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Simple Steps Anyone Can Do

Here's a simple checklist of actions you can take to reduce your energy use at home. The source of some of these tips is the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. This list gives you an idea of the things you can learn from them! Check out their website for more information.

All year long

  • Get a home energy audit. Many utilities and state energy efficiency programs provide these for free or at great discounts. In Massachusetts, you can start by doing a free on-line home energy audit on Mass Save's website.
  • Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees. When you go on vacation, reduce to the lowest setting.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water, consider a clothesline for drying.
  • Use energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and clothes dryers.
  • Set your computer’s default settings to go to sleep or standby when you have not used it for a few minutes.
  • Set your TV and electronic games to energy saving defaults, too.
  • Plug all electronics into power strips and switch off everything, including those “vampire” loads, which suck energy even when the gadget is off. Many utilities and state energy efficiency programs provide “smart” power strips for free or at great discounts.
  • Turn off your TV when you’re not watching it. Or read more, or make your own music!
  • Always turn off lights when you leave a room. Think about how many lights you really need on when you are in the room.
  • Don’t leave water running if you don't have to.
  • Don't open the refrigerator unless you know what you want.
  • Vacuum dust from refrigerator coils (every 4-6 months).

Summer

  • Close blinds during summer to block the sun's hot rays; at night, open the windows rather than turning on the A/C.
  • Use fans in addition to, or instead of air conditioning. Combining the two will allow you to be comfortable with the air conditioner set several degrees higher than you could without a fan.  When temperature and humidity allow, turn the A/C off completely and open windows to create a natural ventilation system.
  • Where possible, locate a/c units in windows facing North or East, instead of South or West.

Winter

  • Remove window a/c units or completely seal all gaps with caulk and plastic shrink film.
  • Close all storm windows and lock all windows. If windows can’t be locked, try using shims to bring the upper and lower sashes together.
  • Wearing a sweater will allow you to be comfortable with the thermostat set several degrees lower than you could without a sweater.
  • Lower the thermostat further at night or when no one is home. A programmable thermostat will allow you to raise the temperature 30 minutes before you wake or return home.
  • Keep drapes, window blinds and shades closed at night .

Efficiency on the Cheap

These tips may cost a few dollars, but save you money within a few days, weeks or months:

  • Switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs or better yet, LEDs.  Many utilities and state energy efficiency programs provide these for free or at great discounts.
  • Install low-flow showerheads, toilets and faucet aerators. Many utilities and state energy efficiency and water conservation programs provide these for free or at great discounts.
  • Keep storm windows closed when windows are closed and/or use plastic shrink film to make drafty windows air tight.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. Consider a wifi-enabled “smart” thermostat if you use a smart phone, so you can control the settings remotely. These also allow you to participate in time-of-use discount programs. Many utilities and state energy efficiency and water conservation programs provide these for free or at great discounts.
  • Insulate hot water pipes.
  • Clean or replace filters on your furnace, air-conditioner, and/or heat-pump.
  • When replacing old, inefficient appliances, be sure to buy EnergyStar rated products, with the best Energy Guide label rating. Efficiency ratings can be found on the EnergyStar and Consumer Reports websites.

Get Help if You’re Not Handy

  • Caulk cracks around windows/doors to reduce drafts and maintain indoor temperature in any season. Seal up the largest air leaks in your house: the ones that whistle on windy days, or feel drafty. The worst culprits are usually not windows and doors, but utility cut-throughs for pipes ("plumbing penetrations"), gaps around chimneys in your attic, recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. All the little, invisible cracks and holes may add up to as much as an open window or door, without you ever knowing it!
  • Get your heating system tuned up annually to make it run more efficiently.
  • Seal and insulate heating ducts.
  • Plant trees around your house.
  • Install reflective shades or awnings to block sun in summer and reduce heat gain.
  • Install low-flow toilets to reduce your water bills.
  • Add timers to electric hot water heaters after consultation with local energy providers to determine the most efficient, cost-effective time of day to heat the water in the tank rather than running your hot water heater 24 hours a day.

Further Information

Lighting

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs (or Light Emitting Diodes) use 66% - 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. Using less electricity results in lower electricity costs and reduces the environmental impact associated with the production of electricity.

Although more expensive than CFLs, LEDs last at least 25,000 hours (about 22 years), have a minimum three-year warranty, and are durable. LEDs also come in a greater variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and ability to work with dimmer switches. Plus, they’re mercury-free. However, not all LEDs are created equal, so look for ones that are ENERGY STAR qualified (www.energystar.gov).

Most utilities and state energy efficiency programs offer free or discounted LEDs and CFLs. In Massachusetts, residents can receive up to 10 free LEDs when they have a no-cost Home Energy Assessment.

The most cost-effective targets for conversion are 60-100W bulbs used several hours a day, such as kitchen lights or outdoor security lights. These lights form the largest percent of your total lighting load.

CFLs and LEDs run cooler than incandescents and halogens, minimizing fire hazards and reducing the cost of cooling in summer.

In order to further maximize savings on lighting, make sure that lights are turned off when not in use. While this sounds simple, it can be difficult to manage. Therefore, you should consider installing motion sensors (activated only when someone is in a room), dimmers and timers on lights.

Lighting accounts for 10% of the U.S. residential electricity load, a fraction that continues to shrink thanks to the widespread adoption of CFLs and LEDs.

Home Offices and Entertainment Centers

You can reduce energy waste in any home office or home entertainment centers through three simple ways. First, prioritize Energy Star models when you purchase equipment such as TVs, game systems, modems, speakers, computers, and printers. Second, use any energy-saving settings embedded within your electronics. Third, use “smart” power strips to network related electronics and control the stand-by power demands that cannot be controlled through energy-saving settings.

Many electronic products continue to draw power from the wall even when they are powered off. Since it's not always practical to unplug these items whenever you leave your desk, "smart" power strips can effectively do so for you. There are three types of "smart" power strips:

  • Timer-equipped. These power strips have outlets that are controlled by programmable timers. Devices plugged into them can be scheduled to automatically turn off or on at designated times of day or night.
  • Occupancy sensing. Occupancy sensing power strips have outlets that are controlled by a motion detector. Devices plugged into them can automatically turn off or on in response to your physical presence, or after a user-defined period of time elapses (e.g., anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 minutes).
  • Current sensing. These power strips can automatically turn several outlets off or on when they detect that a monitor (plugged into the "master outlet") either enters a low powered sleep mode, is turned off, or is turned on. Used in combination with monitor power management features, these power strips can turn just about any electric device off and on automatically.

Leaving computers and monitors on when not in use wastes energy and money. Power management does not have a negative effect on the useful life of today’s computers and monitors. On the contrary; when equipment powers down, it generates less heat, collects less dust, reduces mechanical stress and promotes a longer and more reliable life for the computer and monitors. An additional benefit of turning computers completely off when not in use is increased security, since files and emails cannot be accessed.

More Energy Efficiency Ideas

Reducing, Recycling, Buying Recycled

Reducing and reusing items as much as possible indirectly decreases energy use. Recycling saves existing resources while simultaneously reducing waste streams and conserving 70-90% of the energy needed to produce products from virgin materials. In general, purchases should be targeted when possible to items using little or no packaging. For those items with packaging, look for those that are biodegradable, made of recycled materials, or harvested in ways that are of minimal impact to the environment. More information on energy reduction strategies can be found at www.energystar.gov.

Planting Trees

Trees are useful in the landscape design for heating and cooling buildings. Trees provide evaporative cooling in the vicinity where they are located (a difference of 3-5 degrees F) and much-needed shade in the summer. Strategically planted trees and shrubs can significantly reduce energy bills and fossil fuel use by providing shade in summer, while allowing sun through and providing wind barriers in winter. Trees add beauty and value to almost any property and store carbon, the main ingredient in carbon dioxide. Each tree can absorb 3-15 lbs. of carbon dioxide.   Trees also enhance local landscaping in ways that might encourage more pedestrian traffic in city centers and other main roadways. A local arborist or urban forester can be a valuable source of information about strategic tree planting on private property and public areas.