Each year as we turn a calendar page, many of us find ourselves making a resolution – a change to our current lifestyle, to usher in something new. Did you make a resolution this year? Perhaps it was to adopt a healthier lifestyle, to be more responsible about your finances, to finally tackle that at-home project, or even to be kinder to others in the coming year. Regardless of the resolution, many of us seem to forget these resolutions before we even end the first month of the New Year. What if we resolved to do something for ourselves, our bank account and our homes this year by trying to be more energy-conscious?
Saving energy at home is more than just “going green”. Saving energy at home is a great way to improve the function of your home and lower the energy bills you receive each month. Often, simple behavior changes can make more difference than most realize. In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, NEED has some suggestions for a successful energy-saving year. Our approach is to keep it simple. There’s always room to add more efficient products in your home, but there’s not always a budget for it. Do what you can, and to keep it fresh, we suggest focusing on something different each month. If you focus on one energy-saving behavior each month, you may find that you’ll continue into the next month as you tack on something new. The savings will pile up! Here are NEED’s low-to-no-cost suggestions for resolving to save energy at home each month…
During this first, often chilly, month of the year, focus on heating in your home. Save energy this month by looking at your daily schedule and your thermostat. If you’ve got a programmable thermostat, this might be VERY simple for you. If not, it’s as simple as visiting the thermostat before you leave for the day and visiting it when you come home and before bed. Heating your home typically accounts for around half of the utility costs you might incur. For this reason, it may be an important place to focus your energies. It is recommended that during heating months, the thermostat is set at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If no one is home, however, you can easily adjust this temperature down. Setting your thermostat back 5-10 degrees for 8 hours a day can save around 10% of your energy bill. You may also choose to lower it slightly while you sleep. While a programmable thermostat may make this task easier each day, it’s not much to handle with a manual thermostat, once you get yourself into the habit.
Since February is often a chilly month as well, focus your energy this month on heating, but in a different context. Why make your heater do all the work? Let the sun help you! Now that you’re in the habit of setting your thermostat back each day, start thinking about how natural light can enhance the temperature in your home. Allowing radiant energy or sunlight into your home can contribute to the heating effect in your home. Open your blinds or curtains during the day to allow this light in. Close them at night to block any extra drafts that might creep through near the windows. Added bonus alert – opening blinds to allow for natural light also reduces the amount of artificial light (and therefore electricity) needed!
Shift gears this month to focus on lighting in your home. Illuminating the rooms and exterior of your home can account for around 6-10 percent of your overall utilities, or almost 15 percent of an electricity bill. Some lighting is necessary and useful for safety purposes. However, often, we turn on more lights than are necessary, or leave lights on when a room is empty. This month, make a habit of turning off ALL lights that are not in use. If you leave a room, flip the switch.
Now that you’re good at flipping that switch and thinking carefully about what lights you need. Let’s focus on making sure they are the most efficient lighting choices you are able to use. Lighting can account for a chunk of your utilities. When lighting is inefficient, that chunk can be more than you realize! Inefficient lighting, like traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, make light by heating a piece of metal, called a filament. The amount of heat needed to make the filament glow is quite a bit, thus, these old bulbs are creating more heat than they are light. Incandescent bulbs make 90% heat and 10% light, which is extremely inefficient. More efficient lighting is affordable and is offered in many styles and options to suit the needs of your home. Compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are readily available, last longer, and convert far more of the energy used into the light needed. These lighting choices use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. This month, do an assessment of the bulbs you are using. Try to change at least one bulb each week to a more efficient version. Each CFL or LED substituted can save you about $6 in electricity costs per year. Once you count the number of bulbs you have in your home, the savings can truly add up!
Think about your hot water consumption this month. There are many ways we use hot water in our home. Heating the water for doing dishes, bathing, and washing clothes uses a fair amount of energy – often somewhere near 20 % of your utility costs. Think about ways you can cut down on the amount of hot water used – wash your clothes in cold water when possible, use the energy saving feature on your dishwasher, and refrain from allowing hot water to run while washing dishes by hand. Check your water heater this month, too. Every water heater is affixed with a thermostat. Your water heater need not be hotter than 120° Fahrenheit to complete tasks in your home safely. It is a quick adjustment and can save on your energy costs if it is adjusted down. Finally, if able, consider upgrading your faucets and showerheads to low-flow models that can achieve water savings of up to 60%, while still maintaining good water pressure.
Remember the month of February? This month, as temperatures start to climb, think about heating again. Now you may want to reduce the amount of heat in your home. As you begin to utilize fans and air conditioners, they will need to work harder if you don’t try to minimize the heat sources in your home. Sunlight was a benefit in the winter months, but this radiant heat in the summer can make your home less comfortable. This month, consider closing the blinds or using light colored fixtures or shades to reflect some of the light back and trapping less heat.
In this hot summer month, focus your energy again on your thermostat. Just like in January, you’ll need to consider your schedule, and adjust the temperature each day. This time, however, you want to adjust the thermostat up. In cooling months, it is recommended that thermostats be set around 72 degrees. Bumping your thermostat up a few degrees while you are gone during the day or sleeping can save 10% on your monthly utility bills.
Your cooling system is probably working overtime in this hot summer month. One way to reduce the workload is to consider the humidity in your home. During summer months, warm air will hold more moisture. This moisture in the air makes it feel hotter and more moisture in the air helps keep the temperature up. Your cooling system will be working too hard if your home has too much moisture in the air. Try using a dehumidifier this month to reduce the amount of moisture in the air in your home. While these appliances use a bit of energy to run, they use less energy than a cooling system that must run to remove the excess heat in your home. You’ll need to empty the water from it every so often, but it can be recycled onto your plants indoors and outdoors. Your air conditioner will thank you, and you will see a reduction in your energy bill to boot!
Think about your appliances and equipment this month. Many of our home appliances work harder than they need to. Consider a few of these tips this month and strive to change a few behaviors.
· Avoid using the oven on warmer days, as it will contribute to the heat in your home. Grill outside or use a microwave where possible.
· Wash full loads of laundry and dishes. Consider air-drying these items whenever possible.
· Check your refrigerator and freezer settings, and set it back where needed. Many refrigerators and freezers are set to a higher setting than necessary.
· Take shorter showers rather than baths. It will use less hot water in the long run.
· Vacuum and clear dust from the registers on your heating and cooling system components. Change the filters if necessary. Excess dust and dirt makes it harder for the air to circulate. Also, make sure nothing is blocking the ventilation outlets.
· Avoid placing heat-producing items like lamps and televisions near your thermostat.
Do you have vampires in your home? Most of us have energy vampires at home – appliances that still draw “juice” even when the appliance isn’t in use. Coffee makers, DVD players, toaster ovens, video gaming consoles, charging devices, laptops, televisions…the list goes on and on. Consider unplugging these devices when they are not in use. Or, better yet, plug these devices into a surge protector or power strip to reduce the phantom load. With one flick of a switch, these items can be quickly turned back on without needing to be unplugged and plugged in again.
This is the month of giving. This month, consider what your utility providers might be giving out. Many providers make rebates and freebies of all sorts available to their customers. They can be in the form of an appliance buy –back or rebate, discounted efficient lighting, energy data sharing programs, programmable thermostat installation and rebates, and even a free energy audit. Take advantage of the freebies and suggestions offered and watch the savings trickle in.
This month as you reflect on your year of energy savings, don’t forget about decorations! Many of us decorate during the month of December. Consider upgrading your holiday lighting to a highly efficient LED lighting. These strings of lights are sturdier, produce less heat, are less likely to overload a socket, and last much longer than traditional holiday lighting. Although these lights may cost more to purchase, LED holiday lights can save you several dollars on your utility bills over the course of the holiday season.
We hope you will see that saving energy at home is easily managed with a few minor adjustments. Many of these adjustments can be amped-up a notch or two if you’re able, by purchasing and installing more efficient equipment or by hiring a professional to audit your home or maintain your equipment. We hope you find these suggestions helpful and fruitful as you tackle saving energy in the new year and years to come. Happy 2014, NEED friends and family!