Race for efficiencyDIY

How to make home energy efficient, save money and help the planet

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 to save some money and contribute to the international fight against global warming.

Where does your energy go?

First, let's see what an average American electricity bill is made of. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 22% of whole energy consumption stands for heating and cooling the house. Around a third of energy goes to appliances and lighting. 37% of energy is needed to heat the water, for example, in a washing machine. Around 7% is spent on your fridge.

The average residential U.S. electricity price in 2024 is around 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to EIA. A medium-sized American household consumes about 900 kilowatt-hours in a month. That’s how an average monthly bill closes in on $150. Energy-efficient upgrades help bring this number down.

James Vance
Electrical engineer and blogger at MyIntelligentHouse

I've observed homeowners cut their monthly costs by 20–30% by making energy-efficient improvements! That's a lot of money that may be used to treat yourself to a nice supper or even the short getaway you've been longing for. I recommend starting by having your home undergo an audit before making any upgrades. This will identify the most serious problems with energy consumption.

Old appliances need an upgrade

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 new ones.

Around 9% 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 (CFL). LEDs are really the 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 the 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 laptop or smartphone charger that is plugged in consumes electricity even when it's not connected to the device. Desktop computers are responsible for around 3% of whole energy consumption in the US, so do not leave them on if they are not being used. In this respect, laptops are considered much more energy efficient.

Phantom loads of a typical American home stand for 5% to 10% of total home consumption

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 ones that require up to 20% less electricity. Microwaves consume 80% less energy than conventional ovens and 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 7% 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, a radiator or exposed to direct sunlight, it spends more energy on maintaining low temperature inside.

Do 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 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.

Use water consciously

It is important not only to pay attention to your electrical waste, but watch out for how much water you're using. Taking shower requires much less water than taking a bath. There are also low-flow showerheads, designed to 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 a dual-flush toilet: 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

James Vance
Electrical engineer and blogger at MyIntelligentHouse

When making upgrades, prioritize high-ROI changes first. First, make sure your property has good insulation. It might not seem as swanky as smart devices, but trust me when I say it keeps your home cozy without letting priceless energy escape through the walls. Second, think about switching to a more energy-efficient HVAC system. Although there may be some initial costs, the savings and comfort it offers make it absolutely worthwhile.

Since we're talking about ways to make your home more energy efficient, it's also important to find options to spend less heat. After all, it's often the central heating that tops the bill.

The first and the easiest way to reduce those expenses 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.

There are also options that can replace energy-hungry air conditioning and central heating. Instead of an air con, 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 reach 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 lots of air leaks in your house. Here's the list of places to check where heat loss usually occurs:

•  ows and doors – at the cracks and along the edges
•  places where any wires or pipes come through the walls
•  outlets and switches
•  dirty places on your ceiling and carpet – they may indicate air leaks
•  around chimneys, furnaces, gas fired water heater vents

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. Keep in mind that sometimes you'll need heat-resistant materials for 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 gap between two panes is usually filled with an inert gas like argon or xenon. To further reduce the heat loss, you can go for a low emissivity (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 southern and western 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 eastern and northern 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.

Embrace the future and use solar energy

Electricity prices rise by 10-20% the last few years across the US. This is what makes energy-efficient upgrades and solar energy in particular more and more popular. Although initially it's a costly investment, a solar PV system pays back in 5-10 years, depending on the state you live in. Consider all the advantages and disadvantages of going solar, and you'll see it's worth it!

Andrey Gorichenski
Senior Editor

Andrey had been a news editor and freelance writer for a number of medias before joining A1SolarStore team. Climate change and its impact on people's lives has always been among his interests and it partially explains his degree in Philosophy and Ethics.

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