Updated on 12.10.10

Out With The Old, In With The New: Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Trent Hamm

Throughout the month of December, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

11. Make your home more energy efficient.

Almost everyone who has a roof over their head has an energy bill that they have to face. Electricity. Heating oil. Natural gas. It’s a personal finance reality for all of us.

Thankfully, we all have ways in which we can easily reduce those energy bills without installing a windmill or using a bicycle-powered generator. Here are eight easy tactics you can do today to reduce your home’s energy use.

(Yes, I know long-time readers have seen many of these before. I’m mentioning them again because (a) they flat-out work and (b) I see tons and tons of homes where people haven’t done these things yet.)

Use more daylighting. Rather than walking into a room and immediately turning on the lights, consider just opening up the blinds or the curtains. Quite often, daylight provides all the lighting you need in a room without wasting energy (particularly if you then walk out of a room and leave the lights on).

Install a programmable thermostat. Why do this? A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically adjust the temperature in your home without you ever needing to remember it. In the winter, the temperature at night can drop. During the summer, the temperature can rise when you’re at work. Steps like these keep your furnace or air conditioning unit from running constantly, saving on your energy bill.

Alter your typical home temperature. Hand in hand with a programmable thermostat is a little bit of adjustment of the typical temperature in your home. Lowering the temperature even a degree can make for significant energy savings over the cold winter months. Similarly, raising the temperature even a single degree can help quite a lot during the hot summer. We tend to adjust our home temperature right up to the edge of being uncomfortable.

Utilize space heating. Another great tactic in the winter months is to simply use a space heater in whatever room you’re in. This allows you to keep the temperature of your home much lower than you otherwise would keep it, which results in significant energy savings over the long haul.

Air seal your home. In both cold and warm seasons, uncontrolled air flow in and out of your home is an expense you don’t need in your life. Spend the time to do a full energy audit and air sealing of your home and you’ll save in every season for as long as you live in your home.

Turn down your hot water heater. We keep ours adjusted so that our showers, on their hottest setting, is right where I like it. My wife likes it just a little bit lower than that. Why have it hotter? If we have a need for hotter water, we can easily boil some tap water for that use. Turning down the water heater is just pure energy savings, and it’s as easy as can be – there’s usually just a little dial to turn on the front of the unit.

Adjust your ceiling fans. A small seasonal adjustment to your ceiling fan can make a tremendous difference when it comes to your energy bill. Having the air blowing the right way for the season directly impacts the speed with which you need to run the fan as well as the necessary heat level in the room.

Dress appropriately. Don’t strip down when you’re at home in the winter and don’t overdress in the summer. If you’re warmly-dressed in the winter (sweatpants and a long-sleeved tee shirt or sweatshirt) or coolly dressed in the summer (tee shirt and shorts), you can allow your home temperature even more variation when it’s just you at home (and you can obviously adjust it a bit when you have guests).

Simply put, much of your energy bill is in your hands. Making better decisions regarding that energy can save you tremendously each month on your energy bill.

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  1. Kathryn Fenner says:

    not a long-sleeved tee alone–you need at least a sweater, too, and socks and slippers. You can set the temp a lot lower then.

    We have a split HVAC unit in our bedroom–we can cool it down enough to sleep in the summer w/o having to supercool the rest of the house, and we can warm up the bedroom in a winter morning w/o having to heat up the whole house.

    In summer, pull the blinds down when the sun comes in through a window, and in winter, pull them up to let the sun in!

  2. Brittany says:

    I would love to see one of these more focused on apartment living. While some apply (dressing up or down), I can’t install a programmable thermostat, add more windows to have natural lighting, or permanently air seal. However, I have seen some temporary/removable energy fixes here and there, and it would be great to see them in one place. My apartment has awful air sealing. No windows or doors have weather stripping (I live in a place with mild winters, but weather stripping would be nice in hot summers too.). Anyone have any suggestions?

  3. Rebecca says:

    @ Brittany, We lived in 4 apartments before buying our home and we switched out the regular thermostat for a programable one in each place. Its only about 2 wires, and the programable comes with instructions. We put the old one on when we left each place, I don’t think any one even noticed. Window thermal kits are super cheap and we definitely used them in our apartments every winter. If you live in one app for a long time, and the weather stripping is bad, I would ask the management to fix it for you. If they say no, I may do it myself, it doesn’t cost much and would pay you back over the years.

  4. Leah says:

    Brittany, I second the recommendation for window thermal kits. I always plastic sealed when I lived in an apartment, and that makes a big difference.

    I also look for other little ways. For example, you can turn your fridge temp to a lower setting (make sure everything still stays frozen). Freeze water in your freezer so that you’re not letting out all the cold when you open your freezer; air comes out when you open the door, but the coldness in ice will stick around. I also keep my microwave on a power strip and only turn it on when I’m using it.

    Basically, if there’s a way to turn something off or not use it, I do that to help me reduce energy use.

  5. Availle says:

    Most of the tips here are very good – I especially like (and employ myself) the ‘use daylighting’ and ‘dress appropriately’ ones. The ‘programmable thermostat’ I also do – meaning that I manually turn off the heating when I leave the house (or the office) or go to bed. And for summer, I don’t even have aircondition (although living in South Asia…)

    However, I must object to ‘turn down your hot water heater’. If you have a boiler that stores water (like I do) then any temperature below 60 C (140 F) will vastly increase the probability of breeding Legionella bacteria- which you can then happily breathe in while you have a shower… If your ideal shower temperature is somewhere between 35-46 C (95-115 F), then you might find it interesting that this is also the range in which Legionella have the highest growth rate.

    Hence, personally, when the trade-off is health vs money, it’s health for me any time.

    Mind that you can always try to insulate your water boiler better, but that’s another issue…

  6. STL Mom says:

    Availle –
    Eeeew! Something I’ve never worried about before, but now I’m going to be paranoid. And when my water heater breaks, I’m seriously going to consider going tankless!

  7. Laura says:

    Check with your electric company. They may give you a programmable thermostat for free.

  8. Evita says:

    If you have an electric dishwasher, make sure that your hot water reaches the required temperature… otherwise you risk unclean/unsanitized dishes or extra electricity costs if the washer heats the water…..

  9. Mary says:

    This article depresses me. I own a condo, and we pay the heat through our assessments (so I have no control). I live on the second floor of a three-story building. We have a programmable thermostat, but the board refuses to use it because “we tried and it cost more”?!?!? Because of this, my building is kept around 80 DEGREES around the clock. I got them to lower it by two degrees for a few weeks, but sometime in the past week, they jacked it way up again. The only reply I can get is “just don’t be afraid to open your windows!” and it kills me. Any advice for dealing with these people? (And our hot water is so hot it can actually burn you. They don’t care about that either. I think I’m going to go secretly move it down one of these days).

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