We’re always being bombarded with sales pitches that say “Save 40% on your energy bills!” or “Cut your electric bill in half!” Consumers are frequently misled and confused by the various gizmos designed to save energy in the home. Consumer advocates warn homeowners to look out for products that don’t live up to the hype. Watch out for transient voltage surge protectors, black box devices for appliances, power factor correction devices, insulated paints, power-filtering devices and other energy conserving devices that promise hard-to-believe guarantees. Yet despite all the frauds out there, a number of legitimate devices are being widely used for saving energy in the home.
Since heating and cooling system expenses count for the largest portion of your overall home energy consumption, we’ll first look at this realm of home energy saving devices. Programmable thermostats allow homeowners to set specific room temperatures for certain times of the day, without needing to manually adjust the dial. For instance, many people program their thermostats to turn down at night or while they’re at work and not using the heat. They can also program the heat to automatically turn back up just before they come home at night.
For the forgetful, there are also remote control heating systems that let you change the temperature even after you leave home. With a quick phone call, you can change the temperature of your home. Centralized heating and cooling also helps households with individual thermostats to maintain better consistency.
Another way to save energy is with water heating system devices. Reducing water consumption will also save on electricity. For instance, a low-flow showerhead can save up to 40% of your water consumption, thus taking the burden off your heating system. Similarly, a multi-setting showerhead (with pulse, spray, pause, turbo pulse, etc.) can save water. A water saving toilet lets homeowners save up to 25% of their water consumption. Energy experts say you’ll see the energy savings from these devices after they pay for themselves within the first few months.
Solar battery chargers are great devices to save energy using off-grid power. For instance, the “solar egg” can reach over a 90% charge in just four hours of sun, which can be used to power up mobile phones, computers, digital cameras and other electronics. Not only can these save you money on your energy bills at home, but they can also be extremely helpful when you need power outdoors, far from electrical outlets, and they produce no pollutants to boot! The Voltaic Systems Solar Backpack is another amazing invention. One hour of sunlight will charge your phone long enough for you to make a few calls. However, a full 10-hour charge can provide up to 55 hours of stored energy! With several different adapters, you can easily plug in your MP3 player, computer, cell phone or other electronic device. Some of the more expensive $500 bags can even charge laptops, but you can find more basic versions for $75 to $250.
By Cyndi Wagner
Dishwashers use a great deal of energy during the drying cycle. You can save money and energy by avoiding the dry cycle. The easiest way is to take advantage of the “Air-Dry” feature on newer dishwashers. This will automatically end the cycle after the last rinse and pop open the door to let the dishes dry naturally.
If you have an older dishwasher without the air-dry feature, just open the door after the last rinse to stop the cycle there and let the dishes dry. This works when you only have one load to do (which you should do in the late evening), but careful planning may let you do one load during the day, air dry it, then another load in the evening, and then air dry that load also.
This may not work well after a party when you have several loads of dishes to wash, but for everyday use, washing the dishes at the end of the day allows you to open the dishwasher door after the last rinse and let the dishes air dry overnight.
Remember also: save money by only washing full loads. Running the dishwasher with less than a full load uses the same amount of hot water and electricity as a full load … same energy, fewer dishes cleaned. This is not a good use of energy, and you pay for too much electricity.
The important thing is always think about energy use when using your dishwasher by always washing full loads and using the energy saving “air-dry.” You will save a great deal of power, lower your utility bills, and reduce the resources needed to create that power. Even if you create the power with your own wind and solar generators, if you use less washing dishes, you will have more for other things.
Dan Davenport has wants the world to be a greener place — intelligently.
Editor’s Note: It’s a new year, and that means new resolutions. Whether this is the first year you’re looking for ways to save energy or you want to lower your energy bills even more than last year, check out our eight strategies for saving energy. We first released these tips in 2013, and while a couple of the energy-saving numbers have changed, for a second year in a row, they remain the top eight ways you can save money at home.
At the beginning of every new year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, which inevitably are forgotten by the end of January. This year, forget making a New Year’s resolution. Instead make a home energy efficiency resolution.
Need some ideas on resolutions to make your home more energy efficient? To get you started, I consulted with our experts in the Building Technologies Office — who work on developing innovative, cost-effective solutions to saving energy — to create a list of the top ways to save energy and money at home. They came up with eight strategies all homeowners should adopt to lower their energy bills no matter the time of the year or their price range. Some tips are free or low cost and can be used daily to increase your energy savings, while others require a larger investment for long-term savings. This year, resolve to try one or more of these tips for improving your home’s energy efficiency, and start seeing savings on your next energy bill.
1. Install and set a programmable thermostat. You could save an estimated 10 percent per year on heating and cooling costs by using a programmable thermostat, and by resetting it when you are asleep or away from home, you won’t have to sacrifice comfort.
2. Use sunlight to your advantage. The sun’s rays can contribute heat in the winter but force air conditioners and fans to work harder — and use more energy — in the summer. During winter months, you can take advantage of sunlight by opening your curtains during the day to allow the sun to naturally heat your home. During warmer months, use light-colored window shades or blinds to reflect heat back outside, keeping your home cooler and more efficient. Using natural lighting effectively will also reduce the need to use artificial light.
3. When replacing appliances or purchasing electronics, look for ENERGY STAR appliances, fans and electronics. Your home’s appliances and electronics account for close to 20 percent of your energy bills. Using ENERGY STAR® certified products — which incorporate advanced technologies that use 10-15 percent less energy and water than standard models — throughout your home could save nearly $750 over the lifetime of the products. For example, ENERGY STAR clothes washers use about 40 percent less energy than conventional clothes washers while reducing water bills. ENERGY STAR washers also require less detergent and are gentler on clothes, saving you money on clothing expenses.
4. Choose energy-saving lighting. About 10 percent of the energy your home uses goes to lighting costs. By just replacing five of your home’s most frequently used lights with energy-efficient ENERGY STAR bulbs, you could save $75 a year in energy costs. Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs can yield as much as 75 percent energy savings and last six-times longer. You can get even more energy savings, longer life span and less wasted heat by switching to ENERGY STAR LEDs.
5. Use an electronic power strip for your electronic equipment. Many electronic devices and equipment continue to consume unnecessary energy even when not in use. Often called energy vampires, these devices cost families about $100 a year. Use a power strip for electronic devices and turn it off when not in use to eliminate energy vampires. And be sure to unplug your chargers — they draw energy even when they aren’t connected to a device.
6. Reduce energy for water heating. Water heating is a large energy expense in your home, accounting for about 14-18 percent of your utility bills. By taking low-cost steps, you can reduce your water heating bills. Make sure your water heater is set to no higher than 120 degrees. Install low-flow showerheads or temperature-sensitive shower valves. Newer water heaters have more insulation than older ones. If your water heater is more than five years old, you should wrap a water heater jacket around it to stop heat loss from the tank.
7. Hire a professional to maintain your heating and cooling system. Arrange for annual maintenance with a qualified technician. This includes checking the airflow over the coil, testing for the correct fluid (refrigerant) level, checking the combustion process and heat exchanger are operating safely, and ensuring proper air-flow to each room. In addition, you should clean the air filters in your heating and cooling system once a month, and replace them regularly.
8. Consult a home performance contractor to achieve large savings. There is a growing industry of professionals who are qualified to make recommendations to homeowners on how to improve the overall energy efficiency of their homes. These professional energy assessors will do a comprehensive energy audit of your whole house using special tools — such as a blower door test and an infrared camera to locate air leaks — to measure home energy efficiency.
A professional energy audit gives you a thorough picture of where your home is losing energy and what you can do to save money. By making upgrades (especially sealing air leaks and properly insulating your home), you can expect to save 15-30 percent or more in energy costs, while also improving your home’s comfort and air quality. Visit the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR website to learn more about this approach and to locate home performance contractors near you.