First Steps to Energy Efficiency

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today to Save Energy
Image: light switches. Title: First Steps to Energy Efficiency
Flickr: Travis Limon

Take these actions on energy and save up to 33 percent of your energy use!

Turn Off Lights You're Not Using 

Take the step: Make a pact with your family to be extra mindful about shutting off lights when they leave a room. A good rule of thumb is that there should be a maximum of one light on in your household per person at any given time. You can even put little reminders around your switchplates—download our template here. Or, install motion sensors (about $20 each) that turn the lights off after a room has remained empty for a certain amount of time.

Why: llluminating rooms that aren’t in use is a huge waste.

Schedule an Energy Audit 

Take the step: Get an energy audit performed on your home.

Why: Get expert advice to help you identify ways you can use less electricity and plug energy leaks in your home. You’ll get the most cost-effective and useful steps that will help you reduce your energy use, lower your home’s global warming footprint, and lower your energy bills, too. Your local utility will probably provide an energy audit for free, but you may get a more comprehensive audit—allowing you to save even more money in the long run—by paying for a whole-house energy audit.

The big picture: Taking all of the most cost-effective strategies for energy efficiency can cut your energy use in half, save you 50 percent or more off your energy bills, and halve your household global warming emissions, too.

Let Your Dishwasher Breathe 

Take the step: Skip the energy-intensive drying cycle on your dishwasher and choose the “air-dry” option, or open the door overnight for some zero-energy dish-drying action. 

Why: The drying cycle uses up a lot of energy and money, while just letting dishes air-dry will accomplish the task for free.

Shift Your Load to Off-Peak Times 

Electricity demand goes down at night and begins rising in the morning, peaking at mid-day before falling back down at nightfall again. Because power sources have to produce the electricity around the time of its use, without any capacity for long-term storage, it is our peak demand that determines the expansion of dirty coal-fired power plants and other polluting forms of energy generation. Someday, utilities may use smart meters to help us even things out, but until then, you can do your own private “load shifting” by trying, whenever possible, to wash laundry or run the dishwasher at nighttime and as far possible from mid-day. “Delay” settings on appliances sometimes make this easy to do—many dishwashers, for example, can be set after dinner to go on in four hours and wash the dishes while you sleep.

Bonus: Your utility company may shift to time-of-day metering in the future, so you’ll actually pay less when you use electricity at night. 

Don't Heat or Cool Empty Rooms 

Take the step: If there is a room in your home that is largely unused, close the vents to save on heating and cooling costs. Always turn off room air conditioners as you leave a room. When you go on vacation, set the thermostat at least ten full degrees below (in winter) and above (in summer) where it’d be if you were home; no need to heat or cool a house when no one is home. 

Why: Heating and cooling rooms no one is in wastes energy (and money!) and generates needless emissions.

Turn Off Your Electronics 

Take the step: If you’re going to be away from your computer or other appliance for more than an hour, turn it off as you leave the room. 

Why: Some people mistakenly think it takes a giant burst of energy to power up a television, computer, or game console, and so they leave these electronics on continuously. However, even on an “energy-saver” setting, a computer, game console, or television wastes much more energy when it’s on all day than if you really turn it off. 

Eliminate "Phantom Load" 

Take the step: Many electronics use electricity even when they’re turned off—so your best bet is to unplug electronic devices and appliances when they’re not in use. Or, plug your TV and accessories into one power strip and switch off the whole strip to eliminate this “phantom load.” 

Why: At least five percent of the average household’s monthly utility bill goes towards powering devices that are turned off. TVs, DVD players, computers, printers, and cell phone chargers are just some of the devices that leak power even when they aren’t on—in fact, a quarter of the energy used by your TV each year is consumed when the TV is off.

Eliminate Your Second Fridge, and Show the First One a Little Love 

Take the step: If you’re paying to power a second refrigerator or freezer in your basement, try to make do with one fridge in the kitchen and unplug the extra one. 

You can help your first fridge function more efficiently by placing jugs of water in any empty space inside (water retains cold better than air does), and by taking some time once every six months to pull the fridge away from the wall and scrub down the grime that accumulates on the coils. (One of our editors found that her fridge was so much more efficient post-scrub that she could set the thermostat higher for the same chill!)

Why: The refrigerator is often the biggest energy-using appliance in a home. A typical refrigerator uses more than 1,300 kWh a year and costs the average American household $120 a year in electricity.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water 

Take the step: Turn the knob on your washing machine to “cold/cold” today, and leave it there. If you use a laundromat, post this flyer from the Center for a New American Dream to spread the word about washing in cold. 

Why: With modern washing machines and detergents, washing your clothes in cold water gets them just as clean as washing in hot water, but it uses half the energy. In situations where you do need hot water—for example, to kill dust mites in bedding— choose cold water for the rinse cycle.

Give the Dryer a Rest 

Take the step: Consider skipping the dryer and hanging your clothes to dry on a rack or a clothesline. (For support in line-drying your clothes and to help fight anti-clothesline ordinances in your neighborhood, join Project Laundry List.) You can avoid wrinkles by using your dryer for five minutes, then hanging clothes on the line. Please note that if you have pollen allergies, you’ll want to skip the outdoor clothesline and use an indoor drying rack instead. 

Why: It takes a huge commitment of energy to run a dryer— all to do something that the air, given a little more time, will do for free. Many households spend more than $100 a year on the energy used by their dryer.