How many of you dear readers think that your electric utility is a non-profit charity that saves trees, rescues abandoned puppies and bakes apple pies as good as Mom? You know, the company that likes to build lots of expensive power plants, string power poles all over the place and put you on hold everytime you call them. Yeah, we didn’t think there were many of you. So why do so many of you freely give money to your greedy electric company? Trust us – they don’t need your money as much as you do. Take the hundreds of dollars that you needlessly pay to the utility each year and instead give it to a worthy cause. Here’s how:
Replace your refrigerator. This is the only expensive investment that we recommend. But this outlay of maybe $500 to $700 could pay for itself in less than two years. Newly-built refrigerators are on the order of 30%-50% more efficient than one built just five years ago. With the average refrigerator sucking up $30-40 per month in kilowatts, you can save roughly $20 each month with a new, energy-efficient fridge. Over 5 years, that savings adds up to about $1,000. Not a bad return on investment!
Give your fridge breathing room. Move it a few inches from a backwall to allow air to circulate. Also, check the seals on the doors to make sure they are tight. If you can put a dollar bill in the door and pull it out after it is closed, you probably need new seals. If your fridge is more than 10 years old, it likely pays to get a new one.
Light up your life, not your electric bill. Use compact fluorescent lights (CFL) or, more ideally, LED bulbs. Lighting typically costs about 25% of your electric bill. And chances are, 90% of the lighting portion of your bill comes from 10% of the lights in your home! For example, one 10-watt LED bulbs replaces a 18-watt CFL which, in turn, throws as much light as a 75-watt incandescent bulb. What’s more, screw-in LED lightbulbs last 25 times longer than regular bulbs and have now dropped below $10 per bulb. This is a no-brainer!
Eliminate energy leaks. Whether you are trying to heat or cool your home, caulking and weatherstripping are the easiest and least expensive weatherization measures. This can save more than 10% on energy bills. If you can see daylight around door and window frames, then the door or window leaks. Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air, and seal them up!
Get “incensed.” On a breezy day, hold a lit incense stick next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other locations where there is a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weatherstripping. In addition, recessed light fixtures can be a major source of heat loss.
Pool Your Money. If you’ve got a pool, then you’ve got to also have an energy-efficient, variable speed pool pump. It’ll save up to $500 a year on your pool’s energy costs. Also, limit your filtering to between four and no more than six hours.
Throw out glazed donuts and old glazing. Actually, on this particular diet, you can keep the donuts, but you’ve got to inspect the putty-like substances around the panes in your windows. They can get old and allow drafts to enter your home. Reglazing can help seal up those air paths. If you feel so motivated, replace old windows with double-paned new windows. Energy Star reports that new windows can reduce energy consumption from 7-15%, although my experience is that the savings can be even higher (not to mention improved sound insulation)
Shut your chute. We are not being rude; we are talking about your chimney flue. When the fireplace is not in use, keep the flue damper tightly closed. A chimney is designed to let smoke escape, so until you close it, air escapes–24 hours a day! Keeping the damper open is like keeping a 48-inch window wide open during the winter. If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
Hug a tree. Shade trees planted in front of west-facing windows will cut down on the amount of heat that gets into your home during the summer. Carefully positioned trees and vines can save up to 25% of a typical household’s energy used for heating and cooling. The Department of Energy reports that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually. Trees can also deflect winter winds.
Reduce the flow — Use low-flow showerheads and aerator faucets. These can drastically cut your hot-water heating expenses. Saves 10%-16% of water heating costs. And then reduce your water temperature by about 20 degrees and you’ll save about $80 per year.
Get on an ego powerstrip. Build up your self-esteem and confidence by switching off your powerstrips. Many small appliances continually use energy whether you are using them or not. If you put any VCRs, stereos, computers and other smaller appliances that tend to remain on (even when not being used) on the same power-surge protector strip, then you can turn them off easily. One switch turns off all of these appliances. This will also help to protect your appliances from the power surges that can follow a rolling blackout.
Let there be light – photocells. Light-sensitive and motion-detection devices turn lights on when ambient lighting gets too dark and turns lights off at daylight. Motion-sensor lights work only when you need them. Don’t keep those outdoor or indoor lights turned on when they’re not needed. Just one 150-watt outdoor security floodlight racks up about $125 in annual power consumption. Use it….only when you need it.
Some other tips about the big energy suckers in your house might help you plan future renovations. Some of the biggest energy suckers in your home are furnace fans, game consoles and pool pumps.
Furnace fans circulate air from your furnace or heat pump, through the duct system, and into every room in your home. In homes with central air conditioning, they circulate cool air through the same system. They are among many households’ biggest energy users, responsible for more than 12 percent of the average American household’s total electricity use, or 1,100 kWh each year—double or triple refrigerator usage. Energy efficient motors, like brushless permanent magnet (BPM) models, can cut this daunting number by 60 percent, They are available on many condensing furnaces and an increasing number of traditional models as well.
Game consoles are huge suckers when turned on. When in standby mode, they are more benign. However, many users don’t turn the units off, or turn off the television but leave the console powered up—a costly mistake. If you run the console 24/7 because you don’t turn it off, it could cost you an extra hundred dollars a year. Newer consoles now ship with an auto power-down feature that launches the standby mode after periods of inactivity. Older units have the feature too, but require users to visit the menu and make sure the device’s power-saving mode is turned on. Game consoles also hog power when they are used to stream movies, something makers like Sony and Microsoft are increasingly encouraging their users to do. Streaming movies on a console like PlayStation 3 uses twice as much energy than if you stream the same movie with Netflix over a set-top box and about 30 times more energy than if you streamed the movie on Apple TV.
While many pool owners complain about heating costs, another, larger expense often goes unnoticed: the pool pump accounts for 70 percent of a typical pool’s energy use and seven times that of a refrigerator. The pump keeps pool water circulating and passes it through filters. Single-speed pumps always run at the same maximum speed, burning extra energy. But multi-speed pumps can be scaled up or down as needed for tasks like filtration and cleaning. Using an ENERGY STAR-certified pump with multiple or variable speeds can cut energy use by over 80 percent and save hundreds of dollars a year. According to ENERGY STAR stats, these pumps will pay for themselves in five years and save owners more than $1,000 over the pump’s lifetime. An average refrigerator uses around 500 kilowatt hours a year, while the average pool pump uses 3,500 kilowatt hours a year. Look at your pool pump in this light and you will see how a solar-powered pump or Energy Star pump may be your next investment.
And if you monthly electric bill exceeds $100 per month and you live in the western US (and even some spots in the East), we recommend you take a long and serious look at a solar PV investment. We outline the pros and cons for you. As of 2015, solar prices have come down far enough that this could be an excellent hedge against increased electric prices as well as an investment that appreciates the value of your home.