It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Power Your Home For Less
The #1 way to reduce your energy costs is, well, to use less energy. Bear in mind that less than about 7% of your overall budget should go to utilities.
Vampire Energy Use.
When you're not using an appliance but it's still plugged in (like a microwave), energy is feeding the appliance to keep it ready when you need it. Same goes for your TV, stereo, chargers, and lamps. While you're out earning your money, those appliances are spending it, even if they are not in use. This is what we like to call "vampire energy use."
For the Love of Surge Protectors.
For as little as $3 to $20, these gadgets let you keep your appliances plugged in and ready to go. With a simple flick of the switch, energy stops flowing, and you stop paying.
Instead of buying a surge protector, you could simply unplug your electronics every time you leave the house. That said, surge protectors let us turn off multiple electronics with one flick, and they protect our appliances from electrical damage that could occur from repeated plugging and unplugging. Either way, this is especially key when you go out of town. If you have a trip planned, put in a calendar reminder to unplug everything—or switch off the surge protector—before you leave.
First, note that the biggest difference will come from your actions. Simply dimming light fixtures around the house by 30% can save you up to 50% on your utility costs.
Second, switch out your bulbs. CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs use 25% less energy than ol' fashioned bulbs and last ten times longer. Although they cost more at first when you buy them (roughly $2 compared to $.20), they last so long that they're cheaper in the long run. The energy savings are real: If you replaced five 60-watt bulbs and five 100-watt bulbs with CFLs, you could save about $87 in one year and $476 over the life of the bulbs. Check it out for yourself with this cool CFL calculator.
Mind your windows
Close windows, drapes, and blinds during hot days and open them back up when the sun goes down. During the winter, open your blinds to let the sun warm your room. Open windows on opposite sides of the house and keep the doors open to create cross-ventilation.
Insulate your home
Make sure every outlet on an exterior wall has a foam insulating pad. These only cost about $5, and are easily installed by unscrewing your current switch plate, putting the foam in place, and then screwing the plate back on.
Check the temperature dial on your fridge: It should be between 35 and 38 degrees. You're wasting energy and money if it's any lower than that. While you're in there, check the freezer. It should be set at 0 degrees—no colder. Simply raising your fridge temperature by two degrees will save you about $20 per year.
Pack your food wisely, too. The less food in your fridge, the less energy required to cool it down. Meanwhile, your freezer works the opposite way, so pack your freezer like you would pack a suitcase: carefully.
Refrigerators are usually the biggest drain on energy, so if your refrigerator is more than 15 years old, use this Energy Star calculator to figure out how much you could save by replacing it. For example, replacing an early-nineties fridge with a new one can save over $880 within five years if you live somewhere with New York-type energy prices. If a new fridge costs about $550, you'd save yourself $330.
Want to peek in at those brownies? Don't! Every time you open the oven, you lose 25 to 50 degrees of heat. You know the old saying, "A watched pot never boils." It's true…because it takes longer if it's not covered. Cover those pots when cooking to reduce time and conserve energy.
Also, know your pot size: a 6" pot on an 8" burner wastes 40% of the burner's heat, according to Energy Star. Using the right-sized pot can save $36 annually for an electric range and $18 for gas.
You may like a good soak and steam bath, but your dishes don't know the difference. Use the air-dry option if available, and only use pre-soak for burned or dried-on food, not for every cycle.
Check out Earth Aid, a green website that tracks your utility bills and gives you reward points when your usage falls below the prior year's. We calculated that you could save about $360 per year simply by reducing your energy consumption and letting Earth Aid reward you for it. That's a sweet deal if ever we've heard of one.
- Buy at least one surge protector and use it on the main outlet in your home (generally your home office or TV area).
- Buy at least two CFL lightbulbs to replace standard incandescent bulbs.
- Use GE's CFL Savings Calculator to determine how much you will save with your new CFL bulbs.
- Set the temperature on your fridge so that it is no colder than 40 F.
- If you have a window AC unit, replace it with a standing fan
- Turn off lights! If necessary, leave sticky notes on your light switches to remind you.