1. Order an energy audit. Offered by most utility services for $500 or less, an energy audit will determine how your home is using (and wasting) energy, giving you a starting point for improvements. Some insulation companies offer free energy audits, but use caution. They may supply only the portion of the results related to their product, rather than a comprehensive overview.
2. Insulate and seal. Using your energy audit results, seal gaps where air leaks in and out of your home. Sealing and insulating your home’s “shell”—its outer walls, ceilings, windows, doors and floors—is often the most cost-effective way to improve efficiency. A knowledgeable homeowner or skilled contractor can often save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs by sealing and insulating.
3. Conserve water. Processing household water uses lots of energy. Reducing water use reduces energy use. (See “Power Wash,” page 68, for tips on reducing water use.)
4. Buy efficient appliances and lighting. Visit Energy Star for Energy Star appliance ratings. Depending on their age and efficiency, it may be worthwhile to replace outdated appliances. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the major home appliances that use the most energy are (greatest to least) the refrigerator, washing machine, clothes dryer, oven/stove, dishwasher, computer, television and microwave. Replace inefficient incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) lights.
5. Be smart about heating water. Water heating is your home’s third-largest energy expense, accounting for 14 to 25 percent of your utility bill, according to the DOE. Its website offers four ways to cut water-heating bills: use less hot water, turn down your water heater’s thermostat, insulate your water heater, or buy a new, more efficient model. Tankless water heaters and solar water heaters are two efficient choices. Learn more.
6. Use power strips. You can reduce appliance energy use by attaching them to power strips you turn off when not in use. Power strips eliminate “phantom loads”—the energy appliances pull when turned off but still plugged in.
7. Consider new windows. Improving window efficiency is one of the best uses of renovation dollars. Windows account for 10 to 25 percent of energy bills. Choose double- or triple-pane windows with low-E coating. If you can’t replace windows, consider efficiency-enhancing shades or coatings. The DOE offers tips.
8. Finally, consider alternative energy. Heating and cooling account for the bulk of your home’s energy use. Consider alternative energy only after you’ve made your home as efficient as possible. Tax incentives and rebates for solar, geothermal and wind energy systems help offset costs. Read more in “Can You Afford to Go Green?”
Conservation—where do I begin?
The Pyramid of Conservation is designed to help you prioritize steps and develop an action plan to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Check out the image gallery for a look at the Pyramid of Conservation.