7 Surprising Ways to Save Energy

October is National Energy Awareness Month, and to celebrate this joyous eco-occasion, we’ve compiled a list to help you reduce your energy consumption and shrink your footprint even more.

Switching to fluorescent lighting and turning the thermostat down are great energy saving starters, but if you’re looking to go the extra mile to save energy in your home, these tips are for you.

Tons of electronics in your house use phantom power, meaning they take up energy even if they aren’t in use. A perfect example is your cell phone charger, which should be unplugged when not in use. (Stock Photo)

1. Get a home energy audit.

This is the No. 1 way to increase your home’s energy efficiency. A new nationwide poll conducted by RESNET, a national nonprofit organization that rates energy efficiency in homes, shows that while nine out of 10 American homeowners are concerned with energy efficiency, only one in three believes their own home is energy efficient.

Many homeowners know their home is leaking energy, but they just don’t know what to do about it. The best way to take the next step is to ask a pro.

Have an energy auditor come into your home and take a look around. He or she will point out the biggest problem-areas and suggest affordable ways to repair them. An energy auditor also help you get tax breaks and incentives to help pay for the weatherization of your home.

You can find an energy auditor near you through RESNET, or try searching all Energy Star-qualified auditors.

2. Pack smarter.

No, we’re not talking about your next business trip. We’re talking about your fridge and freezer. Improperly packed freezers or refrigerators can cause a huge energy drain.

Think about it like this: when you open the door to your fridge or freezer, warm air from your kitchen comes in and replaces the cool air inside. Your fridge now needs to use more energy to maintain temperature. So, the more empty space you have, the more warm air will enter your fridge, and the more energy your fridge will use.

We’re not telling you to stuff your cold-storage box to the gills with perishables, but in general, full is good. The refrigerator should be full, but there should still be enough empty space around your items for the air to circulate efficiently. The freezer should be more tightly packed, since your items will help to keep each other cool.

Don’t want to stock up on food? Containers filled with water will serve the same purpose in both the fridge and freezer.

3. Redecorate with the planet in mind.

So, you’ve already decorated for style. Now, try redecorating for efficiency. Scope out all the heating and cooling vents in your home, and make sure there is no furniture, drapery or other obstructions blocking the airflow.

Having a ton of stuff in front of your vents slows or stops the flow of air into your rooms, tempting you to needlessly crank up the thermostat. The same is true for baseboard heating.

If you heat your home with a radiator, try to leave at least a foot of space around it, and avoid stacking things on top. Not only will this decrease your heating and cooling bills, it will also give you an excuse for some fun redecorating in your home.

4. Don’t let vampire power suck you dry.

Vampire power is the power your electrical devices use when they are plugged in but turned off or in standby mode. Major vampire power culprits are computers, chargers for cell phones or other electronics and television sets, and these power-suckers can account for a huge portion of your energy bill.

Put an end to vampire power in your home by unplugging chargers and other electronics when not in use. Put larger items such as televisions and computers on power-strips, and flip the switch to off when the items are not being used.

Make your unused outlets even more energy-efficient by inserting safety plugs. Outlets can be prime areas for outside air to leak into your home, and plugging them up will save on heating and cooling costs.

These two little changes can make a big difference. You’ll likely be shocked at your energy savings next month.

5. Get smart in the kitchen.

It’s great to go green with an all-local meal, but there are plenty of simple cooking habits that will make your meals even greener.

When you use the stove, match the size of the pot to the size of the burner, and try to avoid using a small pot on a large burner. Only boil as much water as you need, and remember to use a lid so your water will boil faster. A pinch of salt helps, too.

If you are using the oven for multiple dishes, try to cook them all at once whenever possible, and use your oven’s self-clean setting while the oven is still hot.

Use a microwave or toaster oven whenever you can. They use much less energy than a standard oven, and your microwave’s defrost setting is a great alternative to running water.

6. Fix up your furnace.

Be warned. This may involve a trip to the murky, spider-filled basement, but we promise the energy savings will be well worth it.

First, make sure all the ducts connecting your furnace to the wall are tightly sealed. In many cases, you can cover small holes with non-toxic tape, but if ducts appear loose, you may want to have a professional take a look.

Once checked that your furnace is turned off and fully cooled, take off the sides of your furnace. Use a vacuum cleaner to blow out any dirt or dust that may have accumulated, and follow with a damp towel. Make sure to properly re-attach the sides of your furnace when you’re done.

The easiest and most commonly forgotten step to an efficient furnace is a clean filter. Dirty filters can restrict airflow and increase energy use. Changing or cleaning your furnace filters once a month increases efficiency, and you’ll notice a change in your energy bill.

7. Drop those dishes.

Well, not literally. What we really mean is: give yourself and the planet a break, and stop doing dishes by hand. Using the dishwasher actually wastes much less heated water than washing dishes in your sink.

To make sure you are saving the maximum amount of energy, only run the dishwasher with a full load, and skip the pre-rinsing.

Many of us pre-rinse our dishes in the sink with the idea that the dishwasher won’t have to work as hard, but a study conducted by Consumer Reports found that this added step can waste up to 20 gallons of heated water per day.

For stuck-on foods, try a little bit of water and steel-wool, and just toss all those other dishes into the dishwasher. Easier for you and better for the environment? Sounds great to us.

Related articles
Weatherize Your Home
Back to Basics: Reduce

Feature image courtesy of Damien McMahon

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Mary Mazzoni
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  1. cool ideas, but salt actually increases the boiling point temperature of water, so it’s not a good idea to add it before the water starts boiling!

  2. I didn’t know that this is called “vampire power”. Now that I’m thinking, I was doing some of those errors without knowing there is something wrong…

  3. Great stuff! And I don’t mean the spray insulation but that’s good too.

    As a RESNET certified Rater (the official title for those of us doing audits), I couldn’t agree more. The great majority of home owners just don’t understand how their homes operate. An energy audit can help people understand how their homes operate and help save them money and energy in the long run. The return on investment for many home improvements like insulation and a new fridge is quite fast. Usually within a few years, if not sooner.

    Get your energy audit NOW!

  4. I do not have a dishwasher in my apartment. Does anybody have ideas to wash dishes efficiently and conserve water .

  5. Technically, salt increases the boiling point of water, thus you are cooking at a higher temperature when it boils. However, you’d have to add a tremendous amount of salt to significantly reduce cooking time. A couple of teaspoons of salt really do not impact cooking times. Salt responsibly and think about your blood pressure instead.

  6. there are portable dishwashers that connect to the kitchen faucet. sure beats doing them by hand!
    they are wheeled so can be stored out of the way when not in use.

  7. At Enoch’s Berry Farm we are experimenting with various climbing vines to shade our living and work spaces to decrease cooling energy usage. Our GreenShade System is DIY.
    See photos athttp://solarincome.com/GreenShade_Systems/HOME.html

  8. When we are done cooking we put a pan of water on the hot burner(s) then use the water for soaking and rinsing the dishes. This uses the residual heat and saves some hot water.
    If I am making an alfredo sauce I put the pan on top of the pasta water and stir it as the pasta cooks.
    In the summer and we want a crock pot meal or potatoes for potato salad we put the crock pot outside to cook so it doesn’t heat up the house. In the winter I use a small fan with a filter to move the warm kitchen air out into the living room.
    When we reach the rinse part of our showers or after a bath we put the stopper in the tub. Then let the hot water cool off and warm the air before letting the water down the drain.

  9. The easiest way to save energy in the house is to not only shut off the power but to unplug it from the wall.Now that my wife and I are empty nesters I unplug everything from the wall,TV’s,coputers,clocks,lights in all the rooms we do not use and also when we leave the house for 2 hours or more(and turn up the AC unit to about 78).This has saved me alot of money,over $100 for
    electricity. I also have a solarpower attic fan that I installed myself that pulls all the hot air out of the attic,this really helps if you live here in Texas ,where the summer heat lasts untill late November.
    I say try it for one month and see how much your bill is for that month.

  10. We bought a condo that had a high efficiency dishwasher already installed. I think it actually increases the amount of water we use because it does such a bad job of cleaning dishes that we have to rinse everything before we load it or the dishes don’t get clean. Is this a common problem? It seems like a shame.

  11. The adding a pinch of salt to help water boil, is in error. The truth is salt water has a HIGHER boiling point than fresh water so salt water does not boil faster as many believe. The myth probably came about because foods cooked in salt water cook faster because of the higher temperature.

  12. I’ve been taking energy-efficiency measures little by little over the past few years. I starting by installing programmable thermostats; then I moved on to CFLs. (When LEDs come down, WAY down, in price, I’ll switch to those.) Most recently, I’ve had vinyl replacement windows, vinyl siding, and new shingles installed on my house.

    I had never before heard that myth about adding salt to the water to help it boil until I read the posts here. I’ve always thought the only reason to add salt to cooking water was to season the food.

    I don’t have a dishwasher myself, but, since I live alone, I don’t need one.

    Last winter, I put those outlet insulators on my outlets on the outside-facing walls of the rooms I occupy most often. I know cold air can leak into the house through wall outlets. But, who knew? I never thought of using those outlet safety caps to block cold air. I’ve always thought those caps were just to prevent young children from potentially electrocuting themselves by sticking things into the socket, and, as I don’t have young children in my house, I’ve just never thought of using them. As for the “vampire power” thing, yeah, I guess it’s somewhat important, but my electric bill is so low (way under $100.00, and usually quite a bit under $75.00, each month), that I usually don’t even think about it.

    I have my oil burner serviced once a year by my fuel-oil provider.

    Don’t forget about switching to CFLs, especially in fixtures that are usually on for at least 15 minutes at a time.

    Jimnp72, there are also portable air conditioners that operate similarly to the portable dishwashers you mentioned, but those portable A/C units tend to be much more expensive than the more familiar window units.

    James P., I don’t at all doubt what you say about “…61% of the average household energy requirement is for space heating and hot water? And the technology to replace this for the biggest part -or at new construction even 100%- exists.” I’m sure the technology exists, but that doesn’t mean the actual products exist yet, or, that they exist on a mass-produced basis, and that they would be readily available — and affordable — to everyone.

    “Salt responsibly and think about your blood pressure instead.” Kristina, I couldn’t agree with you more!!

  13. I recently purchased a mobile home. Any ideas on how I can help insulate other than those already suggested? I have plastic for the windows, but haven’t put it up yet. Hopefully the tape will stick, as it usually won’t on a cold surface. Definitely considering the foam outlet insulators & outlet caps. Thanks!

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