As soon as you moved out on your own and started paying your own utility bills, you likely had a rude awakening about the cost of energy. If you’ve never thought about something like electricity usage before, it can take a minute to get into the habit of not just turning off lights when you leave a room, but also taking into consideration the other appliances in your home.
The obvious solution to the need to save money and energy is to look into things like energy-efficient appliances, solar panels or energy-conserving outlets. Unfortunately, those all cost money. So what’s an environment- and budget-conscious person to do?
Air conditioning and heat
Depending on your local climate, you probably spend a decent of money heating and cooling your house (likely both). Either way, there are a few simple things you can do to minimise your energy costs.
It’s all about the ducts
If you’re looking to save money on heating and cooling without spending money, you’re going to want to take a look at your ducts. Your air ducts are one of the most important systems in your home, and if they’re not properly insulated and operating, they could be costing you a lot money thanks to wasted energy. If your ducts leak, you could be spending money to heat or cool parts of your home that don’t need it.
And while any major updates to your duct system would need to be done by a professional (and therefore, cost money), there are a few things you can do on your own, according to the U.S. Department of Energy:
Aside from sealing your ducts, the simplest and most effective means of maintaining your air distribution system is to ensure that furniture and other objects are not blocking the airflow through your registers, and to vacuum the registers to remove any dust buildup.
Check other seals
It’s not just your ducts that may be leaking precious, costly, temperature-controlled air: Your windows, doors and refrigerator/freezer may also be culprits. Per Nerd Wallet:
Make sure your fridge and freezer are well sealed to keep the cold air where it belongs. Same goes for your doors and windows. A bad seal allows energy to seep out, draining your wallet in the process.
Keep it clean
Another quick and cheap option is to make sure that any accessible air filters in your heating and cooling systems are kept clean. Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, told USA Today that she recommends cleaning your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit every 30 days to keep it running efficiently. “If you’ve got clogged or dirty filters, you’re just using more energy to push that air through,” she said.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a washer and dryer in your home (shout-out to fellow apartment dwellers), then you may not be using your laundry appliances in the most energy-efficient way. Here’s what you can do to help.
Reduce heat in the washing machine
If you’re someone who just washes all their clothes on the cold setting because you don’t want to worry about colours running, then you’re already doing something to help cut your energy costs. For everyone else, the DOE says that using warm water instead of hot can cut a load’s energy use in half, and washing in all cold water saves even more than that.
If you’re worried about how clean your clothes will (or won’t) get in a cold-water wash, there are special cold water detergents that could help with that. And while we’re on the subject of washers, try to fill the machine whenever possible, instead of washing a lot of small loads. According to the DOE, your washing machine uses roughly the same amount of energy for a full load as a partial load, so get the most bang for your buck and fill it up.
Maximising the heat you use in the dryer
A dryer uses heat to dry your laundry, so cutting down here is a little trickier, but definitely possible. For example, the DOE recommends doing back-to-back loads in the dryer, so it’s already hot when you put the next load in and you won’t have to pay to heat it up again. And while you’re at it, they say that using dryer balls can help too, because they can help separate your clothes and get more air to them, cutting the drying time. Also, make sure you’re cleaning out your lint trap regularly. And, of course, using lower heat settings on the dryer can help cut energy costs. According to the DOE, “even if the drying cycle is longer, you’ll use less energy and be less likely to over-dry your clothes.”
Do your laundry after 8 pm
According to Andrew Schrage (co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance), some power companies offer discounted rates during non-peak hours:
Many utility companies have plans set up that offer discounts for switching some of your power usage to off-peak times. The hours and times differ slightly depending upon what part of the country you’re in, and each plan is set up a little differently. If you’re willing to shift a significant portion of your energy usage to outside the peak times, you certainly can save money.
Call your power company and ask them if they offer non-peak discounts and when they begin and end. Commonly, the hours begin at 8 pm. Those who handle their chores during the day, however, may find this method inconvenient.
Reducing energy consumption with your dishwasher utilises the same tactics as your laundry machines. Primarily, that means you need to reduce the amount of heat you use and load the machine as efficiently as possible.
Dishwashers require some heat to do a good job, but yours might be set to a higher temperature than needed. Most dishwashers automatically are set to between 60 to 63 degrees Celsius, but it only really needs to get up to 50 degrees Celsius. It’ll get the job done, but won’t use as much energy to heat the water.
Full loads only
If you’re someone who runs the dishwasher every day (or night), regardless of whether or not it’s full, you’re going to want to stop doing that. Instead, just run it when it’s full.
Scrape, but don’t prewash
Your dishwasher was designed to wash dishes, so let it do its job. If you pre-wash your dishes, you’ll be using more water and energy (to heat the sink water). Instead, scrape off any food scraps to make the dishwasher’s job easier, but there’s no need to fully clean them if they’re going on the dishwasher.
We tend to think of appliances and electronics as the big energy users in our household, but that’s not necessarily the case. For example, computers and other similar electronic devices account for approximately two per cent of your household’s energy use, while TVs and other entertainment consoles make up around 4 per cent of it. There are ways to reduce energy costs here, too.
If you were taught that leaving your computer on all the time actually saved energy, that’s not the case anymore with more modern machines. According to the DOE:
Though there is a small surge in energy when a computer starts up, this small amount of energy is still less than the energy used when a computer is running for long periods of time. Spending a large portion of time in low-power mode not only saves energy but helps equipment run cooler and last longer.
Instead of keeping computer equipment on all the time, turn off your monitor if you’re stepping away from your PC for more than 20 minutes. And if you’re going to be away from your PC for more than two hours, the DOE recommends turning off the central processing unit as well as the monitor. You can also plug all of your computer components (including a printer or other accessories) into the same power strip/surge protector. That way, if you’re not going to be using it for an extended period, you can simply turn off the strip.
Most televisions sold today are already pretty energy-efficient, now that LED models are the new standard. But regardless of the type of TV you have, there are some pretty commonsense ways of reducing how much energy it uses. These include turning the TV off when you’re not using it and using the sleep mode at night if you use the TV to fall asleep.
If you’re looking for even more tips on how to make your home more energy efficient, we have a guide for that—though some of the options discussed there do cost money to implement. But even if those aren’t in your budget right now, at least you have some more free (or close to free) ways to cut down on your energy bill.
This article was originally published in 2012 and updated on March 9, 2020 by Elizabeth Yuko. Updates include the following: Checked links for accuracy, changed headline, updated formatting to reflect current style, changed feature image, and revised/rewrote large portions of the article for accuracy.