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How to make your home more energy efficient
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How to make your home more energy efficient

10 mins 24 Nov 2020
The key to efficiency is knowing and controlling where your energy goes. This rule applies not only to a person, but also to a place where he or she lives. In this article we'll discuss how to make home more energy efficient: not only is it going to save you quite a sum over the year, but also contribute to international fight against global warming and possibly make you a more disciplined human being.

There are various ways to save energy daily. Some are quite an investment in terms of money and efforts, others are simple and more about making useful habits. While we go over usual everyday tasks that require electricity or heat, we'll see if it is possible to minimize the energy waste.

Where does your energy go

First, some numbers: let's see what an average American bill for energy is made of. According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy, 44% of it is usually spent on heating and cooling the house. Around a third of energy goes to appliances and lighting. 14% of energy is needed to heat the water – for example, in a washing machine. Around 9% goes to your fridge.

Old appliances need an upgrade

For starters, let's talk about big steps that you can take to make your home more energy efficient. For example, you might consider an upgrade for your appliances. Old machines and devices start to consume more and more energy over the years and eventually it is smarter to invest into a new one.

Around 10% of an average electricity bill stands for lighting. Incandescent lights shine with only 10% of electricity they take – the rest is heat. They can be replaced by light-emitting diodes also known as LED or compact fluorescent lamps (a.k.a. CFL). LEDs are really a best option: they have no moving parts or mercury, use 10 times less energy than incandescent lights and last for decades.

Keep in mind that many manufacturers today try to make their electronics as energy efficient and "green" as possible. Look for Energy Star labels on products – this US program defines an international standard for reduced energy consumption products since 1992.

Sometimes devices eat your energy for free

To stop spending electricity in vain, experts recommend unplugging any electric devices rather than leaving them on standby mode. A charger (for laptop or a smartphone) that is plugged in consume electricity even when it's not connected to an electronic device. Desktop computers are responsible for around 3% of whole energy consumption in the USA so do not leave them on, if they are not being used. Also laptops are considered much more energy efficient.

Tips for energy-efficient cooking

There are ways to upgrade your kitchen so it makes the whole home more energy efficient. For example, conventional ovens use up quite a lot of energy, but can be replaced with convection ovens that require up to 20% less electricity. Microwaves consume 80% less energy than conventional ovens and surely can be used not only for reheating your food but also for cooking it. Pressure cookers work significantly faster which means you spend less time on making lunch. If these upgrades seem too drastic, here are some simple tips to save energy on a daily basis:

  • When boiling water, put a lid on a pot — it prevents heat from escaping and speeds up the boiling process.
  • Place your pans on heating elements that match their size.
  • When using a kettle, fill it only with the necessary amount of water.
  • Food cooks quicker on the top rack of the oven.
It's also important to pay attention to your fridge as it is sometimes responsible for approximately 10% of the whole electricity bill. Defrost your freezer from time to time and try to keep your fridge full, as it needs more energy to keep itself cool when empty. Obviously, if a fridge is located near a stove, radiator or exposed to direct sunlight, it spends more energy on maintaining low temperature inside.

Laundry at a lesser cost

As noted earlier, an exceptional amount of energy is spent on heating water in a dishwasher or a washing machine. High temperatures are usually needed to wash off something difficult like an oil stain. In other cases it's a smart idea to turn the temperature down. For example, if you wash your clothes at 30 C or 86 F, the set takes 30% less energy than the one at higher temperatures. Here are some other measures to decrease energy usage when it comes to laundry:

  • Whether it's a dishwasher or a washing machine, it's much more efficient to load them at full capacity, rather than doing several rounds.
  • Use a high or extended spin cycle – it reduces the time your clothes need to spend in a dryer, if you're using one.
Air-dry, whenever possible. While it takes longer, your clothes won't take damage from the high heat of the dryer.

Conscious water usage

It is important not only to pay attention to your electrical waste but watch out for how much water you're using. First of all, taking shower requires much less water than taking a bath. There are also low-flow showerheads, designed in a variety of ways that help you spend less water. Obviously, there is no use in letting the water run while you're brushing your teeth. The biggest water user in your home, however, is the toilet. You might consider replacing it with dual-flush toilets, which are popular in Europe: two buttons let you choose the amount of water needed. Low-flow 1.6 gallon toilets save their owners around 12,000 gallons a year when compared to traditional 3.5 gallon toilets.

Take control over the heating of your house

Since we're talking about ways to make your home more energy efficient, it's important to find options to spend not only less electricity but also heat. After all, it's often the central heating that tops the bill. The first and the easiest way to reduce expenses on heat is to turn down the thermometer. One degree down for at least 8 hours a day equals approximately minus 2% of the heating bill for a day. Of course, it doesn't seem reasonable to keep the heat down all the time, but decreasing it at night or at times when no one is at home might be a good idea. To automate this process, you can install a programmable thermostat that can be set to your preference.

There are also options that can replace energy-consuming air conditioning and central heating. Instead of air conditioning you can install a ceiling fan. As a way to heat your house you can use a wood stove or a pellet stove – their efficiency factor can be exceptionally high with around 90%. It would be smart to make use of sunlight that comes to your home: open your curtains in the morning to let the sun in and draw them before night to prevent heat from escaping.

Prepare for winter - insulate your home

When northern winds start to blow, you may find out that there are too many air leaks in your house, so it might be a good idea to get rid of them before it's too cold. For the most simple insulation measures you'll need rope caulk, weatherstrips and foam sealant. Here's the list of places to check where heat loss usually occurs:

  • windows and doors - seal all the cracks and edges of the window and the perimeter of the door.
  • places where any wires or pipes come through the walls
  • outlets and switches
  • dirty places on your ceiling and carpet may indicate air leaks
  • around chimneys, furnaces, gas fired water heater vents. Keep in mind that you'll need heat-resistant materials for insulation there.
If you're not sure, if your home needs insulation or not, hire a professional. For a fee he'll examine your space, find the leaks and may offer you more sophisticated methods of insulation.

Don't let the heat out - install double glazing windows

Double-glazed windows are simply windows with two parallel panes of glass. Sometimes there are three panes and these are called triple-glazed windows – they are used in exceptionally harsh climates. Double or triple-glazed windows are much better at capturing heat inside the house or a building. The gap between two panes is usually filled nowadays with an inert gas like argon or xenon. To further reduce the heat loss, you can go for a low emissivity (also known as Low-E) coating, when metal oxide or silver coating is put on the glass surface.

Circle of trees blocks winter winds

A rather unconventional, but definitely the most natural way to make home more energy efficient is to put a circle of trees around it. On the south and west sides it's better to plant trees with leaves: their shade will protect you from the sun in summer and in winter the sunlight will penetrate through them into your home. On the east and north sides evergreens like pines or spruces work better – they'll block the winter winds. Of course, this natural upgrade requires some effort and a lot of time, but the idea might appeal to those who consider building a new home from scratch.
Аverage cost of electricity across U.S. rose by almost 20% in 2020.

Embrace the future and use solar energy

As electricity prices climb up (they rose by almost 20% in 2020 across U.S. — from an average of 11.06 cents in July 2019 per Kilowatthour to 13.26 in July 2020), solar energy becomes more and more popular in the United States and you might consider going solar as well. Though it's a costly investment in the beginning, it pays back in 5-10 years, depending on the state you live in. The town where solar panel systems are the most popular choice is sunny Los Angeles but in more cloudy states electricity costs more and therefore solar energy pays for itself quicker. Look closer into advantages and disadvantages of solar panels in our detailed article "Pros and Cons of Solar Energy"
Illustrations – Marina Fionova
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