Energy Smarts

10 Ways to Start Saving Energy at Home
If your New Year’s resolution is to save energy, money, or both: pay attention. You don’t need major investments in solar panels or wind turbines to start cutting energy use and costs. Instead, look for places where you can make small improvements that, collectively, add up to big savings on your monthly bills, while improving your home’s environmental picture. Here are 10 home energy improvements that aren’t out of reach.

1. Beef up insulation: There are quick ways to gauge whether your insulation is up to par, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. For example: if your home was built before the 1980s, if you find yourself shivering/sweating profusely inside your home on a regular basis, or whether your neighbor’s Pomeranian sounds like it’s barking in your living room. Putting the right level of insulation in your walls and ceilings can reduce your heating bills by 20% to 30% and lower your home’s CO2 emissions by 140 to 2100 pounds per year. To find the right insulation, use the list on the government’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site.

2. Replace showerheads: Everyone likes a luxurious shower—but there’s no reason to waste water to enjoy it. Showerheads made earlier than 1992 may have flow rates of up to 5.5 gallons per minute. Newer regulations don’t allow showerheads to exceed 2.5 gallons per minute (and many are much more efficient—1.5 gpm, and even .5gpm). For investing from $10 to as much as $80 on a new low-flow showerhead, you can save from 25% to 60% in water use. And the relaxing shower pressure doesn’t change just because you’re using less water—most of these eco-friendly options mix air with the water stream to provide the same desired pressure.

3. Program the thermostat: As retirement savings plans have taught us: it’s a lot easier to save when it’s done automatically. The same is true for programmable thermostats by companies like Honeywell which put you in easy control of your home’s climate, and allow you to adjust your thermostat to 10-15 degrees lower when you’re sleeping or away, and can store up to six temperature settings per day. You can override these settings at any time, but you’re sure to enjoy saving 10% a year on heating and cooling costs (which account for half your energy bill).

4. Repurpose your lawn: There are lots of reasons to replace your labor-intensive, thirsty grass with native plants. Plants that are native encourage local pollinators like birds and bees, they need no maintenance (evolution has made them hardy) and they don’t require mowing. According to Steve Adamson, founder of, planting natives also helps protect against the spread of invasive species which disrupt native habitats and force out local wildlife.

5. Upgrade the old fridge: Your refrigerator wins the award for biggest home appliance energy user—so it’s a good place to look first when considering an upgrade. Typically, a fridge is responsible for 1/6th of a home’s electricity use, and old models—particularly those over 20 years old—are major energy wasters. If buying new, look for the Energy Star label and don’t choose a model with an icemaker and water dispenser, which increase energy use by 14% to 20%. The best bet, energy-wise, is a model with the freezer on the bottom which uses 16% less energy than a side-by-side model. Also, keep the coils clean to improve efficiency, don’t set the temperature settings too low and close that door!

6. Plug into a power strip: We like to think that when we shut our laptop, it stops drawing energy. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 75% percent of the electricity used to power your home electronics is consumed while they are turned off. They’re called “phantom loads” and they can be avoided by plugging computers, TVs, and the like into power strips that you switch off when not in use. Even better, try “Smart Strips” which allow you to pick and choose which electronics you have on or off.

7. Change your bulbs: It’s not only simple, and relatively inexpensive, to switch from incandescent bulbs to the curly-cue compact fluorescent bulbs—it’s one of the smartest ways to save household energy. Lighting accounts for 11% of our home energy use, so switching to CFLs can make a major dent in electricity bills. CFLs save 75% on energy compared to incandescents, and they also produce 75% less heat, which means they’re safer to the touch and they don’t produce excess home heat during summer months.

8. Plant shade trees: Sometimes the answer to cooling a home inside is to look more strategically at the outside. Shade trees—trees that grow up to 25 feet in height at maturity such as maple and ash—can reduce your air conditioning costs in summer months and act as windbreaks during winter months. Planting deciduous trees on the east side of homes provides the greatest energy savings, according to the Center for Urban Forest Research.

9. Get energy-efficient doors: If you want to know where your home’s heat is headed—look at your doors. In most homes, doors are responsible for 11% of the home’s heat loss. But with older doors, the heat loss can be much higher. The first step to keeping the heat in is to replace the weather-stripping if it’s worn and check to make sure there is a tight seal. If you can’t get a good seal, and the doors need replacement, the most energy-efficient modern doors come with fiberglass, steel with polyurethane and wood cladding cores and double- or triple-paned insulating glass. If you’ve got old doors in good condition, a storm door can provide needed extra insulation.

10. Seal leaks: It’s not just your doors that let the air out (and in)—it’s anywhere that walls meet, windows attach, or electrical outlets are found. If you want to control your heating and cooling costs, and improve your energy picture, you need to embark on a thorough home leak inspection. An incense stick or smoke pen can be used to help find the cracks and holes. To plug them, use caulk and weather-stripping around doors and windows, install foam gaskets behind wall outlets, and check for dirty spots on your insulation—those often indicate holes which can be filled with spray foam. Check this government guide—for a diagram of common home air leak spots.