Effortless Ways to Save Energy at Home
Curb your household’s energy consumption to help the planet.
Published April 19, 2021 10:00AM EDT
Fact checked by Haley Mast
In this edition of Small Acts, Big Impact, learn smart tips to reduce your energy usage around the house.
Homes need energy to function, from heating and cooling to running appliances to lighting indoor spaces. It’s important, however, not to use too much energy while serving these important purposes and to conserve energy wherever possible, as its production comes at a cost to the climate. Here are some simple steps for saving energy at home.
Small Act: Swap Out Your Light Bulbs
Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs, as these use far less energy and last longer while providing the same quality of light.
LED bulbs typically use about 25% to 80% less energy than traditional incandescents, and can last 3 to 25 times longer. An incandescent bulb generates 500 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in a year, compared to a low-energy bulb’s 90 kilograms CO2e, so it’s a good idea to go around your house and upgrade light bulbs wherever you can. LED, or light-emitting diode, technology has come a long way and it’s now possible to get a range of brightness and colors at an affordable price. Unlike compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs do not contain mercury. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts the widespread use of LEDs will result in annual savings of $30 billion by 2027. Also, make sure to turn out the lights when you’re not using them!
Small Act: Wash Clothes in Cold Water
Thanks to modern detergents, cold water can do just as effective a job as hot water when it comes to cleaning dishes.
Between 75% and 90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes to heating water, so switching to cold water leads to significant energy and cost savings.1 It’s also better for your clothes, preserving the fabric and getting rid of stains. Modern detergents have enzymes that work effectively at temperatures below 60 F, but you can buy detergents that are specifically geared toward cold water use. Go the extra step and hang-dry clothes to save even more energy.2
Small Act: Turn Down Your Thermostat
If you live in a place where you have to heat your home, adjust the temperature to be cooler at night than it is during the day.
Turning down the thermostat by just a single degree can save a household in a northern climate around 40 kilograms of carbon emissions every year, writes Paul Greenberg in “The Climate Diet.” You’ll also save about 1% on your energy bill per degree you turn it down.3 Make this easier by using a programmable thermostat that changes temperature based on a daily schedule or a smart one that you can adjust with your phone. If you’re out of the house all day, don’t keep it as warm as when you’re around.
Small Act: Unplug Appliances That Are Not in Use
If you’re not using small home appliances or devices, unplug them from the wall to avoid sucking up both network and vampire power. The former refers to the power required for an ongoing Internet connection, the latter to power that keeps an item in standby mode.
The power that continues to be drawn when items are not in use can add 10% to your energy bill. According to the Department of Energy, when added up across all U.S. households, around 26 average-sized power plants are needed to produce that energy.4
Network power, however, is a new and growing issue as more connected devices with both wired and wireless network functionality enter the “smart home.” These could be security systems, smoke detectors, lighting, heating, ventilation, and appliances, among others. Natural Resources Canada writes that “network-enabled devices can draw as much power in their standby mode as when fully activated,” so be sure to buy efficient products, unplug whenever possible, or use an advanced power bar that may have a timer feature.5
Small Act: Remove Window Screens During the Winter
Take out window screens on south- and east-facing windows during the winter months so that more sunshine can enter your home.
Removing screens on certain windows — while ensuring the glass is clean — can boost solar gains by up to 40%.6 The interior of your home will be slightly warmer and more brightly lit, which means less energy required to heat and light it. You can, however, leave them in north-facing windows to add an extra layer of protection against cold winds and blowing snow.