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Small Steps to Conserve Energy

April 2011

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

The United States has about 5% of the world’s population but uses about 26% of the world’s energy. Improving the energy-efficiency of our homes can help save money, conserve resources, and reduce greenhouse emissions. Following are 10 small steps to lower energy usage and reduce household expenses from housing and energy experts at eXtension, the 24/7/365 online Cooperative Extension information delivery system with hundreds of experts on dozens of topics of interest to farmers and consumers.

  1. Dial Down - Turn the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter. You’ll save about 2% to 3% on your heating bill for every one degree that you lower the thermostat setting. For example, if the thermostat is set at 73 degrees in the winter, and you lower it by 3 degrees to 70 degrees, you will save about 9%, or 9 cents for every dollar you spend on heating costs.
  2. Select Energy-Efficient Products - Appliances have two price tags- the cost to purchase and the cost to operate. Compare energy efficiencies and look for the ENERGY STAR label. This label means that a product meets increased energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) for its product line. More than 40 product categories are evaluated for the ENERGY STAR label including heating and cooling equipment, windows, and doors.
  3. Seal Air Duct Seams - Typical homes leak about 15% to 20% of heated or cooled air into unheated or non-cooled spaces such as attics, crawlspaces, walls, basements, and garages. Duct leaks can add hundreds of dollars a year to utility bills. If you’re unsure about where to seal and how, contact a professional heating and cooling contractor.
  4. Select Energy-Efficient Windows - In cold weather, close curtains and shades at night. In hot weather, use awnings to block the summer sun and/or close curtains and shades during the day. Consider replacing single-pane windows with high-performance glass or add high performance storm windows. Look for the ENERGY STAR label.
  5. Caulk and Weatherstrip - About 1/3 of the air that moves through homes comes in, or exits, through holes and cracks in ceilings, wall, floors, and foundations. Caulk and weatherstrip around doors and windows- but don’t caulk windows shut. Use the correct caulk for your building materials (e.g., masonry and wood). Purchase weatherstripping for specific purposes such as door bottoms and attic hatches.
  6. Increase Heating Efficiency - Have heating systems serviced annually and maintain clean filter systems as specified. To operate efficiently, heating (and cooling) units must be sized correctly for the living space where they are being used. An over-sized system wastes energy.
  7. Increase Cooling Efficiency - The Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) and the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) indicate cooling efficiency ratings. Higher rated systems are more efficient and will save money on operating costs over time.
  8. Check Your Insulation - Insulation may be inadequate in your home. Consider getting an energy audit to evaluate your current insulation and learn about recommended R-values for your floors, walls, and attic. An R-value is a measure of resistance to heat flowing through an insulation material.
  9. Switch Out Light Bulbs - Lighting accounts for 5% to 10% of total home energy use. Make the most of natural daylight and turn off unnecessary lights. ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs provide bright, warm light while using 2/3 less energy than standard lighting. CFLs also last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs.
  10. Turn Things Off for Good - When computers, printers, TVs, or other appliances are not being used, turn them completely off or use a power strip to disconnect them. About 40% of the electricity used to power home electronics is used while the products are turned “off” but are “ready on.” Electronics in “sleep” mode can use up to 20% of the electricity needed when they are fully turned on.