upgrades would be most beneficial in terms of savings, safety and health. In terms of savings, the recommendations in a home energy audit can save you 5% to 30% on your monthly energy bill.
Invest In Energy Star Applicances
Appliances use around 13% of your total household energy. If you’re in the market to get a new major appliance, it makes sense to buy appliances that are Energy Star certified. Even though you may pay more upfront for these types of appliances, the operating costs are up to 25% lower than conventional models.
For example, an Energy Star-certified refrigerator will use around 9% less energy than a conventional refrigerator, whereas Energy Star-certified washing machines use 25% less energy and 45% less water than conventional models.
To see how much you could save by swapping out your old refrigerator or freezer to a new Energy Star-certified model, use this Energy Star Savings Calculator.
Use Landscaping to Your Home’s Advantage
Certain types of landscaping can help shade your house, as well as the ground and pavement around your home. For example, if you plant a 6-foot tree with high, spreading leaves and branches to the south of your home, it can serve to shade your home’s windows immediately. And within five to 10 years, it will shade the roof of your home.
Planting large bushes or shrubs next to walls, patios, sidewalks and driveways can reduce the amount of heat that reaches your home’s walls and windows. You can also build a trellis to allow climbing vines to grow and shade your home’s perimeter and walls.
Reduce Your Water Heater’s Temperature
Unless you have a suppressed immune system or chronic respiratory disease, you could lower your water heater thermostat from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy. When water is set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it not only poses the risk of scalding human skin, it also can cause your water to waste up to $61 per year in standby heat losses and up to $400 in demand losses, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Insulate Your Water Heater
If you own a new hot water heater, it’s probably already insulated. But if you have an older model, see if it has a minimum R-value of 24. If you can’t determine the water heater’s R-value, simply touch the tank. If it feels warm, it needs to be further insulated.
Insulating your water heater could reduce standby heat losses up to 45% and save up to 16% in water heating costs. And it’s not difficult to do. Jackets or blankets specifically designed to insulate water heaters are available for around $20.
Be Selective About Running Your Dishwasher
Although you might think that you could save on energy by washing your dishes by hand, that’s not necessarily true. For example, if you handwash your dishes several times per day in hot water, using an energy-efficient dishwasher and only operating it when it’s completely full can be cheaper.
Another way to save by using the dishwasher is to choose shorter wash cycles. Shorter cycles use less hot water, which equals less energy cost.
Be Selective About Using Your Stove
Be selective about using your stove. Use the stovetop — or even better, an outdoor grill — for cooking. Even your microwave is more cost-friendly than your oven, capable of using up to 80% less energy.
When you do use your stove or oven, match the size of the pan to the heating element. Using a large heating element to heat a small pan wastes energy. Also, keep the burners and reflectors on your range-top clean. They will reflect heat more efficiently and save energy.
Don’t Always Use Hot Water When Washing Laundry
Unless you have clothing stains that contain oil, you shouldn’t have to use hot water to wash. Just by using warm water instead of hot, you can cut the energy used in half. And if you use cold water, you’ll save even more energy.
Also, keep in mind that your washer will use the same amount of energy whether it’s one-third full, one-half full or full of laundry. So, only wash full loads.
Make Some Tweaks When Using Your Clothes Dryer
There’s no doubt you can save energy by air-drying your clothes on a drying rack or clothesline. But if you must use the dryer, dry full loads only. Just like a washing machine, a dryer will use the same amount of energy to dry one garment as it would dry a full load.
Also, check the settings on your dryer. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it. It will help save energy because the dryer won’t overdry your clothes. You can also check the dryer vent for blockages every so often. A blocked dryer vent can result in energy loss and possibly present a fire hazard.
Install Insulated Cellular Shades
To reduce heat loss or gain through your home’s windows, consider installing insulated cellular shades. These shades are made of pleated materials that fold up accordion-style and have at least one air layer in a honeycomb cross-section that acts as an insulator.
The shades work in both hot and cold seasons. For example, during cold weather, the shades can reduce heat loss by at least 40%, equaling a 20% energy savings. In hot weather, they can reduce heat gain by up to 80%, limiting total solar gain to 15% or less.
Use Advanced Powerstrips
Home office and entertainment devices continue drawing power even after you turn them off, which are known as vampire loads. Unfortunately, vampire loads cost about $200 in annual energy costs in the average home.
To combat this, use an advanced power strip, also known as an APS. On the outside, they appear to be a standard power strip, but on the inside, they have features that work to significantly reduce energy use by consumer electronics, which helps save you money.
Make Existing Windows More Energy-Efficient
The heat loss and gain through windows results in up to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use. If your windows are in good condition, you can take measures to make them more energy-efficient. Not only can you check for leaks, caulk, weatherstrip and add insulated window coverings, but there are also additional energy-saving strategies you can take advantage of, such as a solar film or exterior awnings.
Seal Heating and Cooling Ducts
One of the enemies of your home’s central heating and cooling system’s efficiency are unsealed and insulated ducts, which can waste a lot of energy. To correct the problem, get some duct sealant or metal-backed tape and seal the seams and connections of ducts that run through your home’s attic, garage and crawlspace.
After sealing, wrap the ducts with insulation to keep them from getting too hot or too cold in response to the changing seasons. By sealing and insulating your home’s ducts, you can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20% or more.
Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.