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Tips for Reducing and Saving Energy in Your Home
Date: July 25, 2008
Author: David Smidt, SeniorDiscounts

As discussed in previous columns, there are many programs available for older Americans and low income households to receive discounts on their utility bills. To read about these programs, click here.

But what about those who may not qualify for these types of discounts? Here are some free and low-cost tips that may help save you hundreds of dollars each year.

While some of these tips may be fairly obvious, you may not realize just how much they could save you in the long run and every penny counts.

Cooling Your Home

  • Use ceiling fans to help circulate air throughout the house, and make sure your attic is properly ventilated. A ceiling fan should run clockwise during the summer and counter-clockwise during the winter.
  • Set the fan on your central air conditioner to "on" rather than "auto." This will circulate air continuously, keeping the temperature more even throughout the house and aiding in dehumidification.
  • Make sure your window air conditioner is the proper size. It's better to get one that's too small than too large. A larger unit will start up and turn off more frequently and won't do as good a job dehumidifying the air.
  • Raise the thermostat to about 78 to 80 degrees whenever you go to bed or leave the house. If you have pets in the home, leave the temperature at no more than 78 degrees and make sure cool water is available.
  • During the winter, remove window air conditioners and seal the windows with caulk and weather-stripping. You might also want to cover the central air compressor with a tarp to keep it clean.
  • Check the air conditioner filter each month, and clean or replace it as needed. Dirty filters block air flow through your heating and cooling systems, increasing your energy bill and shortening the equipment’s life.
  • During hot months, keep window coverings closed on the south, east, and west windows.

Install Automatic Thermostats

  • To help maintain the temperature, install programmable thermostats. They not very expensive, from $30 and up, and can save up to $100 a year when programming the temperature to increase in the summer and decrease in the winter while you are away or asleep.
  • Each degree you lower or raise your thermostat can save you up to 3% from your heating and cooling bills.

Water Usage and Heating

  • About 15% of an average home energy bill goes to heating water, and showers and baths account for about 40% of a home’s hot water usage. Set the water heater temperature at 120 degrees or about halfway between low and medium on most units.
  • Installing low-flow showerheads and sink aerators can reduce the hot water consumption by as much as 50%. A family of four, each taking a five-minute shower a day, can save $250 a year in water heating costs by switching to a low-flow showerhead.
  • Fix leaky faucets, especially if it's a hot water faucet. One drop per second can add up to 165 gallons a month - that's more than one person uses in two weeks.
  • Save the baths for special occasions and try and reduce the time you spend in the shower. A five-minute shower will use about 7.5 gallons of hot water, while filling a bathtub can use up to 20 gallons.
  • If your water heater is more than 15 years old, install an insulating wrap, which costs about $20, to reduce "standby" heat loss. It's also a good idea to insulate hot water pipes where they're accessible.

Reduce in the Kitchen

  • Use smaller kitchen appliances whenever possible. Microwave ovens use about 60% less energy than electric stoves. Unless you are cooking a large meal, use the microwave to reheat and cook foods.
  • Vacuum the refrigerator coils about twice a year to keep the compressor running efficiently.
  • Keep the refrigerator temperature about 36-38 degrees, and the freezer at 0-5 degrees.
  • Don't overload the refrigerator or freezer. Cold air needs to circulate freely to keep foods at the proper temperature.
  • Check the seal on your refrigerator door by closing it on a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, it's time to replace the gaskets. You can purchase a replacement kit from an appliance dealer or a home center.
  • Clean the coils on your refrigerator using a tapered appliance brush. Your fridge's motor won't have to run as long or as often. In addition to saving energy dollars, you'll prolong the life of the appliance.
  • If you need to clean your oven, use your oven's self-cleaning feature immediately after cooking, while the oven is still hot. This will reduce a lengthy warm-up time.
  • Use lids on pots and pans to reduce cooking times, and don't put a small pan on a large burner. You'll use much less energy than you would with a mismatched burner and pan.
  • Keep the grease plates under range burners clean to reflect heat more efficiently.
  • Run the dishwasher only with full loads, and use the air-dry cycle. If your dishwasher has a "booster" water heater, use it; this will heat the water to the 140 degrees recommended by manufacturers, while maintaining an energy-saving 120 degrees on your primary water heater.
  • Dishwashers use about 40% less hot water when fully loaded than washing the dishes yourself.

Save in the Laundry Room

  • Wash your cloths only when you have a full load and switch to cold water washing of laundry. Detergents formulated for cold water get clothes just as clean and could save you as much as $63 a year. You might guess that most of the energy used by a washing machine goes into vigorously swishing the clothes around. In fact, about 90 percent of it is spent elsewhere, heating the water for the load.
  • If you have to use warm or hot water, always use cold water for the rinse cycle.
  • Clean the lint screen on the dryer every time you use the machine. A clogged lint screen can make your dryer use up to 30% more energy.
  • Dry one load of clothes immediately after another. This will minimize heat loss, reducing warm-up and drying times.

Lighting Your Home

  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. These bulbs use up to 75% less energy than typical incandescent lights, and they last 10 times longer. While they are more expensive, their long life makes them the cheapest lighting option in the long run and can save you up to $45 per light bulb over its lifetime.
  • Look for a compact fluorescent wattage that's about one-third of the incandescent wattage you usually use.
  • If you don’t like coming home to a dark house, install light timers. These are inexpensive and can save you from keeping lights on all day. Motion detectors are also inexpensive and you won’t have to leave the outdoor lights on all night. Dimmers can help reduce the amount of energy used and are easy to install.

Things to Remember
Close the curtains to retain heat. Turn off everything when not in use; including lights, TVs, and use the automatic screen savers and power down features on your computers and other electrical equipment.. Close fireplace dampers when not in use.

Information provided by the Alliance to Save Energy and the US Department of Energy and Alliant Energy

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