Recipe #22: Easy Fixes for Home Energy Hogs

Sustainability Life Recipe Series

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What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community?

Cornell's Energy & Sustainability Department has identified the most impactful actions our campus can take to smackdown our collective energy use, saving the campus energy, money, and carbon emissions – and we’ve partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension to help you bring energy smart actions home.

1. Control your temperature

Heating and cooling accounts for up to 50% of the energy we use. Take control of your temperatures to maximize your home energy savings.

      • Set thermostats to 65-68°F: If you’re used to higher settings, dial down 1 degree at a time until you reach the lowest temperature you still find comfortable.
      • Away for the day? Lower to 58°F: You use much less energy to heat the house up when you return than to keep it heated while you’re away, so if you expect to be away for 5+ hours, lower your thermostat before you leave.
      • Keep windows closed: If air leaks cause ½ of home heat loss in the winter, you can imagine how much heat you’re losing from any open window.
      • Clean your furnace filter: Furnaces use less energy if they ‘breathe’ easily. Follow instructions in the furnace’s manufacturer’s manual.
2. Reduce hot water use, always

Water heating is a typical family's third-largest energy expense, accounting for up to 14% of utility bills. By lowering your water temperature and reducing the overall amount of time you're running water, you're reducing the amount of energy needed to heat up all that water.

      • Set you water heater temperature at 120°F: A family of four, each showering for five minutes, uses about 700 gallons of water a week. By lowering the thermostat, you can cut water heating bills without sacrificing comfort.
      • Choose cold water for laundry:  Roughly 75 percent of the energy required to do a load of laundry goes into heating the water. Using cold water saves energy and around $60 annually in utilities. Plus, cold water can make your clothes last longer – heat breaks down dyes and can cause shrinkage.
      • Wash hands in cold water: Washing your hands in cold water is as effective against germs as washing them in warm/hot water, and warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.
3. Rethink your laundry
      • Full loads, cold water: Washing full loads of laundry in cold water will reduce your laundry’s energy use by over 75%.
      • Clean your lint trap after each load: Your dryer’s lint trap helps warm air flow better and dries your clothes faster.
      • Demote the dryer: Only use your dryer for full loads, and hang your clothes to dry when possible, it saves energy and helps your clothes last longer.
4. Manage your plug load carefully

Plug loads and parasitic loads are major energy hogs in homes and residential buildings. Even when "turned off" most devices like TVs, DVD/Blu-Ray players, videogame consoles, and cell phone chargers are drawing energy. You may be losing up to $200 a year through these “energy vampires.”

      • Plug it in, turn it off: Group electronic items together, plug them into a power strip, and turn off the power strip before you leave home or go to sleep.
5. Raise fridge and freezer temps
      • Set the fridge at 40°F and the freezer at 5°F: Small changes in temperatures keep your foods stored safely while saving energy and money, week after week.
      • Avoid opening the fridge and freezer door to browse: Each time you open the door, cold air escapes and the unit needs to work harder to cool back down, increasing energy costs.
      • Let hot foods cool before putting them into your fridge or freezer: Hot foods cause the moto to work longer and harder to keep the unit cold.
      • Take care of your condenser coils: Condenser coils work hard to remove heat from the inside of the unit. Clean them twice a year and make sure they’re at least two inches away from the wall.

Become a home energy hero by adding these low-cost changes to your no-cost behaviors:

1. Replace all your lights with LEDs

Light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs convert almost 100% of energy into light. In comparison, an incandescent bulb only converts about 9% -10% of energy to light while the rest is wasted as heat. LED bulbs also do not contain any mercury, unlike compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL). Replacing 8 frequently used incandescent light bulbs in your house with LEDs can save you up to $120 a year (based on 2 hours of usage, electricity rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hours).

2. Switch to low-flow showerheads and faucets

Decrease your water bill and reduce your energy costs by using less hot water while still getting the job done.

3. Program your thermostat

A programmable thermostat lets you automatically turn your heat up before you get out of bed, down when you leave for work, up before you return from work, and down again when you go to bed. Installing one before the heating season could save as much as 20% on your heating costs and recover your investment in the first year.

4. Inspect your heating system

Call a service professional to inspect and tune your heating system before each heating season. Heat losses from a poorly maintained system add up over time, sometimes at a rate of 1- 2% a year.

5. Get a free energy audit

Getting a free energy audit, air-sealing your home, and purchasing energy efficient appliances are three of the biggest ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint. Need help figuring out how to be more energy efficient at home? Contact Cooperative Extension's Energy Outreach Team (607) 272-2292 before your next appliance or heater purchase for tips and learn how to get a free energy audit and low-cost energy efficiency upgrades. Learn more about Whole House Energy Upgrades by clicking here.

Ready to make your home more energy-efficient? See Recipe #16

Looking for smart heating options? See Recipe #20

Want to go solar? See Recipe #12

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.