Earlier this week, we co-hosted another installment of our Engage Green workshop series with Urban Green Lab. Given the recent arrival of the polar vortex, we thought this would be a great time to talk a little about home energy efficiency and to teach you some ways to help save some money and keep you a little warmer this winter (and more comfortable year-round)! Below are a handful of tips and tricks we learned from our friends at Go Green Home Services on Monday:
1. Air Leakages
Winter is the time of year when air leakages in your home become the most obvious because you can actually feel the cold air coming in. Depending on the outside temperature, it could be as much as 70 degrees colder outdoors than it is in your home, making it essential that you stop air leakages in their tracks! Some of the most common places for these unwanted exchanges of air to occur is around doors and windows, where spending a few dollars on some caulk or weatherstripping might be enough to fix the problem. For windows, you can also consider buying simple window film, which you can easily apply yourself, adding an extra layer of insulation to your windows and helping to prevent cold drafts.
Your attic or basement are also key places to look for air leakages. While these may be a little more difficult to find and fix, they are just as important as drafts in the interior of your home. As Samantha from Go Green put it, “You can insulate your attic all you want, but if you have air leakages, it’s like trying to keep yourself warm wrapped in a blanket with holes in it.” You may need to consult a professional if you’re not comfortable handling these yourself.
2. Check that Thermostat
The ideal place to keep your thermostat in the winter is at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. For every degree warmer you keep your house in the winter, you can add as much as 8-10% to your energy usage, depending on the temperature outside. The same logic applies to keeping your house cool in the summer, when the ideal thermostat setting is at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re out of your home a lot, consider buying a programmable thermostat. You can let your house stay cooler during the day (in the winter) when nobody is home, and then set it to start warming up a little bit before you usually get home. This will let you save money and energy during the day but still be comfortable all evening when you’re home to enjoy it!
3. Change those Air Filters
Arguably one of the easiest things to forget when it comes to energy efficiency, changing your air filter regularly can make a sizable difference in your energy bill. Running your heat or A/C unit with a dirty air filter adds air flow resistance and causes it to work a lot harder, which can use a lot more energy if your unit is running often (like when it’s really warm or really cold outside). Air filters cost about $10 and should be changed roughly every 2-3 months. If you have pets, you may need to change it a little more often. You can also consider investing in pet-grade air filters or washable air filters, which are a little more expensive but will last a lot longer.
4. Turn Down Your Water Heater
Most water heaters have adjustable temperature gauges, meaning you can easily change how hot your water heater is making your water. You’ll want to set the temperature at 120 degrees Fahrenheit because if your water heater is set any hotter than this, you’re probably having to add cold water to your hot water before you use it (anything above 120 degrees is considered scalding and would be too hot to comfortably use). This means all the energy used to get your water above 120 degrees is wasted! You may have to remove a panel on your heater to find the temperature gauge, but this is definitely worth taking 5 minutes to check.
5. Vampire Power Usage
Also known as “standby power,” vampire power usage refers to any appliance that is plugged in and using electricity, but that you’re not actively using. This type of power usage can account for between 5 and 10% of the average home’s energy use (according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), making the potential for savings here pretty high. When you’re not using it, you’ll want to unplug anything that has a transformer in the cord (laptop and cell phone chargers are the most common culprits). It also helps to put large banks of electronics on power strips so that you can easily power everything down completely. This is probably most common in your living room or kitchen, where you have several things plugged in consistently.
6. Mind Your Appliances
Similar to vampire power usage, old or under-utilized appliances can use a lot of energy in your home without you ever realizing it. Take care to make sure your appliances are in good working order, and when you’re replacing old appliances, make sure to look into options that are Energy Star Certified. These will be more efficient and save you a lot of money in the long run. It’s also great to occasionally take inventory of appliances you may not be using fully. As Samantha with Go Green noted, maybe the most common example of this is that old fridge you have in your garage or basement with just a few beers in it. If you’re not really using it, maybe it’s time to unplug it!
7. Insulate, Insulate, Insulate!
As we all learned in our elementary school science classes, heat rises. This means that winter can be an especially hard time on your energy bills if your attic isn’t properly insulated. Any heat that is rising through your house will continue to rise straight through your roof unless you stop it! Take a minute to look in your attic to check how thick the insulation is. The US Department of Energy recommends having at least 11 inches of insulation along the bottom of your attic. If you’ve got significantly less than that, you may want to consider adding more. Once again, feel free to consult a professional if this isn’t something you’re comfortable tackling yourself!
8. Change Your Lightbulbs
Did you know that roughly 90% of the energy used by a standard incandescent light bulb is spent generating heat instead of light? Chances are you wouldn’t tolerate that kind of waste in a lot of other parts of your life, so you shouldn’t do it with your lightbulbs either! Both compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs use significantly less energy than their incandescent counterparts, saving you a lot of money in the long run when lightning your house. For a more complete rundown of your lightning options and the pros and cons of each type, check out this useful Green America article.
Though a lot of these home energy efficiency fixes aren’t winter-specific, they’ll help save you money and energy year-round, keeping your energy bills a little lower during peak demand seasons (summer and winter). This is great for your local energy provider and for your pocketbook!
If you haven’t checked out our Engage Green series yet, take a look at our calendar and see what we’ve got coming up! Our next workshop will be on Wednesday, December 3rd at 6pm. We’ll be taking a tour of one of Nashville’s newest landmarks, the Music City Center, learning about the green building features that make this LEED-certified structure one of the most sustainable convention centers in the world!
– Matt (Team Green’s Events Coordinator)