(1) Insulation. Heating and cooling account for 50 to 70 percent of the energy used in the typical American home. Good insulation can save you a lot on your energy bill.
• Long term: For homeowners in the Northeast, insulate with high R-value materials (the higher the R-value, the more resistant the insulation is to heat transfer).
• Short term: The gaps, cracks and air leaks in a typical 1800-square foot house add up to 10-inch by 12-inch hole in the wall. Making your home more air tight by caulking windows and installing good weather seal on all doors can help save hundreds of dollars in heating and cooling costs each year.
(2) Windows. Depending on where you live in the U.S., windows should either help cool or help heat.
• Long term: In the Northeast, look for low-e windows with high solar heat gain coefficients.
• Short term: Use insulating drapes – keep them drawn in hot weather or at night to prevent heat loss; open them in the winter daylight to get cheap and easy passive solar heating.
(3) Water heating is a huge energy draw; it’s also something we can’t do without. Fortunately, there are numerous options to reduce the energy consumption as well as out-of-pocket expenses.
• Long term: Solar thermal water heaters, situated on the south-facing edge of the roof, are an extremely efficient way to take a guilt-free, long, hot shower. Mediterranean countries have been using them for centuries.
• Short term: Make sure your water heater is well insulated. Install low-flow showerheads that aerate the flow – it uses less water without affecting the water pressure. Adjust your water thermostat; 120 degrees is hot enough for washing dishes but won’t scald you.
(4) Compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs. Only five percent of the energy used by traditional incandescent light bulbs is emitted as light. The other 95 percent is released as heat. By contrast, CFLs use 75 less energy and last up to 10 times as long. Over the course of its lifetime, a CFL bulb will save about $30, on average. Even better are LEDs, which us 10 to 30 percent less energy than CFLs.
Random trivia: If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an EnergyStar qualified bulb, we’d collectively save more than $600 million in energy costs each year.
(5) Energy-Efficient Appliances. When buying new appliances, look for Energy Star certification. Replacing your aging refrigerator helps tremendously, even more so if you opt for a Manual Defrost model. Frost-free freezers typically consume 1150 kwh/year while manual defrost models use only 725 kwh/year. Energy savings this big are hard to come by.
6) Compute wisely. Laptops consume far less power than desktop models; consider one for your next upgrade. Manually turn off your monitor, or have your computer switch to sleep mode, instead of using power-hungry screensavers. Plug all of your computer cords into one AC power strip and turn off the power strip when the computer is not in use.
(7) Banish phantom loads. Unplug any non-essential appliances, such as stereos and DVD players. Home electronics consume up to 75% of their power when turned off but still plugged in.
(8) Get out more. Walk or bike to run errands or go to work. If you work farther from home, consider joining a carpool. Many states and cities now have their own incentive programs for carpools that offer everything from free gas cards to close-proximity parking to discounted garage rates.
(9) Learn to love the seasons. It’s obvious and so easy, but most of us don’t do it. When it’s a pleasant temperature outside, ignore your AC and open the windows. When it’s cold out, put on a sweater instead of a tee-shirt and turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees. In a similar vein, Smart Thermostats such as a Nest wifi-enabled learning thermostat can definitley lower your energy bill, matching heating and cooling when you need it.
(10) Easiest solar saver: In the summer, dry your clothes on a clothesline. It’s free, it saves energy and it makes your clothes smell nice.