Installing a high-efficiency furnace, replacing old windows, and laying down a thick blanket of insulation in the attic are all well and good, but each of these energy-saving improvements come with a big price tag. To begin saving up for these big-ticket items, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce energy usage right now for little or no money. Here are my personal favorites.
1. Replace the filter in your furnace. Your furnace will be more efficient if you do this regularly. For 1-inch filters, replace them monthly during the heating season (and cooling season if your furnace houses your AC’s evaporator coil). For filters with deeper pleats, you can replace your filter less frequently.
Bonus tip: There’s no need to buy an expensive high-performance filter. (Don’t be tricked by marketers who want to make you think you can turn your furnace into an air purifier. It wasn’t made for that, and the restricted airflow can damage it!) Just choose a standard replacement filter, preferably one that your furnace manufacturer recommends. A washable filter is even better. It will save you $30 or $40 dollars per year.
2. Hang a laundry pole or clothesline in your laundry and use it to hang heavy items like towels and bath mats. This will save you money that would otherwise go to running your dryer longer. Keep some hangers on it and use them to hang shirts and pants as they come from the dryer. This will save time and money spent on ironing. Expandable clothes racks are great for drying small items, and outdoor racks will save even more money.
Bonus tip: Use the moisture sensor on your dryer. It automatically shuts a dryer down when the clothes are dry, saving you 15 percent of the energy you’d otherwise use.
3. Improve the efficiency of your refrigerator. New fridges are much more efficient than old ones but if one is not in your budget this year, try these tips to reduce the amount of energy your current fridge consumes:
- Position it away from sources of heat, such as ovens, dishwashers, and sunny windows. *Keep the coils at the back of the unit dust free and maintain good air circulation around them.
- Replace seals that aren’t tight. To check seals, close the door on a dollar bill. If the bill can be pulled out easily, the seal is not tight enough.
- Keep the temperature between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use an organizing system that allows you to remember where things are located so you can avoid lengthy, energy-wasting searches.
Bonus tip: Keeping your freezer full. A freezer works most efficiently when it’s full but not overloaded. The mass of the food holds temperatures better than the surrounding air. The freezer maintains its low temperature and thus doesn’t have to run as often.
4. Wait for a full load. The average household washes hundreds of loads of dishes and clothes each year. If you run dishwashers and washing machines only when you have a full load, you won’t do as many loads. This will save a lot of energy. Most of the energy used by a dishwasher goes to heat the water. You can’t decrease the amount of water used per cycle, so maximize efficiency by filling your dishwasher. A washing machine requires approximately the same amount of energy to wash a pair of jeans and some socks that it does to wash a full load, so fill it up. If you have to do a small load, adjust the water level accordingly.
5. Turn down the thermostat in winter. According to the Department of Energy, you can save 1 to 3 percent on your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat. See how low you can go. Thermostats are often set to the upper 60s or low 70s. Throw on a sweater and set the thermostat to the low to mid 60s during the day. At night, sleep under a heavy blanket or comforter. Most people have no problem handling temperatures in the 50s at night. The lower you set the thermostat, the more energy—and money—you’ll save.
Bonus tip: Install a programmable thermostat. Okay, this tip will cost some money upfront but will pay for itself in a year. Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings, are easy to install, and often cost less than $100. According to the Department of Energy, you can save around 10 percent of your energy costs a year by lowering your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for the duration of your 9-to-5 work day.
6. Shop online. In addition to avoiding crowded stores, long lines, and parking-spot searches, shopping from home can save you hundreds of dollars in fuel costs every year. You’ll also reduce the wear and tear on your vehicle.
7. Use storm windows. If you’re one of the many people who don’t bother with using their storm windows, consider this: Single-pane windows lose twice as much heat in winter than double-pane windows. If your storm windows are in disrepair, hire a local handyman to restore them to working condition or do it yourself. Storm windows improve energy efficiency by reducing air leakage and adding another layer of insulation to your home.
8. Use electric space heaters. Electricity is not normally an efficient way to produce heat, but it is versatile. For example, you can lower your thermostat and use space heaters to warm up only the rooms that are in use. Doing so is more efficient than heating the entire house—according to the Department of Energy, space heaters use about 14 percent of the energy that the average heating system does.
Bonus tip: When you’ll only be in a room for a short period or you want to heat a small area, choose a radiant heater. A convection heater circulates the air and is a better option when you want to heat an entire room.
9. Use a power strip. TVs, DVD players, computers, microwaves, coffeemakers, and other devices use electricity when they’re off—it’s known as phantom load or vampire power. Such appliances use up to 40 percent of their full power. To save this energy, plug appliances into power strips and switch it off when you’re not using the devices. When the power strip is off, the attached appliances can no longer draw power from the outlet.
10. Fill your car tires to their recommended inflation level. The D.O.E. estimates that this will save you up to 11 cents per gallon. To find the recommended pressure for your vehicle, check the inside panel of the driver’s doorjamb, the glove box, or you owner’s manual.
Bonus tip: Save an additional 4 to 8 cents per gallon by making sure you’re using the recommended grade of motor oil.