Whole Living Daily

21 Ways to Lower Your Energy Bill

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As I stared at the poorly insulated expanse of my attic, I contemplated the irony of the situation: I had spent several years "greening" my home by using non-toxic paints, formaldehyde-free Forest Stewardship Council certified floors, recycled countertops … the list goes on.

But my home was not energy-efficient. It was drafty, and the bills were high. Fear of the unknown had paralyzed me, but after seeing bare floor in my attic where insulation should be, I decided it was time.

Not knowing what to do first, I called an energy auditor to get a better understanding of where my home’s energy problems really were. I opted to go for the full home energy analysis, which takes about four hours (for a quicker assessment of home energy use, try the Home Energy Yardstick).

The auditors tested for air leaks throughout our house; checked our ducts and insulation; the safety of our gas fueled appliances, and more. My favorite part was when they used an infrared camera to look at the walls to determine areas where insulation was missing, or air sealing was poor. I got to play with the camera and discovered that my husband was right: he does have cold feet!

By the end of the audit, I had a new relationship with my house. I thought I knew it well, but the veil was lifted. Its secrets were revealed to me in the form of charts and graphs and photo evidence. Fortunately, the auditors gave me exactly what I needed in order to begin – priorities! For my home, they were:

  1. Air conditioner/furnace upgrade
  2. Air sealing
  3. Attic insulation
  4. Duct and air handler sealing
  5. Low-cost no-cost measures
  6. Window replacement

My biggest lesson from this part of the process was how important it is to work with professionals who can easily identify problem areas, and address both safety and energy efficiency. The company we worked with charged a fee, but in some states, this service is free or subsidized.

Be sure to check out what rebates and incentives are available from your local utility company or state and federal programs. For low-income families, the Weatherization Assistance Program is a great option to reduce energy bills.

Whether your home’s energy issues – and your budget – are large or small, there are many things you can do to save money and the environment. Here are 21 ways to start:

7 Free Ways: No excuses here!

  1. Keep your thermostat at 68 in winter and 78 in summer.
  2. Set your hot water heater at 120 degrees: each 10 degree reduction saves you up to 5 percent on your bill.
  3. Avoid using the ‘heated dry’ cycle on the dishwasher – just let them air dry
  4. Conserve water – wash clothes on cold and shorten your shower: this reduces your bill and your impact on a very limited resource.
  5. Line dry your laundry when the weather is nice.
  6. Use a ceiling fan in the summer and wear an extra layer in the winter.
  7. Unplug your electronics when not in use: anything with a LED light glowing (e.g., cell phone charger, computer monitor, etc.) is drawing power even if it is not ‘on.’

7 Cheap Ways: Small Investment, Big Payoff

  1. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent. (Cost: They're about $5 apiece, but each bulb can save up to $40 during its lifetime—which is 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.)
  2. Make sure all your windows and doors are well sealed with caulking or or weatherstripping. (Cost: Less than $100)
  3. Make sure your plumbing and wiring penetrations are sealed. (Cost: Less than $50)
  4. Get your heating and cooling system serviced annually to maintain and monitor efficiency. (Cost: The average service call is $75)
  5. Insulate your hot water heater (Cost: $10, savings up to 9% on your water heating bill)
  6. Insulate your air compressor and hot water piping. (Cost: Less than $50)
  7. Change your air filters at least every 3 months. (Cost: $2.50 per filter)

7 Tips for Big Ticket Items:

  1. Follow Department of Energy guidelines on insulation. Check out the map.
  2. When replacing your roof, choose the lightest roof color you can handle aesthetically. This will keep the house 10 to 15 percent cooler in the summer.
  3. Get your ducts inspected and repair any holes or faulty connections.
  4. Because hot water heaters are the second largest energy user, it is important to explore your options when replacing a worn-out unit.
  5. When you need to replace an appliance, make sure it has an Energy Star rating.
  6. When replacing windows, be sure the windows are Energy Star certified.
  7. When replacing an HVAC system, purchase Energy Star certified equipment and buy compatible heating and cooling systems.

For more information on tackling the energy hogs in your home, check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Consumer Resources.

Stephanie is a marine biologist and Director of Coral Reef Conservation for The Nature Conservancy. She has snorkeled in a jellyfish lake in Palau, come face to face with a Komodo dragon in Indonesia, swam with sharks in the Bahamas, and camped in the deserts of Namibia. She has lived and worked in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and the Florida Keys and is now settled with her family in Gainesville, Florida. She continues to travel the world with two little ones as she works to develop a global network of coral reef managers. Stephanie's passion for coral reefs is matched by her obsession with living green as she continues to find ways to reduce her family's impact on the planet.

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Comments (12)

  • Nice article! I highly, HIGHLY recommend spending the time to do a home energy audit. The changes my wife and I made in the last two years paid for themselves quickly.

  • [...] marine scientist Stephanie Wear offers 21 tips to lower your energy bill.  (Whole [...]

  • You've got to be kidding! Keep your thermostat at 68 in winter and 78 in summer? Way too expensive. Try 83/55, you will get used to it when you dress for it. Don't just use a ceiling fan, use a box fan near where you sit or sleep. Use finger-tip-less gloves if your hands get cold to work in, don a fuzzy hat, and add a mattress heater to briefly heat up the bed.

    Wrong! "Set your hot water heater at 120 degrees: each 10 degree reduction saves you up to 5 percent on your bill." Set it to 130. The water heats up enough to turn the heater off for a full day or two, depends on hot water usage, just use more cold.

    ALWAYS line dry laundry, outside and in (get a rack). I only use the dryer for towels. If you want washcloths soft use fabric softer, they line dry soft then, denim too.

  • Oh, and I had a $38 electric bill for a 3,000 sq ft. house by doing the above in April (true, a neutral month, not hot or cold). It could run $350 in height of winter or summer, if I let it, so it's a game I play to see how low it can go.

  • If you live in CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD or IL because of deregulation you can also choose an alternative elec. supplier to save money over time and help the environment. Contact me to learn how you can make a difference.

  • "Insulate your hot water heater (Cost: $10, savings up to 9% on your water heating bill)"

    - Most newer water heaters do not need this. If you touch the outside of the heater and it is cool, it is well-insulated already. There also may be issues with insulating a gas heater (blocking air flow, flammability...). Check first!

  • water heater..... not hot water heater. My water heater heats cold water not hot water. Hot water doesn't need to be heated.....

  • I love all the comments, ideas, corrections, and opinions on this post! Thank you to everyone for taking the time to comment. Although we may differ on facts and strategies, the most important thing is to be thinking about it and making changes that make sense for you and your budget. Safety is the biggest issue in most of these cases and I urge people to work with experts to make sure they are keeping their family safe. One thing I did not mention in the article is that one of the findings is that we had a major carbon monoxide issue with our ancient furnace and so had to replace it. This is something everyone should have tested given that the gas has no smell and is deadly. As for water heater or hot water heater (I've found units with both names) - definitely use caution when insulating. We were advised to insulate ours and we followed the guidelines given and had it checked after. I hope at the very least this blog inspires you to think about ways to improve your efficiency. Sounds like Tory in Georgia has it figured out - I am going to use some of her tips this year!

  • The thermostat rule: 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer is similar to what my household kept the thermostat at growing up. Newer thermostats let you group days and temperature ranges. In the winter, I turn mine off during the days while I’m at work, warmer in the evenings before I go to bed, and my favorite when I wake up to my coffee. Watch out for those New Yorkers though, for example my Grandma Annette, who just might dispute how warm 68 degrees actually is. Overall some great tips and tricks.

  • When I initially commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now each time a
    comment is added I get several e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Bless you!

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  • Thanks for writing this article helps energy saving tips , not just help people saving money in the long run but also lower the burden of the limited energy sources on earth , hope more and more people could do articles like this to create a more energy saving life

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