Bring efficiency home: save energy and money with easy changes around the house

Could you use an extra $475 a year? According to the US Department of Energy, that’s the amount the average American family could save on energy bills by implementing long-term energy efficiency changes in their home. You don’t have to start with big purchases, though: all of us can cut our energy usage (and utility bills) with some common-sense practices.

Efficient Heating and Cooling

Heating and cooling account for about 56% of our home energy use, so they’re a good place to start with your efficiency efforts. Some simple steps you can take:

  • Install a programmable thermostat: If you dial back the thermostat 10-15 degrees for eight hours a day, you can save around 10% on your heating and cooling costs. A programmable thermostat allows you to do this without thinking about it.
  • Open a window: Does it cool off at night where you live? Then turn off the air conditioner, and open some windows. Close them in the morning so you keep that cool air inside as the outside air heats up.
  • Keep your equipment running efficiently: Regular maintenance of your heating and cooling equipment (including simple tasks like changing air filters) will keep that equipment running more efficiently.

Efficient Water Heating

Heating water generally accounts for 14-25% of your energy use. Fortunately, it’s easy to make more efficient use of your water heater.

  • Dial it back: No need to have your water heater set any higher than 120 degrees.
  • Wrap that rascal: Wrapping your hot water heater’s storage tank with an insulating blanket can help prevent heat loss.
  • Install low-flow faucets and shower heads: No need to use any more hot water than necessary. Faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads help you make the most efficient use of hot water.

Efficient lighting

Lighting accounts for about 15% of your home energy use. Newer lighting technologies make it easy and affordable to make significant cuts in this portion of your energy spending.

  • Change your bulbs: Yep, we’ve all heard this one plenty of times, but it can’t be overstated — fluorescents (whether linear tubes or compact fluorescent light bulbs) use much less energy, produce much less heat, and last much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. You’ll save about $30 in electricity costs over the life of each bulb.
  • Turn off the lights: We’ve all heard this since we were kids… but it makes complete sense. If you’re not in a room, don’t light it. Want to make this into a true no-brainer: install motion detectors or timers to turn the lights off for you.

We’re just getting started here: for a complete list of actions you can take to use energy more efficiently at home, take a look at the Department of Energy’s EnergySavers site, and the ENERGY STAR program’s ENERGY STAR @ Home tool.

Our individual efforts are important; we also need leadership and large-scale action to make sure that we’re getting the biggest benefits possible from energy efficiency measures. Once you’ve changed those bulbs and turned down the thermostat, take the time to visit Earthjustice and Sundance’s UNITED STATES OF EFFICIENCY campaign for even more facts and tips about the importance of efficiency in our national energy policy. While you’re there, make sure to sign onto a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu asking for the highest energy efficiency standards for the products we buy and use. And, if you still feel like expressing yourself on this topic, check out the Media Labs Studios Efficient Films Challenge… you could win a cash prize (up to $3000) for your short film about energy efficiency.

Image credit: at Flickr under a Creative Commons license