Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) is one of the quickest, easiest ways to save money—and a place everyone can start. CFLs use about 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. This can save you up to $35 in electric costs over the lifetime of each bulb. Switching to CFLs in the five most frequently used fixtures in your house will save about $60 per year, according to Energy Star.
Choose CFLs with the Energy Star label to get the greatest savings. Energy Star products have to meet energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and the Department of Energy. When you shop, keep in mind that light fixtures with dimmers require special CFLs; read the label.
When your CFLs are finally spent, recycle them (to find locations, check with your trash hauler or local government).
Motion sensors (occupancy sensors) automatically turn lights on and off so you only get (and pay for!) light when you need it (Photo 1). Using motion sensors can save you $100 per year. Some motion sensors need to be manually turned on but turn off automatically. They’re great for bedrooms because they won’t turn on when you move in your sleep.
Some switches are installed in junction boxes; others are wireless. You can also buy light fixtures with built-in motion sensors. You’ll need special motion sensors for electronic ballasts that control CFLs. Special-order them at home centers or buy them on the internet.
Use timers to control bath fans so the fan will run for a preset time to air out the room and then automatically turn off (Photo 2). You can set the length of time you want the fan to run. Be sure the timer you buy is rated for motors, not just lighting (check the label).
When you shop for appliances, look for the Energy Star label. It means the appliance meets certain energy-efficiency guidelines. The average household spends $2,000 each year on energy bills. Energy Star says that appliances bearing its label can cut those bills by 30 percent, for an annual savings of about $600. But you don’t have to replace everything to see a savings. Just replacing an eight-year-old refrigerator with a new Energy Star model can save $110 a year or more in electricity.
Not sure what to do with your old appliance? Recycle it. Don’t salvage and resell it—that only passes the electricity—hogging appliance along to someone else. Check with your utility company or local home center for programs for appliance pickup and recycling.
Roughly half of an average home’s annual energy bill (gas and electric), about $1,000, is spent on heating and cooling. Air conditioners placed in direct sunlight use up to 10 percent more electricity. If yours sits in the sun, plant tall shrubs or shade trees nearby—but don’t enclose the unit or impede the airflow. Place window units on the north side of the house or install an awning over them.
Keep your window or central air conditioner tuned up so it runs at peak efficiency. Every two or three years, call in a pro to check the electrical parts and the refrigerant.
If your central air conditioner is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star model can cut your cooling costs by 30 percent and save maintenance costs. The payback for replacing a 12-year-old system is typically about eight years. An air conditioner’s efficiency level is measured by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). The higher the number, the more efficient the unit. A 13 or 14 SEER rating is considered high efficiency.
Seventy-five percent of the electrical use by home electronics occurs when they’re turned off, according to the Department of Energy. These “energy vampires” suck electricity all day long—costing you an extra $100 each year. So if you’d like to keep that Ben Franklin in your wallet, unplug your electronics or plug them into a power strip, then turn off the strip.
Don’t worry about losing the settings on new computers and TVs. They have a memory chip that resets everything when you power back up. If you have an old VCR or other devices that flash when the power goes out, keep it plugged in. Some power strips have a few outlets that always have power even when you flip off the switch. This type of strip has a main outlet for the computer. When you turn off the computer, the strip also shuts down other devices, such as your scanner, printer or modem.
A clogged lint screen or dryer duct drastically reduces the efficiency of your dryer, whether it’s gas or electric. Clean the lint screen after each load and clean the exhaust duct once a year. The cleaner shown here has an auger brush that attaches to a drill to clean out the ducts. It’s available at home centers.
Electric dryers use about $85 of electricity annually. A dirty lint screen can cause the dryer to use up to 30 percent more electricity ($25 per year), according to the Consumer Energy Center. Lint buildup is also a common cause of fires.
Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so the dryer doesn’t cool down between loads (a warm dryer uses less energy). And only run the dryer until the clothes are dry. Overdrying damages your clothes and runs up your electric bill. If you’re in the market for a new dryer and already have a gas line in the house, go with a gas dryer. A gas dryer is more efficient.
Keeping your furnace (gas or electric) tuned up has two big benefits: It makes the furnace run efficiently and it prolongs the furnace’s life span. And you can perform the annual tune-up yourself in about three hours.
Change the filter every month of the heating season (or year-round if the filter is also used for A/C). Be sure you insert the new one so it faces the right way. The filter protects the blower and its motor; a clogged filter makes the motor work harder and use more power.
If you only use an electric water heater at certain times of the day, you’re wasting electricity keeping the water hot 24/7. To solve that problem, install an electronic timer switch (Photo 1; sold at home centers). Timers are available for 120- and 240-volt heaters. They can be programmed for daily or weekly schedules so you only heat the water when you need it. A timer can save you $25 per year.
To make your water heater even more efficient, drain the tank and flush out the sediment at the bottom (Photo 2). Otherwise, you could be heating through inches of sediment before heating the water.
If your electric water heater is warm or hot to the touch, it’s losing heat. Wrap it with an insulating blanket (sold at home centers).
Smart metering programs vary among utility companies, but the basic idea is the same: The utility installs a special “smart” meter that tracks how much electricity you’re using. The utility uses that data to make sure its power grid doesn’t get overloaded and cause blackouts. If the grid nears capacity, the utility can shut off major appliances in homes for short periods of time (such as 15 minutes per hour). Not all companies offer smart metering, but some do and many others are considering it.
What’s in it for you? Money! Some programs pay for signing up. Others let you view your home’s usage online in real time so you can better manage your electrical consumption. Others let you choose “real-time” or “time-of-use” pricing that allows you to pay less for electricity that’s used during off-peak hours (for example, on weekdays from early afternoon until 8 p.m.). These plans reward you for using electricity when it’s cheapest. Smart metering makes the most sense if you’re away from home all day—you won’t notice or care if things get turned off (although it’s a good idea for everyone else too!). According to SRP, a power utility company, the plans cut 7 percent off your bill, which is $140 for the average $2,000 yearly energy bill. Check with your local company to find out what smart metering programs are available in your area.
Your refrigerator uses more electricity than all your other kitchen appliances combined. To keep its energy costs down, clean the coils twice a year, which improves efficiency by 30 to 50 percent.
Your fridge and freezer run more efficiently when they’re full. Put water containers in the fridge and ice bags in your freezer to keep them filled. Keep the refrigerator setting between 35 and 38 degrees and the freezer between 0 and 5 degrees F.
Refrigerator door seals wear out over time. Test your seal by closing a dollar bill in the door. If it pulls out easily, replace the seal.
If your fridge was made before 2001, it’s using at least 40 percent more electricity than new Energy Star models. If you’re replacing your fridge, buy an Energy Star model and recycle your old one. Don’t hook up the old one in the basement or garage—an inefficient refrigerator costs as much as $280 a year in electricity. Any money you save buying food in bulk and storing it in an inefficient second fridge is lost in electric costs.