There are numerous ways to save energy at home.
In the Attic
Other Energy Savers:
- If you're in the market for new windows, consider high-efficiency alternatives. Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label, an independent industry rating system for the energy performance of windows, doors, and skylights.
- Look for windows made of low emissivity—or “low-E”—glass. Low-E glass has a special thin coating that lets in light, but reduces heat transfer. In warmer climates, consider windows with “spectrally selective coatings”—glazes that let light in, but keep heat out. In colder climates, select windows that are gas-filled to reduce heat loss.
- Plant a tree. Landscaping is a natural way to shade your home. Well-placed trees and shrubs not only save on air conditioning costs, but add value to your property, too.
- Shade room air conditioners from direct sun to reduce their workload. Clean the filters once a month and replace them as necessary.
In the Living Room
Energy efficient lighting can save you money. The law requires light bulb manufacturers to provide information to help you choose the most energy efficient bulb. For all standard bulbs, including halogen, reflector, and compact fluorescent bulbs, the package must tell you about:
- Light output: How much light the bulb produces, measured in lumens. A 60-watt regular incandescent bulb yields about 855 lumens. A 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb yields about 900 lumens.
- Energy usage: The total electrical power a bulb uses, measured in watts.
- Voltage: If the bulb is not 120 volts, the voltage must appear on the label. Most bulbs run on 120 volts. Light output and efficiency decrease when you use a bulb with voltage that is different from the voltage you use in your house. Most places in the United States operate on a 120-volt system.
- Average life in hours: How long the bulb will last.
- Number of light bulbs in the package (if more than one).
What do you need from a light bulb? You want the right amount of light, and you want it to last a long time, especially if it’s for a hard-to-reach place. But you don’t want it to add to your electric bill. You can get everything you want if you use a little energy know-how.
Highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs may cost more than regular incandescent bulbs, but their efficient use of electricity and long operating life can offset the cost. Here’s how: Suppose your living room table lamp is turned on for 1,000 hours a year and your local electric utility charges eight cents per kilowatt hour. A regular incandescent 60-watt bulb will cost less to buy, but will need to be replaced at least once a year. Compare that to a 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulb, which may cost you $10, but may last you as long as 10 years. And your savings don’t end there. The compact fluorescent light bulb costs about $1.20 a year to operate, while the standard bulb costs about $4.80. The benefits of compact fluorescent bulbs? Lower operating costs, longer life, and a more efficient use of energy.
Living Room Energy Savers:
- Regular incandescent bulbs. Everyday pear-shaped bulbs with a screw-in base, these bulbs use electricity to heat a filament until it glows white hot, producing light. About 90% of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs is lost as heat. These bulbs typically burn for 750 to 1,000 hours—or about three hours a day for a year.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs provide as much light as regular incandescent bulbs while using just one-fourth the energy. For example, a 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb gives out the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescent bulbs last about 10,000 hours—10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
- Incandescent spotlights and floodlights. Known as spotlights or floodlights, these bulbs are used in recessed ceiling fixtures or outdoors. A special coating helps direct and focus the light. They burn for about 2,000 hours.
- Halogen bulbs. These bulbs contain a small capsule filled with halogen gas, which emits a bright white light. While standard halogen bulbs use less energy and last longer than standard incandescent bulbs, DOE cautions that halogen torchieres, frequently used in floor lamps, generate excessive heat, which can create fire hazards. Halogen torchieres also use significant amounts of energy. When possible, DOE recommends using more efficient compact fluorescent lamp bulbs instead.
- General service fluorescent bulbs. More energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, general service fluorescent bulbs don't produce heat. They’re thin, long tubes often used in kitchens, offices, garages, and basements. They last from 10,000 to 20,000 hours—10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
In the Kitchen
How much an appliance costs depends on three things: purchase price, repair and maintenance costs, and energy costs. To estimate how much you’ll spend on an appliance over time, you have to consider all these costs.
Energy efficiency is an important part of any decision. All new major home appliances must meet government energy conservation standards. Many appliances exceed these standards and can save you even more money. What makes one appliance more efficient than another? Most of the differences are on the inside. Even if two models look the same, certain features can mean a big difference in your energy bills.
Manufacturers must use standard tests that let you compare the annual energy use of different models. The law requires manufacturers to put these labels on the inside or outside of many types of appliances. Labels are not required on dryers, ranges, and microwaves. If you don’t see a yellow EnergyGuide label, ask a salesperson for it. The EnergyGuide label can tell you:
- estimated annual operating costs (for refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, and water heaters) and estimated annual energy consumption, and
- the range of estimated annual operating costs of similar appliances.
Even a small benefit in energy efficiency can have a big payoff over the life of the appliance. The FTC’s Appliance Energy Database website posts results from energy efficiency tests.
While shopping, look for the Energy Star logo. To earn the logo, appliances must meet strict standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy. Since Energy Star products use less energy, they can save you money and help protect the environment. Learn more about the Energy Star program at www.energystar.gov.
To make an energy-smart decision:
- Select the appropriate size and style . Measure the space in your kitchen to be sure your new appliance will fit. Make sure that you have room to open the door fully and have enough clearance for ventilation.
- Factor in the operating cost as well as the purchase price. Check out your choices for refrigerators, washers, and dishwashers on the FTC’s Appliance Energy Database. Use the EnergyGuide label to compare choices. Look for the Energy Star logo to find the most energy-efficient models.
- Know where to shop. Appliance outlets, electronics stores, local retailers, and Internet sites often carry the same brands and models. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, compare deals.
- Ask about special offers. Your local utility company may offer Cash rebates, low-interest loans, or other incentive programs if you buy energy-efficient appliances.
Kitchen Energy Savers:
- Move your refrigerator away from the stove, dishwasher, or heat vents. Make sure the door seals are airtight.
- Wait until your dishwasher is full before you run it but don’t overload it.
- Use pots that fit the size of the burners on your stove. Use lids so you can cook at a lower temperature.
- Match the water level and temperature settings on your washer to the size of your load. Don’t fill the machine for just a few items.
- Clean your dryer lint filter before you put in a new load.
- Make sure your water heater is set to 120 degrees. Some thermostats are preset to 140 degrees, which can cost you more money.
In the Garage
Use the Octane Level You Need. Your owner’s manual tells you the recommended octane level [regular (usually 87 octane), mid-grade (usually 89 octane), and premium (usually 92 or 93 octane)] for your car. For most cars, that’s regular octane. Unless your engine is knocking, buying a higher octane than your car needs is pouring money down the drain.
Beware of “Gas-Saving” Gadgets. Be skeptical about devices that claim to boost your mileage. EPA has tested over 100 of them—everything from mixture “enhancers” to fuel line magnets—and none offered substantial savings. Some devices may even damage your engine or increase emissions. For more information and a list of tested products, see the EPA's Consumer Information website.
Consider the Alternatives. Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) operate on fuels like methanol, ethanol, compressed natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, or electricity. Driving a car that uses an alternative fuel may reduce harmful pollutants. The law requires labels on all new AFVs to give estimated cruising range and other important information. Compare before you buy. Find out how many miles a new AFV travels on a “tank” of fuel. Some don’t go as far as gas-powered cars.
- Stay within posted speed limits. Gas mileage decreases at speeds above 60 miles per hour.
- Improve your mileage up to 5% by avoiding quick starts and stops. Anticipate traffic conditions and drive gently.
- Avoid unnecessary idling. It wastes fuel, costs you money, and pollutes the air. Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait.
- Combine errands. Several short trips can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance.
- Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate. They improve highway fuel economy.
- Remove items from your trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce fuel economy by up to 2%.
- Don’t pack items on top of your car unless you have to. The wind resistance of a loaded roof rack can reduce fuel economy by 5%.
Maintain Your Car
- Keep your engine tuned according to your owner’s manual to increase gas mileage by an average of 4%.
- Keep your tires properly inflated and aligned to increase gas mileage up to 3%.
- Change your oil according to the schedule in your owner’s manual and use the manufacturer’s recommended grade. Motor oil that says “Energy Conserving” on the label contains friction-reducing additives that can improve fuel economy.
- Replace air filters regularly. Clogged filters can reduce gas mileage up to 10%.
The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website offers information about alternative fuels.
Garage Energy Savers:
- Use the octane level your car’s manufacturer recommends.
- Beware of “gas saving” gadgets that claim to boost mileage.
- Consider Alternative Fuel Vehicles if you’re in the market for a new car.
- Drive more efficiently—observe the posted speed limit and avoid quick starts and stops.
- Maintain your car, truck, or motorcycle—keep it tuned, check your tires, and change oil and filters regularly.
- Leave your car at home and consider walking, bicycling, or public transportation whenever you can.
In the Trash Room
Understanding terms like “recyclable,” “biodegradable,” and “ozone friendly” can help you protect the environment and make better buying decisions.
“Recycled” — “Recycled” and “recyclable” may sound alike, but they mean very different things. If a label says a product is “recycled,” check for more details. Unless the product or package is made of 100% recycled materials, the label must tell you how much is recycled. A product that says it’s recycled from “post-consumer” material means that it’s made from previously used products like newspapers, plastic bottles, glass containers, or aluminum cans. A product that says it's recycled from “pre-consumer” material may be made of scraps from the factory. For example, a company making envelopes might recycle paper clippings left over from the manufacturing process to make other paper goods.
“Recyclable” — Claims on labels and advertising that a product is “recyclable” mean that it can be collected and used again or can be made into other useful products. A “recyclable” product is a good choice for the environment only if your community offers a recycling program for that material and you follow their rules for recycling.
Some companies make it easy for you to recycle. For example, grocery stores may take back plastic grocery bags. Some manufacturers of ink cartridges for printers may let you return empty cartridges. Check with your local recycling or solid waste officials about what can be recycled in your community.
“Biodegradable” and “Photodegradable” — “Biodegradable” materials break down into elements found in nature when they are exposed to air or moisture. Cleaning products, like detergents and shampoos, often say they are “biodegradable.” Most of these products degrade in wastewater systems, causing no harm to the environment. “Photodegradable” materials disintegrate when exposed to enough sunlight. However, the breakdown of any material happens very slowly in landfills, where most garbage is taken. Even “biodegradable” materials like paper or food may take decades to break down because they’re buried under tons of other garbage. Just because a product claims to be “biodegradable” or “photodegradable” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better for the environment, especially if it winds up in a landfill.
“Compostable” — Composting turns certain things into compost—a material that enriches the soil and returns nutrients to the earth. Some people compost yard trimmings and food scraps. Many communities collect leaves, grass, and other yard waste for composting. When you see a “compostable” claim on a product or package, it means the product can be tossed into your backyard compost pile. If you don’t have your own composting pile, you might be able to take products to a municipal composting facility.
“Chasing arrows” symbol - Many products display this symbol. Sometimes it means that a product or package is made of recycled materials. Other times it means that the product or package is recyclable. If only one of these claims is true, the manufacturer should say which one. Since some communities don’t accept every product or package for recycling that bears the symbol, check with your local recycling or solid waste officials before you recycle.
SPI Symbol - Manufacturers use this symbol—developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry—to label the type of plastic in a product. SPI codes range from 1 to 7. Containers labeled 1 and 2, such as soda bottles, detergent and shampoo containers, and milk jugs, are the most likely to be accepted for recycling. Since communities have different rules about what they’ll accept, check with your local recycling or solid waste officials before you recycle.
Trash Room Energy Savers
- Participate in your community’s recycling program. Don’t throw something that can be recycled into the trash.
- Look for the recycling symbol. Buy products that use recycled components or that can be recycled whenever you can.
- Start a compost pile.
- To help your community save the time and money it spends separating the items it recycles from the ones it doesn’t, find out which are appropriate for the recycling bins.
In the Utility Room
No matter where you live, keeping your house warm (or cool) costs money. The Department of Energy says heating or cooling your house or apartment typically eats up 56% of your utility bill. If you’re interested in shaving dollars off your utility bills, it’s good to know there are ways to save money all year round.
Start saving with a home energy audit. An audit is like taking your home’s temperature. It can help you find out where you’re wasting energy and check how well your heating and cooling systems work. You can use the do-it-yourself energy audit tool on the Department of Energy website at hes.lbl.gov. Check with your power company to see if they offer free or low-cost audits. If you want a more comprehensive audit, you can hire a specialist.
Furnaces and air conditioners are important to your comfort and safety. Whether you’re buying a new house, renovating an old one, or replacing an old system, choosing energy-efficient equipment can save you money.
When you go shopping for a new furnace, heat pump, air conditioner, or water heater, the price tag tells only part of the story. Before you buy, read the EnergyGuide label on that new furnace to find out how energy efficient it is. Then compare it to the label on another model and brand. EnergyGuide labels show how much energy one model uses in comparison with others. Although some high-efficiency appliances may cost more at the outset, they can save money by lowering your energy bills.
When energy prices rise, so do the number of ads for energy-saving products and services. Some of these ads are for gadgets and gimmicks that can’t deliver big energy savings. Look carefully at the claims and check for independent information about product performance. Don’t fall for unsolicited or high-pressure sales pitches from contractors or door-to-door salespeople. Make sure to ask friends and neighbors for their recommendations. Check out contractors with former customers and the Better Business Bureau. You can also check with the state or local consumer protection office and the state licensing agency (or home improvement commission). If you sign a contract in your home or somewhere other than a company’s permanent place of business, the FTC’s “Cooling-Off Rule” gives you three business days to cancel.
Utility Room Energy Savers
- Schedule an annual tune-up for your central air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace.
- Hire a professional to seal and insulate leaky ducts and to make sure that the airflow distribution system serving your heating equipment is operating efficiently.
- Clean or replace the filters on forced-air furnaces; seal flues in the fireplaces you don’t use; install drapes or other coverings on your windows; and seal holes around your plumbing and heating pipes.
- Check caulking and weatherstripping, and repair if necessary.
- Close any foundation vents in the winter and open them in the summer (if you have a crawl space under your house).
- Install ceiling fans. They’ll cool you off in the summer and promote heating efficiency in the winter.
- Consider a “whole-house” fan. In the summer, it circulates cool air through the house and vents warm air through the attic. It works best at night and when the air outside is cooler than inside.
- Install a computerized thermostat that will automatically lower the indoor temperature at night and when you’re away from home.
Content for this article originally appeared on the Federal Trade Commission's Savings Starts at Home website.