What is energy conservation?
Energy conservation simply means using less energy (usually in the form of electricity or gas) as you go about your daily life. In particular, reducing the amount of energy that you use in your home can have a big impact on the planet and on your wallet. Lowering your energy consumption might involve changing your habits, swapping your appliances, or upgrading your home. These small changes, even on a personal level, can make a big difference to the amount of energy that you use at home. Many of them can be undertaken for free, or where you need to spend, you’ll soon see a return on investment due to lower energy bills.
Why should I conserve energy?
There are two main reasons that you might decide to lower your energy consumption. First, there’s a big economic incentive. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports the average electricity bill for an American household as $115/month in 2019. Cutting your energy bill by 10% would mean over $135 of savings each year.
That’s not to mention the environmental benefits of reducing energy consumption. Electricity has to be generated, and currently, the United States (according to the EIA) generates 60% of its electricity from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other sources). Burning fossil fuels creates pollution that contributes to environmental problems. So, reducing energy consumption can help reduce the amount of fossil fuels being burned.
Second, reducing energy consumption can help extend the life of your appliances. An important part of energy conservation is checking and upgrading your appliances and using some of them less often. This can mean that your more expensive items, like a washing machine or water heater, will last longer.
There are a few simple steps that you can take to lower your energy consumption for a greener and more economical future.
1. Do an energy audit
Every home is different, so before anything else, you should find out where you personally can save on electricity. You can pay for a professional home energy audit or you can go for the DIY option (which is actually much easier than it sounds).
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends including the following in your DIY home energy audit:
Locate air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. You can seal any leaks with caulking or weatherstripping.
Check insulation in the attic, particularly if you have an older home. Again, you can seal any gaps with caulking or weatherstripping.
Inspect heating and cooling equipment, lighting, appliances and electronics. If needed, replace older products with newer, more energy-efficient products.
2. Get an annual HVAC maintenance inspection
On average, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems account for around 46% of household electricity costs. Therefore, a regular HVAC check-up is absolutely essential to cutting your electricity usage.
A typical HVAC inspection by a contractor should include:
- Equipment wear and tear (which will help identify parts that are wasting energy)
- Parts to be cleaned, replaced or lubricated
- Motors and controls
- Condition of electrical connections and voltage
- Coil temperature
3. Clean HVAC filters
While we’re on the subject of HVAC, something you can do yourself – even before booking an inspection – is cleaning your HVAC filters. This is actually something you should be doing every couple of months. Not only will this improve the efficiency of your HVAC system, but it will also extend the life of your unit and ensure you have cleaner air circulating in your home.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors provides this useful guide to cleaning HVAC filters.
4. Install a smart or programmable thermostat
Thanks to technology, you no longer have to worry about remembering to turn off the air conditioner when leaving home.
Programmable thermostats are thermostats that allow you to schedule when your heating and/or air conditioning turns on.
Smart thermostats similarly allow you to control your home’s temperature, but also contain additional Wi-Fi-enabled capabilities – such as the ability to set the temperature remotely and receive alerts when there is a maintenance issue.
5. Install a smart water heater or timer
Water heaters are the second-biggest contributor to electricity bills in the home, behind heating/cooling systems. They too can become less expensive by utilizing technology.
A water timer allows you to schedule when your water heater turns on, rather than having the heater on all the time or controlling the heater manually.
Like a smart thermostat, a smart water heater has Wi-Fi connectivity, sensors, and features that promote even greater energy efficiency.
6. Only do full loads of laundry
One of the easiest ways to cut back on electricity costs is to only turn on the washing machine when it’s full or close to full. Think about it: four quarter-full loads and one full load achieve the same result, except that the four quarter-full loads use four times as much energy!
One word of warning: avoid being over-eager to save money. Filling your washing machine past the maximum recommended capacity is a sure-fire way to shorten its lifespan.
7. Hang laundry on the line
No one in their right mind would want to wash all their clothes by hand, but drying is another matter. When the sun’s out, why not hang your clothes up on the line?
Line drying doesn’t use any energy aside from the natural (and free) heat provided by our friend, the sun. It’s also much better for sensitive fabrics than drying, which means your clothes will last longer – saving you money and cutting down on waste.
8. Buy energy-efficient appliances
Going out and replacing all your appliances right now will cost you a fortune and contribute to more environmental waste. However, when your appliances eventually do break down (which all of them eventually do), then you can replace them with energy-efficient alternatives.
Technology is constantly improving the efficiency of electrical appliances, and costs of energy-efficient appliances are becoming ever-more affordable. When one of your appliances dies, don’t see it as an unnecessary expense; see it as an opportunity to save on future electricity costs while also doing your bit for the environment.
9. Install LED lighting
Speaking of technology, LED light bulbs (named that way because they use light emitting diodes) use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than regular incandescent light bulbs.
According to the Department of Energy, you can reduce your electricity bill by $75 each year just by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models carrying the Energy Star label.
10. Unplug appliances that aren’t in use
Our final tip is actually the simplest: unplugging appliances from the power source when they aren’t in use. Phantom power (also known as standby power or vampire power) is the energy your appliances use when they are turned off but still plugged into the power outlet. Obviously, there are some appliances you may want to keep plugged in at all times – like the fridge. But unplugging other electronic products – like TVs, small fans, and coffeemakers – can save you money.
Why would my household bills be higher than usual?
Several different factors can influence your household energy bills. First, your habits and behavior can make your bills higher than necessary. Do you leave your appliances permanently switched on or have them on standby? Do you keep your heating on all the time? Using your appliances constantly will naturally drive up your energy consumption.
Of course, in times of extreme weather (cold or heat, for example), your bills might also go up from just needing to use your heating or air conditioning more. The condition of your home can influence how much you need temperature control—for example, inefficient windows or insulation. You may have air leaks through gaps between walls and windows or vents and doors. These can also make it more expensive to heat or cool your home.
You may need to consider the age of your appliances or products. Older models might be less energy efficient than those designed with energy conservation in mind. You could also add tools and gadgets that help you control your appliances, like a timer to switch them off when not in use or a smart thermostat that can activate heating only when needed.
What uses the most electricity in my household?
According to Direct Energy, air conditioning and heating (otherwise known as HVAC) use 46% of electricity in the home. One obvious way to lower their impact is to use them less often and adjust your behavior accordingly. For example, wear warmer clothes in winter, rather than switch on the heating, or use dark curtains to shield your rooms during the summer. It’s also a good idea to lower your thermostat. Keeping your HVAC system in good repair will prevent it from getting clogged, therefore reducing the amount of energy that it takes to produce the temperature that you want.
Water heating is the second most energy-hungry system in the average household (14% of energy consumption). Insulating your water heater and pipes can help, as can lowering your water temperature and making sure you don’t keep it running while on vacation.
Home appliances like refrigerators and washing machines come in third place at 13% of energy consumption. Upgrading to energy-efficient models is a good idea, but if that’s out of your price range for now, keep them in good condition and clean them regularly. Try to wash full loads of clothing or dishes if you use a washing machine or dishwasher, respectively, and consider air-drying rather than using an electric dryer.
Take care of your systems and appliances
As we have seen, paying attention to your systems, appliances, and electronics is key to reducing your carbon footprint. Take care of your systems and appliances and they’ll take better care of you. They will perform more efficiently and use up less energy – saving you money and imposing less of a burden on the environment.