As the energy crisis continues, more of us are looking at ways to save energy at home to reduce our monthly bills. Energy conservation is a great way to save money and has the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The lower the demand for fossil fuels the better for our health, the environment and our bank balance.
Substantial energy savings can be achieved in the home by retrofitting measures that reduce the need for heating and cooling and by replacing old appliances. These are the areas with the highest energy consumption in our homes.
Affordable technology that has been around for decades is proven to be effective in reducing energy consumption.
This includes insulation, weather sealing and double window glazing that can be used along with new smart technologies which conserve energy.
How to Conserve Energy at Home
I was reading about some energy-saving ideas that are shared by some of the big energy companies.
Not surprisingly, they rarely mention that retrofitting is the most effective energy conservation measure.
If you followed the advice from energy companies, you would hardly reduce your energy bill at all.
Owners of single-family homes, particularly older homes, have the most opportunities for energy savings.
But renters, apartment or condo residents and low-income households all have access to measures for reducing energy use.
Free and Low-Cost Actions
There are free actions that we can all take, particularly from simple behaviour changes that are listed below.
Low-cost changes include installing ceiling fans and blinds and using smart technology that helps you to understand where you’re using the most energy.
Depending on where you live, some households are eligible for government grants, rebates, tax credits and even interest-free loans.
For example, where I live, low-income households can receive up to $4,000 from the state government to replace old appliances with energy-efficient appliances.
Several financial solutions are coming to the US now that the Inflation Reduction Act has passed.
My view is always to make decisions based on the latest science. There is significant research on the benefits of energy conservation and energy efficiency and which actions are the most effective and impactful.
The changes you make will vary widely depending on your personal financial circumstances, the region where you live and the type of housing you live in.
Examples of potential energy savings and environmental benefits are as follows:
- Installing a combination of insulation and double glazing can provide energy reductions of 25%, depending on your local climate conditions.
- In warmer regions, insulation is shown to be particularly effective. It’s even more effective than the improved energy efficiency of heating and cooling appliances.
- In colder climates, weather sealing is simple, affordable yet very effective at moderating indoor temperatures.
- Multi-purpose heat pump systems that heat and cool spaces as well as produce hot water have high energy-saving potential although the initial costs are high.
- Thick blinds can provide cool energy savings of up to 44% and heat energy savings of up to 65%.
- Behaviour changes alone can reduce home energy use by 10-25%.
- Shorter, colder showers using low-flow shower heads can reduce showering-related energy use by 30-35%.
- White roofs are three times more effective than green roofs at cooling the planet.
- Smart technology which monitors and controls space heating, cooling and lighting could reduce building energy use by 20-30%.
- Switching to 100% renewable energy sources could reduce global energy demand by 56.4% and should be our goal for 2035.
Steps to Conserving Energy
There are three main opportunities for energy conservation in the home.
- Retrofitting your home.
- Behaviour changes.
- Smart technology.
Retrofitting Your Home
Deep retrofits will achieve the greatest energy savings.
This means insulating everything, electrifying everything, installing triple glazing and implementing a host of other measures that I list below.
Deep retrofits can be expensive but the energy savings are significant and the initial costs can be recouped after several years.
Shallow retrofits, on the other hand, might only include a couple of measures or a couple of measures at a time.
These can be implemented over a number of years depending on the time and funds you have for the job.
Shallow retrofits spread out the costs over several years but the initial energy savings are lower.
Roof or loft insulation is one of the most cost-effective energy conservation measures and should be a priority for home owners.
If you already have roof insulation, check that it is installed correctly without any gaps as poor insulation reduces effectiveness.
Also, check the thickness of insulation recommended for your home type and region as topping up your insulation can also be beneficial.
Next, consider installing wall insulation. If you have cavity walls, insulating them can significantly reduce your energy costs.
Finally, depending on your home’s construction, you might be able to install under-floor insulation, an often overlooked area of heat loss.
2. Draught Proofing
Older homes in particular will often have small gaps throughout the home that allow heating to escape and cool air to enter the home in winter.
Sealing these gaps is especially important in colder climates.
These gaps are typically found around:
- window frames
- door frames
- under doors
- fireplaces and chimneys
- skirting boards
- cracks in walls or ceilings
- appliances that connect to walls.
3. Double Glazing
Double glazing not only significantly reduces noise but it’s great for moderating temperatures inside your home.
It reduces the amount of heat that enters through your windows in summer, keeping your house cooler and reducing the need for air conditioning.
In winter, however, when you’re trying to heat your home, it reduces the amount of heat that escapes through your windows.
So your energy costs are lower in both summer and winter.
Many modern homes already have double glazing but it’s worth noting that glazing technology has improved in recent years. This means that modern double glazing is more effective than older double glazing.
Triple glazing is even more effective than double glazing.
- You’ll find a huge improvement in energy conservation by replacing single pane windows with triple glazing.
- You’ll get a reasonable improvement by replacing older double glazing with triple glazing.
- There is less to be gained by replacing modern double glazing with triple glazing.
Of course, triple glazing is more expensive but over the long term, you’ll make that money back through energy savings. Buy the highest standard that you can afford.
4. Ceiling Fans
The use of ceiling fans has significant energy savings potential when used in conjunction with space heating and cooling or when opening windows.
This could be an affordable solution with an excellent benefit.
5. Window Treatments
Window treatments such as shutters, blinds, shades and even trees can be used to control heat penetration and loss during different times of the year.
6. White and Green Roofs
White roofs are where your roof is either made from white material or painted white for increased energy efficiency.
A green roof is a vegetated roof, used for both increased biodiversity and home cooling.
- White roofs are an effective solution for addressing urban heat and energy consumption in homes.
- Green roofs are more expensive than white roofs but provide additional environmental benefits including filtering air pollution, stormwater management and enhancing biodiversity.
7. Green Walls
Installing a green wall on your building facade can provide excellent energy savings during the summer months.
These are particularly beneficial if you plant deciduous plants to allow heat penetration during the colder months.
8. Energy Efficient Appliances
Replacing old, inefficient appliances like fridges, washing machines and dryers, with new highly efficient appliances can save on your energy bill.
Of course, this comes with an upfront cost, both financial costs and the environmental cost of manufacturing and distributing these goods.
The most environmentally friendly action is to repair old appliances until that is no longer feasible and then replace them with the most energy-efficient appliances you can afford.
9. Energy Efficient Light Bulbs
Old-style incandescent light bulbs have been phased out and banned in many regions of the world. In the US, a ban is due to come into effect in 2023.
Halogen lights are a type of incandescent light and even though these are more efficient than older light bulbs, LED lights are still the most energy-efficient lighting sources.
LED lights are now available for a wide range of uses, including downlights.
As you use all your existing bulbs, replace them with the latest LEDs for optimal efficiency.
Be sure to dispose of your old light bulbs responsibly.
10. Electrify Everything
You might have already heard the term ‘electrify everything’ that is becoming increasingly popular.
What people mean by this is the need to switch gas cooktops, gas hot water systems and oil and gas space heaters to electric alternatives.
There are several reasons for doing this.
- Oil and gas are unsustainable fossil fuels that are causing global warming and climate change.
- Fossil fuels also contribute to air pollution and biodiversity loss.
- Renewable alternatives are more energy efficient and often cheaper than fossil fuels.
Although there is an upfront cost to electrification, many people are eligible for grants and rebates to make the switch cheaper.
Also, consider the payback period. You will make back the initial cost in energy savings over several years.
Rewiring America is a great resource for everything regarding electrification. You can also read Electrify*, the related book that clearly explains the importance of electrification in tackling the climate crisis.
11. Avoid ‘Natural’ Gas
Always remember that the term ‘natural gas’ was devised by marketers to make fossil fuel gas seem more environmentally friendly.
Natural gas = fossil gas.
Gas is a major contributor to global air pollution and climate change.
Cooking with gas in your home also increases the risk of childhood asthma and other diseases.
When building or renovating your home, replace gas cooktops with induction cooktops. These are highly energy efficient and great for cooking.
If you can’t switch right now, be sure to keep your kitchen well ventilated when cooking (use an extractor fan and open windows) to reduce air pollution.
12. Avoid Tankless Water Heaters
Instant gas hot water heaters are a convenient way of heating your water. You never face running out of hot water as it’s heated on demand.
But as we know, gas is a fossil fuel and we need to switch to sustainable electric energy sources.
You might be considering switching to an instant electric hot water system as a way of getting off gas.
These systems do exist but they’re less common and they’re inefficient. They use a lot of electricity and are expensive to run.
The most efficient alternative is a heat pump hot water system. These are what everyone needs to be switching to for fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
Look out for government assistance for heat pumps as grants and rebates are often available.
13. Switch to Renewable Energy
It might not be obvious at first but renewable energy is created more efficiently than fossil fuel combustion.
So by switching to solar, wind or hydro sources, you’re conserving energy as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
You can switch through your energy provider or by installing solar panels on your roof.
Changes to the way we use energy are critical to conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
These free energy saving tips can be implemented by everyone, no matter if you own a home, are renting, living in an apartment or are on a low income.
14. Room Temperature Settings
Every degree matters when adjusting your temperature settings on your thermostat for heating and cooling.
You can save energy by keeping your home warmer in summer and cooler in winter.
These are the temperatures recommended by EnergyStar and they should be programmed in for efficiency:
- In summer:
- 78° F (26° C) when you’re at home
- 85° F (29° C) when you’re out for the day
- 82° F (28° C) while you’re sleeping
If you find these temperatures to be too warm, install a ceiling fan to improve comfort or adjust as necessary.
- In winter:
- 70° F (21° C) when you’re at home
- 62° F (17° C) when you’re out for the day
- 62° F (17° C) while you’re sleeping
If appropriate for your climate and system, turn off your heating and cooling system when you’re not at home.
15. Unplug or Switch Off
Switching off or unplugging appliances at the wall might make a small difference but it can add up over time.
TVs, computers, chargers, microwaves and other small appliances don’t need to be constantly plugged in.
Unplugging saves electricity that is generated to keep these devices fully charged and through ‘leaks’ that occur while the appliance is not actually turned on.
16. Turn Off Lights
Yes, of course, you should turn off lights when you leave a room or when natural light is available. Why wouldn’t you?
It’s a simple yet effective way of saving energy, especially if you aren’t using efficient LED light bulbs in your home.
17. Light Dimmers
Do light dimmers save energy? I don’t have any evidence but it makes sense that they do, at least by a small amount.
I wouldn’t go to the expense of installing dimmers if you don’t have them but if you do, why not keep them turned down to a low setting?
18. Use LED Lamps
It’s common in modern homes to have rows of downlights or spotlights and while these can create a nice atmosphere, it’s generally an unnecessary use of resources.
I use one LED lamp in a room at a time and I have strip LED lighting in my kitchen which gives more than enough light to work and cook.
19. Use Windows and Blinds Effectively
Remember to adjust your windows and blinds throughout the day for optimal temperature control. This lessens the need for heating and cooling.
Shut blinds to reduce heat penetration when it’s hot or allow the sun in when it’s cold. Adjust windows to let cool air in or out depending on the time of the day or season.
20. Use Appliances Thoughtfully
- Wash full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher.
- Wash on shorter cycles.
- Use cold water in the washing machine.
- Avoid using the dryer when possible.
- Clean filters regularly for optimal performance.
21. Shower Strategy
Keep your shower short, less than 7 minutes if you can. Cold showers are great if you can handle them (I can’t) but otherwise keep the water temperature cool.
Low flow shower heads also reduce energy use.
22. Fridge and Freezers
To save with your existing appliances while keeping your food fresh, set your fridge to 37° F (3° C) and your freezer to 0° F (-18° C).
23. Keep on Top of Maintenance
Maintain your air conditioning units, heat pumps, fridges, freezers and ovens to be sure they are working effectively and not leaking or wasting energy.
Cleaning and replacing air conditioner filters is also important.
Technological advances and innovation can rapidly improve efficiency and energy savings.
Smart technologies often work by managing your energy more effectively either by tracking your usage or automating changes.
24. Smart Meters
Smart energy meters track your usage in real-time and provide data on where and how much energy you’re using.
This shows you exactly where you’re using energy and help you to understand where can change your behaviour to reduce usage.
A smart energy monitor* is a great, low-cost option that will help you to reduce your energy use by monitoring your home appliances.
25. Smart Sensors
Smart sensors monitor and automatically control space heating, cooling and lighting.
They do this by automating optimal usage behaviour so you don’t have to think about what to do and will have you covered if you typically forget to turn off lights or heating when you aren’t around.
This smart sensor* is very affordable and can reduce energy from lighting.
26. Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats allow you to remotely control your heating and cooling systems via your phone.
This is great if you forgot to turn off your air conditioner after you left the house or if you want to check the thermostat is set to the correct temperature.
The Google Nest smart thermostat* is by far the most popular and it’s very affordable for most households.
With an app, you can quickly make changes when you need to, saving time and money.
27. Smart Plugs
Smart plugs and power strips allow you to access your power points from your phone.
You can set timers to turn off appliances and add schedules to manage the regular use of appliances.
They help to cut down on phantom loads where you use energy even when appliances are in standby mode.
Kasa Smart* is the most popular brand for this kind of power strip.
28. Smart Window Glass
This technology is increasingly used in sustainable construction and you can retrofit your existing home too.
Smart glass works by automatically adjusting window glass to allow more or less solar radiation to penetrate depending on the time of the day or year.
Get Involved: Help Others Conserve Energy
As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says, climate action is contagious*.
When we change our behaviours and take climate change action in our homes, we’re setting a positive example for our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.
It makes change more accessible for others when they see how it’s done and the potential benefits.
We don’t have to push others to make the same changes that we do but we can share our knowledge and assistance when people ask for help or recommendations.
If you know people who are struggling to pay their energy bills, help them make changes to conserve energy or send them information on where to get financial assistance.
If you know people who want to take climate change action but don’t know where to start, share what you know or send them this article as a starting point.
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