Energy-efficient Upgrades for Your Home this Earth Day

Earth day

Did you know that the typical American family spends close to a whopping $2,000 on home energy bills every year? Even worse, much of that is wasted through leaky windows and doors, poorly insulated attics and crawl spaces, and inefficient appliances. But there are plenty of ways you can reduce the amount of energy your home uses. These 12 tips will save you money and decrease your carbon footprint as soon as you put them into practice, so that you can make an energy-saving difference on Earth Day—and every day.

Insulate your attic, crawl spaces, and walls

Most homes in the U.S. lack sufficient insulation and suffer from too many leaks. According to EPA’s Energy Star program, the accumulation of wasted energy from all the leaks and crevices from the average home equates to having a window open every day of the year! If you can’t figure out how much insulation you need, use this DIY tool to conduct a free energy audit, or get recommendations from your utility company to hire a professional auditor. You’ll end up with a report telling you what “R-value” you need to save energy on heating and cooling.

Seal duct leaks

In addition to insulation, you need to seal up the spaces around the ducts that move heated and cooled air around your home. Most houses suffer from “leaky duct syndrome” and lose 20 to 30 percent of the air they condition. You can seal ducts yourself if you’re handy; look online for how-to videos that will give you the specifics. But many companies also specialize in providing this service. If you get a professional home energy audit, the auditors should also be able to recommend a company to do this for you.

Weatherstrip windows and doors

You can also upgrade to storm doors and double- or even triple-paned windows. It’s pretty easy to tell if your doors and windows are letting cold air in. All you need to do is run your fingers along the edges of the frames. If you feel a cold draft, you’ve got a leak. It’s inexpensive to seal leaks using products like caulking and weather stripping that you can buy inexpensively at your hardware store.  You can also use insulating curtains. If your windows can’t be fixed, get estimates from companies that specialize in energy-saving storm doors and windows before you make the switch.

thermo

Install a programmable thermostat

This is one of the most cost-effective steps you can take because it makes saving energy so easy. Heating and cooling together account for anywhere from 35% to 45% of your home’s energy costs. You can cut that in half or more when you automatically set your thermostat to use less heat in winter, and less air conditioning in summer. So keep the house a little cooler at night when you sleep and a little warmer during the day when you’re out or at work. The thermostat may cost between $50 and $150, but it will save you $100 to $300 a year on energy.

Plug into energy-saving power strips

Power strips can save energy you might otherwise waste on lighting and keeping small appliances, computers, and other electronics plugged in and drawing power even when they’re turned off. Some power strips are equipped with timers so you can schedule them to turn on and off automatically. “Occupancy sensor” timers are triggered to go on and off when you leave or enter a room. You can also turn power strips on and off manually. These devices are not expensive, but before you buy, check with your local utility. Some electricity providers provide power strips at a discount or rebate a portion of the retail price.

LED lighting

Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs

If you’re still using incandescent light bulbs, you’re wasting as much as 10 times more energy on lighting than you should. Plus, LEDs can last for a dozen years or more. Install a bulb, then forget about it. LEDs cost slightly more than compact fluorescent bulbs, which are also efficient. But over time, they’ll save more money than CFLs and last longer. Plus, unlike CFLs, LEDs do not contain mercury. This handy chart will help you choose the right LED to meet your lighting needs, especially in the living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and porch.

Insulate your hot water tank

If your water tank doesn’t have an R-value (insulation level) of at least 24, wrap it with an insulating blanket or pre-cut jacket. The insulation will only cost around $20, but you’ll quickly make that up in the 4%-9% you’ll save in annual water heating costs.

Set your water heater to 120 degrees

Most water tanks heat water to 140 degrees F. But that’s unnecessarily high. You can wash clothes in cold water, and most dishwashers have a booster heater. Plus, you’d scald yourself if you took a shower in such hot water. Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees F. Depending on what energy costs you, the U.S. Department of Energy says you’ll save between $12 and $30 a year annually for each 10 degrees reduction.

Install high-pressure, high-efficiency showerheads

These showerheads reduce water volume but not the experience of taking an indulgent shower. They’re a particularly good investment when there are multiple people in your home, especially if you all shower every day. Look for models that have a 1.6 GPm flow rate and a full spray pattern.

Maintain your HVAC system

Keep your furnace and air conditioner working in top notch condition with regular tune ups and parts replacements as necessary. At a minimum, change the air filter every 3 months, as a dirty filter will slow down air flow and make your system work harder to keep the temperatures inside your home comfortable.

Plant trees

As we’ve pointed out here, trees can reduce air conditioning needs by as much as 35% because they’re so effective at blocking the sun’s radiation. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy says three properly placed trees could cut your energy costs by $100 to $250 a year, which will more than make up for the cost of planting the tree.

Get a new refrigerator

Refrigerators use much more electricity than your stove, dishwasher, washer or dryer. There are a few ways you can improve how well they work, such as cleaning the coils regularly and keeping the freezer full. But especially if your refrigerator is older than 10 years or so, consider upgrading with a newer, more efficient model. Before you do, check with your local utility company to determine whether they offer rebates to help you defray the cost. When I replaced my old refrigerator recently, my utility gave me $150 for buying the most efficient refrigerator available to meet my needs, plus an extra $50 to recycle the old appliance.

When the time comes to replace any of your major appliances, including your water heater and HVAC system, choose the highest-efficiency model in your price range. Consult EnergyStar for makes and models that meet the federal agency’s standards for both energy savings and performance.

What methods have you used to save energy at home? Let us know in the comments below!

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