Top 10 FREE ways to save energy (plus one cheap bonus tip)

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Why save energy?  Saving energy around the house helps you save money while also becoming more sustainable – an easy win-win. We’ll give you some ways to save energy – for free!

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Most of the energy in the US comes from fossil fuels and thus creates a

LED Bulbs save cash
Save energy and save money too – for free!

lot of pollution that harms both humans and the rest of the environment.  We have solar panels, but one of the key things to do before going solar is to reduce your energy load as much as possible. When we bought our solar panels the company we worked with was really impressed with how low our energy use already was.  We’ll cover some more advanced energy tips in a later post – but here are the easiest free ways we’ve found to save energy (and money) around the house.

Top 10 ways to save energy for free!

1. Turn off lights you aren’t using and use the least light needed.

This probably isn’t news to you, but turning off lights you are not using will save energy – and money!  Take it a step further and make sure you are using the least light you need. Use a single bulb lamp instead of the overhead light with multiple bulbs (assuming all the bulbs are the same type).  I’m borderline compulsive about turning off lights – and Marc and I always remind each other to make sure all the lights are off, but it can be a bit harder to remember to switch to less light when you need less.  It’s sooo easy to have a fixture with multiple bulbs on even when you don’t need them, but using a fixture with less bulbs will really save energy depending on the type of light bulb you use and the number of bulbs in a fixture…which leads us to #2.

unscrew some lights to save energy
Our kitchen lights with some bulbs taken out…still plenty of light and saves energy

2. Unscrew light bulbs from fixtures that produce more light than you need.

Our kitchen has 10 can lights set to a single switch.  If all the bulbs are screwed in it’s absolutely blinding!  I love good lighting, but I don’t need that much.  Our solution? We’ve unscrewed every other bulb. This cuts the energy use almost in half and still provides more than enough light in the kitchen. This lets us save energy, save money, and save our eyes!  If you are switching to more efficient bulbs you also need to buy fewer LED light bulbs so it can save you money there too (see #11).  We’ve done this in places like the fan in our bedroom too.

3. Put on a sweater (or shorts).

One of the most common recommendations to save energy is to change your thermostat. That make sense since the in average US household 26% of energy is used for heating and 11% for cooling. Making it a few degrees warmer in summer and a few degrees colder in winter can really help save energy and money.  We take it a step further and try to not even use the heat or AC as much as we can.

Average U.S. Residential Energy Consumption, 2015
Average U.S. Residential Energy Consumption in 2015 (Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2017. “Residential Buildings Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS01-08.)

Here are a few tricks – in winter open all the blinds during the day and close them all at night. This lets in light and heat during the day and retains it at night.  In the summer open all your windows and your front and back doors for maximum air flow in the evenings. This also allows us take advantage of cooler night temps to cool the house. We just close them back up in the morning.

Take it a step further – if know the heat or AC is going to be off for a while turn off the breaker in your main breaker box.  You’ll save even more energy!

When we do finally use the heat or AC, we try to keep it at the coolest or warmest we can stand and we turn make it cooler or warmer during the day when we are gone. We do this by hand, but you can also buy a inexpensive programmable thermostat to do it for you if you tend to forget.  This can save a ton of energy and money too.

 

4. Close the door and the vent to rooms you don’t use much (or at all).

Another way to save energy on heating or AC is to close off the vents to rooms you don’t use much and close that door.  Our houses are getting bigger and bigger, but be honest – do you really use every room regularly?  If not, don’t waste energy and money heating or cooling that room.  Closing off the room will redirect more of the air to the parts of the house you DO use.  This means the AC or heat will have to run less to warm or cool the house down – and thus save energy.  We do this in our guest bedroom when we don’t have guests -we don’t need to heat or cool that space down when no one is using it!

Average Size of a New U.S. Single-Family House - up 75%
The average Size of a new U.S. single-family house has increased by 75% – requiring more energy to heat and cool (Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2017. “Residential Buildings Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS01-08.)

When we lived in North Carolina we even used to rearrange where we watched TV/hung out in the winter so we could close off a room and sit in the room with our wood stove. The wood stove kept us warm when we were just hanging out so we could keep the heat at a lower setting and closing off that room saved energy too.  In the summer we would move the TV back since it was one of the cooler rooms in the house.  In summer we would save energy running the AC and still hang out comfortably.  It was a bit of a pain twice a year, but an hour’s worth of time saved us a bunch of energy…and money.

See if there is a room in your house (or a few) that you don’t really use much or if you could rearrange some things seasonally so you could close off a room.  Just don’t forget to open the vents back up when you have company (we forgot one time and felt really bad)!

5. Keep your air filters/vents clean. 

Now that you are using your AC/heat less, help it work more efficiently when you can’t wear any more sweaters and still bend your arms by cleaning the filters.  Look, I know it’s not a fun job, but cleaning your air filters/vents helps your AC/heat air handler work less.  And when it works less, it uses less energy to heat or cool to the same temperature, saving you energy and money.  Bonus points if you use reusable filters you don’t have to throw away every time (they cost more but will save you money over time and create way less waste)!

6. Unplug electronics when they are done charging or not in use.

phone and computer charger that use energy even when not charging anything
If your charger has a larger “box” on it rather than just a plug – it probably uses energy even when nothing is plugged into it. Make sure you unplug them

Many electronics use

energy even when they are “off” (often they are actually in a standby mode). Most chargers have gotten better and use less, but they still use energy to do essentially nothing.  We make sure we unplug electronics when they are done charging. We also cut off power to things like our TV and Xbox when we aren’t using them (hey, we’re sustainable but we still like to shoot zombies after a long day at work).

To make it easier we use a surge protector for stationary electronics like the TV and Xbox. We plug everything into it and then turn it on when we want to use the TV. We turn the whole thing off again when we are done so they can’t use any energy when we aren’t using them.  Generally anything with a big “box” on the power cord rather than just a small plug on the end draws energy even when not in use or when fully charged. When in doubt, pull it out!

7. Wash clothes in cold water.

We do this all the time and I haven’t seen any difference in cleanliness.  Our washing machine has an EcoCold setting and we use environmentally friendly laundry soap, but not one specifically for washing in cold water and it works great (and we live on a farm, so we have plenty of dirty clothes).  Heating water for washing clothes uses a lot of energy.  Using cold water to wash clothes will save energy and money.  I doubt you’ll even notice the difference, we didn’t!  While you are at it try #8…

8. Line dry your clothes

We try to dry our clothes on the line as much as possible.  It saves a ton of energy!  It is also easier on your clothes (especially things like bras – I haven’t had an underwire poke through since we started line drying…which I greatly appreciate).  We have done it multiple ways. When we lived in a colder climate we would put our clothes on a fold-able drying rack and on the backs of chairs over heat vents and in front of our wood stove (just make sure you put away your underwear before having friends over…).

Here in Florida we have a lot of rain in the summer so we have hooks and a line in our screened in lanai. We take the line down when not in use but leave up the hooks.  It only takes a minute to put the line back up and be ready to hang.  In  North Carolina we used to have a clothesline outside in the yard until one of our dogs decided it was a fun game to tear clothes off the line and hide them all over (including in the garden, partially buried). We changed to a line on our front porch where we could keep a closer eye on it.  And, along the same vein…

9. Let your dishes air dry too

If your dishwasher has a heated dry cycle – turn it off!  Our dishwasher dries the dishes with heated air unless you tell it not to, so we always turn it off.  Heating up air to dry your dishes is a huge waste – you can save energy by just turning it off. We just open the door of our dishwasher, pull the racks out a bit, and let the dishes air dry.  Sure it takes a bit more time, but admit it, how often do you really put away dishes the minute they machine is done?  And if you do (you are way ahead of me!)…just think of the energy and money you’ll save by just waiting a bit.

5 Minute Shower Coach By Niagara
A shower timer can help you keep your showers shorter. You can get this one for pretty cheap at Amazon.

10. Save hot water, shower with a friend! 

 Save energy heating water and someone can scrub that one spot on your back.  Not that close?  Try showering in water that is a bit cooler (cold if you are really brave!). Still no? How about taking shorter showers to save the energy needed to heat water?  I know that taking a shower can be SOOO relaxing, but taking a shorter shower saves both energy and water.  My students often choose this as a way to reduce their ecological footprint for an assignment and they came up with a great tip. Set up music on your phone and shower for only two songs…or less.  You can also get a shower timer with an alarm to help you stay on track if you don’t want to use music (here’s a low tech version without the alarm too).

 

1 Bonus tip that requires a bit of money upfront:

Change all your light bulbs to LED bulbs

LED light bulbs have come a long way and they are now available for every light fixture we’ve tried.  LED lights save a ton of energy – for example, these light bulbs from amazon are the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb but only use 10.5 watts of energy.   They also last far longer than incandescent bulbs (up to 13-15 years in some cases). They come a variety of light types (warmer or cooler light). You can even get LED Edison lookalike bulbs (we have a few LED Edison bulbs in our fixtures) now.

LED Edison bulbs from Amazon

Or try LED solar powered string lights instead of Christmas lights to really save energy.

Okay, so this will cost some money upfront.  LED bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs (around $14 a pack of 6). However, the manufacturer estimates that these bulbs will save $81.68 over the lifespan of the bulb. They will more than pay for themselves!

What about CFLs?  We used to use CFLs, but have switched over to LEDs. LEDs use even less energy, last longer, and are safer. CFLs have a tiny amount of mercury in them. That’s not enough to be a big hazard, but enough to be aware of how you handle a broken bulb.  LEDs will save you money in the long run and will save energy right away.  If you can spring for them it’s great to replace all your bulbs.  Can’t afford it now? Try buying LEDs bulbs to replace any light bulbs that burn out.

 

Do you have any great tips to save energy for free?  We’d love to hear them!

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