Even in flush times, reducing energy consumption – and therefore energy costs – is the right thing to do for the environment. And when money is tight, the incentive for finding ways to whittle away at utility bills is even greater.
Replacing an older furnace, swapping out single-pane windows for more efficient double- or triple-pane models, and considering a move toward solar energy are all ways to make a dramatic difference in your home’s energy consumption, but none comes cheap. While you wrestle with whether or not to make these larger investments – which certainly pay off in the long run – there are any number of inexpensive, subtle shifts you can also make that will have you working toward the same goal much more quickly and affordably.
Eliminate Drafts and Heat or Cool Only the Rooms You Use
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, as much as 5 to 30 percent of a home’s energy costs often go right out the window due to drafts and leaks. That’s right. If there are cracks and gaps around your windows, doors, electrical outlets, or window air-conditioning units, you could be throwing away hundreds of dollars in expensive treated air every year.
Take action now by sealing or filling as many gaps as you can. If you can’t afford to replace old doors or windows with newer, more efficient ones, instead install weather stripping along doors or low-cost plastic sheeting over windows. Also caulk or seal holes or air penetration around faucets, electrical outlets, or wiring. Any reduction at all of air coming in or out will help lower energy costs and reduce overall energy consumption.
In winter and summer months, keep doors and vents to rooms that don’t get frequent use closed. There is no sense in heating or cooling a room that sits empty. You can always open the vents to the guest bedroom when you know the in-laws will be visiting for the weekend.
Inspect and Clean Heating and Cooling Equipment Regularly
In the average U.S. home, more than 50 percent of energy costs go toward heating and cooling. Therefore, ensuring that your HVAC equipment is functioning efficiently is vital to keeping utility costs in line. The U.S. Department of Energy, along with most manufacturers, recommend inspecting heating and cooling equipment annually.
Changing filters – both on forced-air furnaces and air conditioning units – should also be a regular part of your home maintenance routine. “I clean my air conditioner filter once a month or once every two months,” says Joseph Seabra, a certified master electrician and electrical expert for Web-based consumer helpline JustAnswer.com. “Cleaning the filters, the grill, the return areas…all helps cut down on electrical costs by increasing the efficiency of the equipment,” he continues. “These are simple things that the typical homeowner can easily do himself.”
Switch to Compact Florescent Light Bulbs
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that lighting alone accounts for about 10 percent of your electric bill. To bring that figure down, assess the wattage of the bulbs you use throughout the house. In some spaces, you may be using 100-watt bulbs or higher where 60- or 75-watt bulbs would work just as well.
For even greater savings, consider switching to compact florescent lamp (CFL) bulbs, which require as much as 75 percent less energy to provide the same illumination as incandescent bulbs. CFLs do cost more – as much as three to 10 times a comparable incandescent bulb – but they last six to 15 times as long, so the added expense at the outset more than pays for itself. Plus, CFLs generate less heat, which can further lower your home cooling bills in the summer months.