Energy Tips

Heating and cooling account for up to 50 percent of the average home's energy use

Since most of the energy we use in our homes is for heating and cooling, making small, no-cost or very inexpensive improvements to the amount of air that infiltrates our home can make a big difference in how much we spend to heat/cool it.

  • Leaky ducts can decrease the overall energy efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent. Duct sealing increases efficiency and lowers your utility bills. Check your ducts for air leaks. Check in the attic and crawlspace for sections that should be joined but have separated, and then look for obvious holes. Call a professional, who will use aluminum tape (not duct tape) or mastic to seal cracks and holes — contrary to popular belief, duct tape should not be used on ducts!
  • Air sealing is one of the most significant energy efficiency improvements you can make to your home. Air sealing will not just reduce energy costs; it will also improve your home's comfort and durability. If you add up all the small cracks and leaks, they can be equal to leaving a window open! Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, lights and plumbing fixtures, switches and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of your home. Fill small cracks with silicone caulk; use non-expanding foam for larger areas. Use plastic gaskets behind light switches and outlet covers.
  • Tune it up — Ensure that your whole heating and cooling system is energy efficient by having it cleaned and checked by a professional every season.
  • Keep it clean — Check your furnace and air conditioning filters every month and clean or replace as needed, but never more frequently than every three months. Dirty filters prevent adequate air flow and make your system work harder than it has to. A filter is there to keep the furnace coils clean, not to clean the air we breathe.
  • Turn it down — You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68ºF while you're awake, and setting it lower while you're asleep or away from home. By turning your thermostat back 10º-15º for eight hours every day, you can save between 5 and 15 percent a year on your heating bill-a savings of as much as 1 percent for each degree, if the setback period is eight hours long. Consider installing a programmable thermostat to do this for you automatically.
  • Where's the fire? Think you can save by using a fireplace? Think again. While cozy to watch, the up-draft created can suck warm air out of your rooms and up the fireplace flue. If you must see the crackle, install tightly fitting doors to help prevent warm air escaping. And always install a carbon monoxide detector if you are going to use a fireplace.
  • Close your curtains and shades at night; open them during the day. Keep windows on the south side of your house clean to maximize solar gain.

Appliances and lighting account for 23 percent of the average home's energy use

  • Change five lights — Using Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) in just five fixtures can save you up to $60 a year in energy cost s— and keep you from having to change the bulbs as often as they last 10 times longer! Choose the fixtures you use most often or are the hardest to reach.
  • Really turn it off — Plug home electronics into power strips and turn the power strip off when equipment is not in use. Many TVs, DVDs and other items have "instant on" features that are still using small amounts of power even when the item is "off." Turning them off at a power strip will eliminate that "phantom load" and save you energy costs.
  • Select Energy Star-rated home electronics and appliances. They are rated to save at least 20 percent on energy costs over regular appliances. The energy cost savings over the life of the item will offset or surpass the small extra purchase cost of the item.
  • Give it a boost — Use the internal heater on your dishwasher. It will increase the temperature from 120ºF coming from your water heater up to 140ºF for sparkling clean and sanitary dishes.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents whenever possible.
  • Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation. Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer. Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material, not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.

Refrigerators account for up to 9 percent of the average home's energy usage

  • Cold on the side — When selecting a refrigerator, chose a freezer on the top model instead of a side-by-side. It uses anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent less energy than a side-by-side model.
  • Keep it dry — Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
  • Models with the automatic moisture control feature have been engineered to prevent moisture accumulation on the cabinet exterior without the addition of a heater. This is not the same thing as an "anti-sweat" heater. Models with an anti-sweat heater will consume 5 percent to 10 percent more energy than models without this feature.
  • Scrape the ice — Manual defrost models use half the energy of automatic defrost models, but must be defrosted periodically to realize energy savings. Frost buildup increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running. Don't allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
  • Put it in the right place — Position your refrigerator away from a heat source such as an oven, dishwasher or direct sunlight from a window. To allow air to circulate around the condenser coils, leave a space between the wall or cabinets and the refrigerator or freezer and keep the coils clean.
  • Take its temperature — Keep your refrigerator between 37ºF and 40ºF and your freezer at 5ºF.
  • Don't use it — lose it! Are you really using the extra freezer in the garage or basement? If so, replace it with an Energy Star-qualified freezer. These models use at least 10 percent less energy than required by current federal standards and are available in three configurations: upright freezers with automatic defrost, upright freezers with manual defrost and chest freezers with manual defrost only

Water heating accounts for 16 percent of the average home's energy use

  • Conserve water — Your biggest opportunity for savings is to use less hot water. In addition to saving energy (and money), cutting down on hot water use helps conserve dwindling water supplies. A family of four each showering five minutes a day can use about 700 gallons per week — a three-year drinking water supply for one person! Water-conserving showerheads and faucet aerators can cut hot water use in half. That family of four can save 14,000 gallons of water a year and the energy required to heat it.
  • Consider the Energy Factor (EF) — EF indicates a water heater's overall energy efficiency based on the amount of hot water produced per unit of fuel consumed over a typical day. It includes recovery efficiency, standby losses and cycling losses. Electric water heaters have EFs of .93 to .95. Gas water heaters have EFs of .59 to .93
  • Lower the water heater temperature — For most households, 120ºF water is fine (about midway between the "low" and "medium" setting). Each 10ºF reduction in water temperature will generally save 3 percent to 5 percent on your water heating costs. When you are going away on vacation, you can turn the thermostat down to the lowest possible setting, or turn the water heater off altogether for additional savings. If you have a gas water heater, make sure you know how to relight the pilot if you're going to turn it off while away.
  • First Hour Rating is more important than size — The First Hour Rating (FHR) provided on the Energy Guide label is actually more important than the tank size. The FHR is a measure of how much hot water the heater will deliver during a busy hour. A larger tank doesn't necessarily mean a higher FHR. When you buy a water heater, estimate your household's peak-hour demand and look for a unit with an FHR in that range.
  • That's a wrap — An insulating jacket on your tank will reduce heat lost through the walls of the tank by 25 percent to 40 percent, saving 4 percent to 9 percent on your water heating bills. Always read the tank manufacturer's recommendations and follow directions carefully when installing an insulation jacket. Insulating the hot water pipes coming from the tank will reduce heat loss as the hot water is flowing to your faucet.

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