Small actions that add up to large energy savings for Earth Day

Blog Post | April 22, 2014 - 10:43 am
By Rachel Cluett, Senior Research Analyst

There are many tips out there about saving energy in your home. So many, in fact, that it can leave you wondering, “Well, what are the things that I should focus my attention on to really cut down on energy use and energy bills?” In my former job as an energy auditor, one of the most frustrating things I encountered was hearing the many misconceptions about how energy is used in the home. This old conventional wisdom really confuses honest efforts to cut down on energy use and lower monthly utility bill payments. It is hard to know what changes really make a difference with so many tips to choose from—especially when most of us don’t get any feedback to track our progress until the energy bill shows up almost a month later.

In the spirit of Earth Day, ACEEE offers our top picks for energy saving tips that provide real savings opportunities for people willing to commit a little effort. We hope to foster a better understanding of not only how you can reduce energy used in your home, but also how much you can expect to save.

Take action with the following tips that are geared to the hot summer months. (Hey, we can dream that it’s almost summer, right?) More and more utilities are introducing Web portals that show customers how much energy they use. Be sure to check with your utility to see if they provide this service so that you can track how you’re doing! If you live in a hot climate, you probably spend more than the average American on cooling costs, so expect to save even more than what we estimate below:

  • Raise your thermostat and use a fan. In the summer months, set your thermostat a few degrees higher than normal (we recommend 78° F) and supplement your air conditioner with ceiling fans or standing/box fans, which use a lot less electricity. Just remember that fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you’re not there. For each degree you raise the thermostat, you can save 3–5% on air conditioning costs. If you normally cool your house to 72°, you can expect to trim about $60 to $110 off your summer cooling bill (an average of $10-18 for each degree you bump the temperature up).
  • Cool the house according to your schedule. Keep your air conditioner off when no one is home. It takes less energy to cool the house down when you return home than to keep it cool the whole day. Turning off the air conditioner during work hours also means it’s not running during the hottest part of the day, generally from 2pm to 5pm, when it has to work the hardest. To avoid coming home to a sauna, install a programmable thermostat (or use your existing one) to schedule the air conditioner to kick on about 30 minutes to an hour before you arrive home. The average American household spends about $360 on cooling every year. Reducing the need to cool your home during the hottest hours of the day could save upwards of $120 every year.
  • Seal up air leaks. While this tip may seem more critical in the winter, it is also important to seal your home in the dog days of summer when your air conditioner is working hard to keep it cool. What can you do? Update caulking around window and door frames, add door sweeps and weather strips to door frames, seal up attic hatches, fireplaces, and whole-house fans that are not in use. Contact a home performance contractor to address harder-to-reach leakage areas in the attic and basement. By improving air sealing in the attic and adding insulation, you can save 20% on overall energy costs. And the easiest fix in some homes? Be sure to close windows when you’re heating or cooling your home, and if you have a whole-house fan, turn it off when the air conditioning is running.
  • Replace inefficient light bulbs. If you haven’t yet changed out the highest-use lights in your home for more efficient lighting, today is the day! Replace all of your high-use lights with compact fluorescents (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Lighting is no small electricity load in your house—it accounts for almost $300 per year on the energy bill of an average home. CFL and LED options use only 25% of that energy. Imagine cutting that load by 75%: it could save you over $200 a year.
  • Install showerheads and aerators. Switch out showerheads to high-efficiency models that use only 1.5 gallons of water per minute (gpm). Switch out faucet aerators with high-efficiency units (1.5 gpm for the kitchen, 1.0 gpm for the bathrooms). Make sure to buy pipe tape at the hardware store for easier installation of your new water fixtures. Savings will vary depending on how many showers are taken in your household, but for an average home this will reduce the amount of water needed for showers, hand washing, and dish washing by almost half, saving about $45 a year. For households with shower-loving teens, expect to save even more. For additional water savings, don’t forget outdoor water uses: Consider installing timers or more efficient drip irrigation systems to cut down on water use for landscaping.
  • Unplug electronics. These days, homes have an expanding array of electronics that weren’t around 20 years ago. Many of these products, particularly chargers and remote-controlled devices, continue to use energy even when they’re turned off. The share of energy that electronics use in an average house has increased significantly to account for as much as 10-15% of home electricity use. Unplugging devices that are not in use (or using a power strip with an on/off switch) is the easiest energy-saving step to take and could save you about $20 annually. This might seem small, but if 5,000,000 households made this small task a habit, the collective action would save enough energy to eliminate the need for one 500 MW coal power plant!

We encourage you to celebrate Earth Day with us by taking action in your own home. For more energy efficiency recommendations, including more tips to reduce summer cooling costs, see our Consumer Guide for Home Energy Savings.