This month marks the 46th anniversary of Earth Day. But you don’t have to be a granola-eating tree hugger to want to go green– let’s face it,
utility costs eat up a significant chunk of the average person’s income and it makes financial sense to reduce those costs wherever possible.
While there are plenty of big ticket items that one could purchase to help with long-term energy costs (installing solar panels, buying a tankless water heater), there are lots of small changes that anyone can easily make to save bucks in the here and now. Here are some green tips to help you save money on your energy bill.
Turn Down for What?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, water heating can account for 14% to 25% of the energy consumed in your home. They recommend turning the water heater temperature down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As a side benefit, this can also help prevent children from getting scalded. Adding insulation to your water heater can reduce standby heat loss by 25% up to 45%. Wrapping your water heater is an easy DIY project that even someone as unhandy as me can do.
When washing clothes, use cold water. If you’re concerned about killing germs, use bleach or a non-chlorine bleach like Chlorox 2, which has hydrogen peroxide in it. And skipping the dryer and hanging clothes outside in the sun isn’t just eco-friendly; it can also kill bacteria on clothing as effectively as bleach. Plus, it smells great.
You’ll also want to turn down the thermostat in winter and turn it up as high as you can bear it in summer. If you have a programmable thermostat and set it back for 10 to 15 degrees while you are out of the house or sleeping, you can save between 5% and 15% per year on your heating or cooling bills. Even if installing a new thermostat isn’t an option and you have to make manual adjustments, it’s worth it to turn the thermostat up or down (depending on the season) when you’re not going to be home for an extended period of time. Using fans while you’re home during the summer can help you set the temperature 4 degrees higher with the same comfort level. Just make sure to turn them off when you leave the room.
Vampires Suck. Power, that is.
Energy vampires are electronic devices that continue to draw power even when they are turned off. One of the biggest energy hogs is gaming consoles, which when left in standby mode can consume even more power than if they were turned on. In fact, a study by the nonprofit National Resources Defense Council estimates that each year American gaming consoles alone consume as much power as all the households in the city of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. Much of the energy consumed is in the middle of the night, in standby mode, when the console is “listening” for a voice command and using power to keep USB ports active. So turn off gaming systems when not in use.
Cable boxes are another major offender. If you turned your cable box with DVR capability off for a year but kept it plugged in, it would consume almost $45 in electricity. According to Energy.gov, unplugging unused devices can save you 10% a year on your energy bill.
If unplugging is difficult (who wants to crawl behind the entertainment center?) consider getting a “smart” power strip. There are surge protectors that are timer equipped to turn off or on at a specific time. There are power strips that have a motion detector and can sense whether the room is occupied and turn off accordingly. And there are also current sensing strips that will detect whether an electronic item is in sleep mode, turned off or turned on and adjust power appropriately.
Laptops are more energy efficient than desktops, but if you do leave your computer on all day, consider setting it up to actually go into sleep mode after a period of inactivity rather than simply hibernating. According to Energystar.gov, by having your computer go into low-power sleep mode, you can save up to $50 per computer per year.
If You Can’t Stand the Heat…
With the weather warming up (or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part), it helps to have a plan when it comes to cooking. Oven and stovetop cooking methods use more energy and heat up the house more than using a slow cooker, microwave or toaster oven. Choosing the right cookware is important too– copper-bottomed pans heat up faster and using a warped pan to boil water for pasta can use 50% more energy than a flat-bottomed pan. Using a smaller pan on a too-large burner can waste up to 40% of the heat produced by the burner.
Using the right lighting can also make a big difference. Traditional incandescent bulbs, which are no longer sold, gave off 90% of their energy as heat rather than light. Newer, more efficient bulb choices include halogen, compact fluorescent and LED. LED bulbs are by far the most energy efficient, but they are also the most expensive.
When it’s time to replace appliances and electronic items, it is worth it to shop for a model that has earned the EPA’s Energy Star label. Some local governments even give rebates for buying certain energy efficient products.
Not sure where to start? Some utility companies offer free energy audits. The Department of Energy offers the Home Energy Saver, a DIY online energy audit. The Earth Day Network has the Energy Center with free tools to help people save money on energy, and custom tips targeted to your specific living situation.
You don’t have to make a big investment in order to reduce your energy costs. Little changes can add up to big savings on your utility bill.