Simple energy saving steps YOU can take right now to live more comfortably, cheaper, and easier on the Earth.
Every process breaks down at each step. We can design the most energy efficient home for you, but someone may misread notes, forget, order and use the wrong materials anyway, not pay attention to what they are doing, etc, etc, etc. What starts as 100% may end up being an 80% product. As a homeowner though you can choose to run a more energy efficient home. Here's some tips how:
Put on a sweater, use a flashlight, and eat cold cereal. Just kidding...
Replace your light bulbs with CFLs. Many of the early drawbacks to CFLs have been fixed or debunked. CFLs no longer have a harsh light and come in a variety of light spectrums from soft reading lamps to daylighting. CFLs use 1/3 the energy of a standard light bulb converting more energy into light instead of heat. The cost of CFLs has also dropped to that of standard bulbs. A benefit is that they can last for years according to manufacturer claims. Even replacing one 75W bulb with a 23W CFL can save over $6 per year (assuming the bulb burns for 4hrs per day and energy costs $0.08/kWh). Some critics warn of mercury in the bulbs' ballasts. This mercury is only 5mg; A manual thermostat can contain upwards of 3000mg. If the bulbs break in your home, no hazmat team need clean up the mess. Sweep everything into a plastic bag and run some duct tape over the area. Put everything (including the broom and dustpan) into a heavy plastic bag and label it as "Universal Waste - CFL". The spent bulbs can also now be recycled at HomeDepot and many other retailers.
Shade your windows. In the summer, heat gain through even decent windows can cause uncomfortable temperatures. Planting a tree that will shade your windows can do wonders. Remember though that the faster a tree grows, the sooner it will need replacing. Exterior shades are a quick, cheap DIY for keeping heat out. Misting the shades in the evening can create some evaporative cooling. In the winter, heavy interior curtains can help keep heat in the house. Draw the curtains back during sunny days for thermal gain, then close them in late afternoon to keep the heat from escaping at night.
Get a programmable thermostat. If you have it programmed, it's hard to forget to turn it down when you leave for work. If you can lower your thermostat 1 or 2 degrees during occupied times you can save bucks. If you really want to get good savings, turn your thermostat down to 55degF at night or unoccupied times. Running your furnace for 1 hour to rewarm the house takes less energy than constantly keeping it running all night long to maintain 65°F.
Use fans instead of air conditioning. Fans don't actually cool, but they create moving air which makes you FEEL cooler. They also use much less wattage than AC. A 36,000 BTU 13 SEER AC system can cost over $50/month compared to running three ceiling fans 10 hours a day at $8/month.
Change your furnace filter. Most cheaper filters are only rated for 1-3 months. A dirty filter can cut down the effectiveness of your blower and cause the furnace to run harder by putting more strain on it.
Seal drafts in doors and windows. Most new homes have enough tiny cracks and holes in them to equal a 4'x4' hole in your home. In an older home, gently removing trim for doors, windows and baseboards can reveal enough space to empty a couple of cans of expansion foam. Make sure to use LOW expansion around windows and doors otherwise you can cause bowing which will make your problem worse. If you overspray you can always trim with a utility knife. Even wall sockets and light switch plates can be removed and have foam shot behind them. Foam or rubber gaskets can be replaced or added on doors and windows. Door sweeps on exterior doors can reduce drafts from below doors. Interior attic hatches should get the gasket treatment too. A professional blower door test will show you where most leaks are. Or wait for a strong windy day and feel around doors, windows, and other cracks.
Set your water heater lower. Many hot water heaters are set to 140degF, enough to give you serious burns. By turning the temperature down to 120degF you can save energy on water heating. Remember, storage type tanks attempt to keep 40-80 gallons of water at your set temperature 24 hours a day. Reducing to 120degF will not affect your dishwasher as most newer models have their own heaters to bump the temperature up to their requirements. Many water heaters have two thermostats, so be sure to reset both. Some folks advocate wrapping your water heater in insulation. If you don't feel any heat on the outside of your water heater, this is a waste of money.
Wash your clothes on the cold cycle. Warm water isn't needed for most laundry. Remembering to set the temperature down can save on the hot water heating. And while we're on the subject, air dry your clothes on dry sunny days on an outside clothesline. In the winter, run them in the dryer for a couple of minutes, then hang them in a utility room or bathroom with a ventilation fan on to remove moisture. The cost of running a 55W fan for 8 hours (3.5c) beats a 5500W clothes dryer running for 1 hour (44c).
Plug appliances into a power strip. Phantom loads can cost you tens of dollars in energy a month. This is energy you get no benefit for. By plugging your TV, DVD, cable box, video game console, and stereo into a power strip, you can turn them all off in one fell swoop when not in use. Your microwave oven, computer, and battery chargers also draw energy when they appear off.
Insulate! Many homeowners can access and insulate their attics themselves. Walls and floors may be a little more difficult. Ceilings should be insulated to R-25 or greater in many parts of the country. Obviously, the more insulation the better, but if your ceiling is already R-38 and you have no wall insulation, this would be the same as going outside wearing a wool hat and swimsuit. Even adding R-10 to an already R-25 attic can have much less effect than adding R-10 to an empty wall cavity. Unfortunately, wall cavities are not easily insulated by homeowners. Find several reputable contractors and get quotes. Always ask how dense they will pack the material and make it part of the quote/invoice.
Buy Energy Star appliances. Don't go off and replace all your appliances at once. But when an appliance needs replacing, look for the Energy Star label and compare the cost of the unit to the cost of running it for a month. See how your old appliance adds up. Some Energy Star appliances even qualify for local or federal tax breaks or incentives.