Saving energy can cut your home utility costs dramatically—it may not seem like much month to month, but your efforts will have a lasting impact on your budget and the environment. While some ways to cut energy costs can be costly there are many ways to save money with little to no cost. By making small lifestyle changes and minor home improvements, you can start saving on your energy costs today. The more improvements and changes you make to your home, the more money you can save.
Check out these useful home improvements to get started:
1. Program your thermostat
Modern HVAC systems come equipped with a programmable thermostat that controls your home’s furnace and air conditioner. Programming your thermostat to reduce energy usage at night, while you’re asleep, or not home could help reduce your energy costs.
The US Department of Energy says that you can save as much as 15% on your heating bill per year by simply lowering your thermostat by as much as 15 degrees for eight hours at night. For example, you may keep your home at 68 to 70 degrees during the winter evenings when you’re at home. To save energy, program your thermostat to run less at night. Your home may get chilly overnight, but you’ll be warm in your bed. If the morning chill is too much, consider setting your thermostat to change a couple of hours before you go to bed and a couple of hours before you wake up.
2. Replace your HVAC air filter
The HVAC filter cleans the air that flows through your home’s HVAC system. Air filters are relatively inexpensive and sold in home improvement centers and hardware stores. The purpose of the filter is to prevent dirt and debris from clogging your HVAC system, allowing your system to function optimally.
If the air filter is overused, dirt can build up and clog parts of your HVAC system, particularly your home’s air conditioner, making it run less efficiently. The EPA recommends replacing your HVAC filter approximately every three months. Changing your air filter regularly will help make your home’s HVAC system more energy efficient and save on your energy bill.
3. Weatherstrip your home
Weatherstrips are another inexpensive product that you can purchase from hardware stores and home improvement centers. Weatherstripping usually takes the form of foam strips installed in the cracks and gaps between your windows, doors and frames. Use weatherstripping to prevent cold air from seeping into your home in winter and warm air from entering your home in summer.
Weatherstripping is important in the Pacific Northwest, where many older homes tend to be poorly insulated. Adding weatherstrips to your doorways can help improve your home’s insulation, which can reduce your home’s energy usage—especially throughout the winter and summer months.
Weatherstripping generally only lasts for a year or two before it needs to be replaced. Start by checking your weatherstripping annually, then at the beginning of summer and winter and replace it when the time comes.
4. Wear weather-appropriate clothing indoors
Has your home ever felt hot during the winter or cold during the summer? That may be a sign that you’re relying too much on your furnace and air conditioner. By wearing weather-appropriate clothing while indoors, you can reduce the burden on your furnace and air conditioner. For example, wearing sweaters in winter can help you stay warm even as you run your furnace less to save energy. In summer, run your air conditioner less and wear short sleeves and shorts.
5. Wash your clothes in cold water
Hot water usage requires energy to run your water heater. Not many people love cold showers, but you can still reduce your hot water usage and reduce your energy bill by washing your clothes in cold water. Warm and hot water are necessary for killing bacteria. Still, most clothing can be cleaned thoroughly using the cold cycle, and you won’t notice the difference.
Many clothes are better off when washed in cold water. Cold water is easier on dyes and fabrics, it’s just as good at removing stains, and it helps reduce wrinkles. Use the cold water setting on your washing machine as a general rule, and turn to your hot water only when necessary. You’ll save gallons of water from the water heater, helping to cut energy costs.
6. Use the ceiling fan
Many homes have ceiling fans built in. Ceiling fans use less energy than an air conditioner and work just as well when it’s not too hot outside. Use your ceiling fan at times when the temperature outside is stuffy but not too hot. In the Pacific Northwest, this kind of weather is common throughout most of the summer.
If you don’t have a ceiling fan, consider installing one in the rooms you use most often—like the living room or bedrooms. Depending on the electrical setup in your home, the cost of adding a new ceiling fan can range widely, from a few hundred dollars to a thousand or more. Alternatively, you can buy a box fan that can be moved from one room to another depending on the need. Doing this helps you stay comfortable while saving money on installation costs for putting a ceiling fan in your home.
One important caveat about ceiling fans: they don’t cool the room unless you have your windows open at night to draw in cool air from outside. So don’t leave your ceiling fan on when you’re not in the room, as it’s just wasting energy and money.
7. Change the standard temperature
Maybe you prefer to keep your home at 70 degrees throughout the summer. What if you changed that temperature to 75 degrees, or even 78 degrees? Reducing your cooling needs in the summer and heating needs in the winter will help you avoid using your HVAC system, saving you money.
Experiment with your HVAC system to see what temperatures are comfortable. If your home feels stuffy at the warmer temperatures in summer, turn on the ceiling fan or box fan to keep air circulating. In the winter, bundle up—even while indoors.
8. Cook outdoors in summer and indoors during winter
Cooking indoors, especially in your oven, can heat your kitchen. Extra heat might be fine in the winter, but not during the summer. Cooking indoors in summer puts an additional burden on your home’s HVAC system by heating your home, which in turn requires your air conditioner to work harder to keep your space cool.
Cooking outdoors in summer keeps the heat outside. You can also stop your home from heating up in summer by limiting all indoor cooking. Make sandwiches, cold salads, and eat take-out to avoid unnecessary heating in your kitchen.
During the winter months, you’ll welcome the residual heat from cooking indoors while reducing the burden on your home’s HVAC system. After cooking in your oven, open the oven door to let the warm air spread.
9. Clean and maintain your HVAC system
Your HVAC system needs to be tuned up and cleaned periodically to stay energy efficient. Check to ensure twigs and other debris are not blocking the airflow, and with the system completely turned off, you can clean your air conditioner by spraying it with a hose. You may need to remove the air conditioner fins to reveal the coils underneath: it’s most critical to clean these coils. You can spray them down with water or use coil cleaner to get the job done. Alternatively, you can also have your air conditioner cleaned and tuned up by an HVAC professional.
10. Take advantage of natural heating and cooling
In the Pacific Northwest, the nights tend to be cool in summer, even if the days are warm. If it’s cooler outside than inside, open your windows at night to let in the cool air. Turn on your box fans and ceiling fans to draw in more cool air. When you wake up in the morning, shut your windows and draw the curtains against the heat outside. Keep your home as cool as possible by avoiding opening the exterior doors.
In winter, you may open the curtains and blinds during the day to let the sun in—depending on the insulation provided by your windows. By creating a greenhouse effect, you can help warm your home without running your heater.
11. Dry your clothes on the line
Do you do a lot of laundry? You can save energy when you avoid using the dryer and instead, hang your clothes on the clothesline. Living in the Pacific Northwest, you may not be able to use an outdoor clothesline during the rainy season. If you can, install a clothesline in your basement, garage, or porch. If you have no space in a basement or garage, consider buying an indoor foldable drying rack that you can store in a laundry room or closet. A bonus of air-drying your clothes? You will extend the life of your clothes by eliminating the wear and tear from the dryer.
12. Run appliances when rates are cheapest
Power providers offer different rate options for time of use. Under a time of use plan, electricity rates are significantly lower during non-peak hours and have a premium charge during peak hours. Depending on your electricity usage, your electricity rates may drop dramatically by selecting a time of use plan. Find out from your electric company how a time of use plan differs from your current plan. If you’re frequently away from home during peak energy hours or can change your behaviors to use energy during non-peak hours, making the switch could be a natural way for you to save on your electric bill.
13. Know which appliances use the most energy
Over 60% of your home’s energy goes toward heating, cooling, and your water heater. This means if you can reduce your use of your furnace, air conditioner, and water heater, then you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year. In addition to heating and cooling costs, many homeowners spend a lot of energy on their washer and dryer. Avoid doing too many loads of laundry throughout the day. When you use your dryer, select a “low heat” setting to avoid hogging the energy.
14. Consider installing solar panels
Installing solar energy panels on your home can save money because it reduces (or eliminates) your dependency on the energy grid. If you’re trying to install solar cheaply, consider leasing a system for no money down. You’ll have to pay for your system per month, but you may be able to get a better rate than the price of the electricity you buy from the grid. In general, the savings will be drastically lower when leasing solar panels rather than buying them, but there can still be a net gain, and you can reduce your carbon footprint. If you decide to purchase solar panels, the year-round savings can be significant. In addition to supplying energy for your own home, Oregon’s net metering program allows you to build credit towards your future energy bill by supplying surplus energy to the energy grid.
Financing additional energy savings
For more significant home energy projects, consider a home equity line of credit or a cash-out home refinance. You can consider replacing your roof, getting a home energy audit, installing solar panels, replacing old appliances with energy-efficient and smart appliances, and more. Additionally, OnPoint is now offering a green auto rate discount1 on financing for electric and hybrid vehicles, paired with a donation to The Nature Conservancy2.