Everyday Green's Guide to Energy Conservation

In these tough economic times it's important to cut costs everywhere we can. When it comes to energy conservation, very simple changes can have a significant impact. The average American household spends about $1,900 a year in energy costs. Plus, there's the environmental cost – residential energy use accounts for about 20% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking even just a few of the following steps can make a difference – in your carbon footprint and in your wallet.

Sealing and Insulating
Find and seal air leaks. Check doors, windows, electrical conduits, plumbing fixtures, ceiling fixtures, the attic, and anywhere else air may escape for leaks. Use weatherstripping or caulk to repair any leaks.

Make sure your home is properly insulated. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.

Heating and Cooling
Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to preset temperatures for different times of the day, so you can leave temperatures higher when you're out and cooler when you're home (reverse during the winter). A programmable thermostat is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50), easy to install, easy to use, and can save you 10% to 20% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep air filters clean. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Doing so can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.

Keep the air flowing. Make sure there is nothing, like draperies or furniture, blocking air vents. If you do find that air is blowing up behind curtains, there are inexpensive air directors you can pick up at the hardware store to direct the flow of air out into the room.

Use kitchen and bathroom ventilating fans only for the amount of time truly necessary – typically no more than 20 minutes.

Use window treatments wisely. During the summer, keep window treatments closed during the day to avoid the extra heat of the sun. In wintertime, pull back the window coverings on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight in.

When it's time to purchase new heating and cooling equipment, look for energy efficient models. Since these are the type of items that often need to be replaced unexpectedly and quickly, it's a good idea to research the best options ahead of time so you know what to buy when the time comes.

Water Heating
Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install.

Put aerators on all your faucets and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models.

Increase your hot water heater's efficiency. Put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe.

Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding.

Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that can make your water heater less efficient. This is especially helpful if you live in a community with hard water.

When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. The water heater is another item that usually needs to be replaced quickly, so do some research ahead of time so you know what to purchase when the time comes.

Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use up to 70% less energy and last up to 10 times longer. Make sure they are Energy Star-certified.

For those who don't like CFLs' cold, bluish-white light or how long some of them can take to light up completely there is the new Energy Smart hybrid Halogen-CFL light bulb by GE. It combines the instant brightness of halogen technology with the energy efficiency and longer rated life of CFL technology. It casts the same kind of warm glow as an incandescent bulb and is even shaped like a standard bulb, but it lasts eight times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing light fixtures like lamps, vanity fixtures, and outdoor lights. These products distribute light more efficiently and evenly than traditional fixtures.

Always remember to turn lights off when not in use. Use dimmers to adjust lights so that you are only using the amount of energy you truly need.

Keep your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Doing so saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature.

Only run your dishwater when it is full and use unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.

When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.

When it makes sense to do so, skip the stove altogether in favor of a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, toaster oven, or even a barbeque grill.

Only wash full loads of laundry. Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.

Air dry laundry on a clothes line or drying racks. Your clothes will last longer and you'll save up to $75 a year.

For the times you do use your dryer, make sure it is running efficiently. Check the exhaust vent every so often to make sure it closes tightly and clean the lint filter after every load. If doing more than one load, try to do one right after the other to take advantage of the leftover heat.

Unplug small appliances, like toasters and coffeemakers, when not in use. Standby usage accounts for anywhere from 6% to 26% of a homes' electricity use.

When shopping for a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can accurately compare both the up front price and the monthly energy cost you'll be paying for the following 10 to 20 years.

Turn off electronics when they are not in use. Use a power strip for an easy one-click shut off option.

When in the market for new electronics, opt for energy-efficient models when available. An Energy Star labeled computer uses 70% less electricity than computers without Energy Star certification.

Skip the screen saver, which doesn't save any energy, and set up your computer to automatically switch to sleep mode instead. Manually turning off the monitor saves even more energy.

When it's time to upgrade your computer, consider buying a laptop. They use much less energy than desktop computers.

Charge your cell phone with a car charger or your computer's USB port when you're online. Less than 10% of the power drawn from a wall plug by a cell phone charger is actually used to charge the phone. The rest is wasted. So, at the very least, make sure to unplug all electronic chargers once batteries are done charging.

Once your disposable batteries are depleted replace them with rechargeable batteries. They may cost slightly more upfront, but they can be reused for years. Rechargeable batteries are a good choice for most frequently-used devices such as wireless mice and keyboards, radios, cameras, calculators, remote controls, and toys.

Finally, get more individualized advise with a home energy audit. Most public utilities will conduct a free home energy audit for a customer. Or, you can conduct one yourself following the U.S. Department of Energy's Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment Guide.

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