The devastating war in Ukraine has roiled energy markets, causing steep prices at the pump and shockingly high utility bills. While the European Union has encouraged citizens to conserve and reduce energy use, the U.S. government has placed more emphasis on increasing gas supply–a decision that could lock Americans into increased fossil fuel consumption at a time when the world should be scaling back.
The global energy crisis is a pivotal time when we can extricate ourselves from Big Oil’s grip and take collective action in making lifestyle changes that will not only reduce energy use but also reduce our fuel costs and utility bills. Most importantly, we can make this crisis an opportunity to maximize pressure (ie, VOTE!) on our elected representatives to sponsor and support clean energy policies that will accelerate a clean energy transition.
Table of Contents
- 12 Ways to Reduce Energy Use Right Now
- Turn Down the Heat
- Turn Down the Air Conditioning
- Leave the Car at Home
- Slow Down! Reduce Energy Use by Changing Your Driving Habits
- Telecommute (But be Energy Smart!)
- Turn Off and Unplug
- Invest in a Smart Thermostat
- Weatherize: Check for Air Leaks to Seal and Insulate
- Maintain Your Mechanicals and Appliances
- Got a Fireplace? Think Twice Before Using it
- Shop Local and Seasonal
- Subscribe to Community Solar (If Possible)
- Reduce Energy Use: 3 Long Term Options
12 Ways to Reduce Energy Use Right Now
Turn Down the Heat
The lower you set your thermostat, the more you save, even if it’s just one degree lower than your normal setting. Make it a goal to set heating thermostats to 67-68°F during the day and even less at night. Depending on the size and location of your home, you can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.
While you’re at it, check the setting on your water heater and adjust it to more efficient settings. Water heaters are often set automatically at 140°F, but most households only require them to be set at 120°F. For most water heaters, adjusting the setting is a simple DIY project. You’ll also save some money.
Cold? Insulate yourself and bundle up!
Turn Down the Air Conditioning
Keep the temperature on a moderate setting–around 75-78°F. Where possible, open the windows to reduce air conditioning usage. Invest in a couple of fans, or simply open the windows to keep cool.
Leave the Car at Home
Whenever possible, walk, bike, or take mass transit to school or the office–or for any short trip. Even participating in a carpool can help reduce energy use and the expense of inflated fuel prices.
Slow Down! Reduce Energy Use by Changing Your Driving Habits
If you must drive, you can save money by easing up on the pedal. Indeed, there are several ways to reduce energy use and unnecessary expense by simply changing your driving habits.
The Department of Energy has an extensive fuel economy page that includes numerous gas mileage and cost-savings tips, including:
- how to drive more efficiently
- keeping your car in shape
- planning and combining trips
- fuel economy in cold weather and hot weather
Telecommute (But be Energy Smart!)
Working from home can help reduce energy use, but spending long hours at home can risk raising costs! Be mindful of your energy usage while at home and work to minimize those costs by adhering to these energy-saving tips. Also, keep food delivery orders and eating out to a minimum.
Turn Off and Unplug
Many appliances and electronics will consume energy even after they’re turned off. So just as you’d turn off the lights when you leave a room, unplug appliances when they’re not in use.
Chargers. Put all your chargers on one extension to make everything easy to switch off when not they’re not needed.
Appliances. Many appliances and electronic devices (aka “Energy Vampires”) continue to consume energy even when turned off. These devices–phone chargers, coffee pots, printers, TVs, games consoles, to name a few–not only suck electricity, but they also suck your cash. By some estimates, Energy Vampires account for as much as 20% of your monthly electricity bill, so pull out the plug on common appliances when not in use.
Refrigerators and freezers. Set these at energy-efficient temperatures. The refrigerator should be set between 38-42º F. The freezer should be set between 0-5º F.
Washing machines. Wash full loads of clothes in cold water and avoid the double-rinse cycle on your washing machine.
Vacation mode. Turn off and unplug all appliances when you’re out of town. Don’t forget to turn off the air conditioning, heat, and even turn down the water heater.
Invest in a Smart Thermostat
Instead of having to remind yourself constantly to adjust the thermostat, invest in a smart thermostat that provides a programmable schedule to optimize energy efficiency. There are a number of reasonably priced options that you can install yourself and look for ENERGY STAR-rated models. We’ve used the Nest Thermostat for over 5 years and have been very pleased with its features and performance.
Weatherize: Check for Air Leaks to Seal and Insulate
Insulation helps keep heat trapped inside and can help reduce energy use. While some insulation projects are more involved (ducts, foundations, and large unfinished open spaces, such as attics), there are several areas of your home that you can insulate with simple DIY projects:
Windows. Installing weather stripping or caulking around windows can help reduce heating costs by more than 25%. Even curtains or blinds can provide some heat retention. When prepping for the cold winter months, replace screens with storm windows to provide an extra barrier to the cold outside air.
Doors. In addition to weather stripping and caulking around doors, install a door sweep to seal the gap between the bottom of an exterior door and the outside.
Water heaters. Insulating your water heater is a simple DIY project that will help reduce 25%–45% and save you about 7%–16% in water heating costs.
Maintain Your Mechanicals and Appliances
Before you run out to spend more money on a new water heater, HVAC system, or furnace, check that all mechanicals are running as efficiently as possible, scheduling a maintenance checkup, if necessary. Replacing dirty, clogged air filters on your HVAC system, for example, will improve its efficiency and reduce energy use by 5%-15%.
This also applies to appliances, such as a leaky washing machine or dishwasher, that may be easily repaired. Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule will optimize the energy efficiency of your equipment while reducing unnecessary costs.
Got a Fireplace? Think Twice Before Using it
Most of the heat from that crackling wood-burning fire in your fireplace escapes up the chimney, making it one of the least energy-inefficient ways to heat a room. Oxygen-greedy wood fires draw large amounts of heated household air up the chimney, creating a vacuum that sucks in outside cold air through any cracks and openings in your home.
A conventional wood fireplace will use up to 10 times the amount of air required by a typical oil or gas furnace. To make matters worse, the flow of air up the chimney creates a high rate of air exchange in the house, causing your heating system to work overtime to heat your home. The result: higher gas bills.
In short: If you want to reduce energy use and expense, enjoy your fireplace, but sparingly. Alternatively, invest in a sealed-combustion, direct-vent fireplace that operates without the help of household air.
Shop Local and Seasonal
This might seem like an odd way to reduce energy use, but there are a number of wallet- and energy-saving benefits to purchasing food and other items locally and from local purveyors.
Locally sourced foods typically have fewer food miles than foods transported over longer distances. The greater the food miles, the higher the carbon footprint of your purchases. For example, the strawberries you purchase from a local farm will have a lower carbon footprint than the packaged version trucked or flown in from hundreds of miles away.
A (most likely, hypothetical) case that underscores the positive environmental impact of buying local shows that if you were to consume only locally grown food for a year, it would save the greenhouse gas equivalent of 1,000 miles driven!
Even if it’s by car, shopping locally also reduces the distance you travel, making the carbon footprint of your purchases comparatively less than if you were to, say, hop on the highway and head for the mall, 30 miles away.
Lastly, supporting your local businesses is always a good thing!
Subscribe to Community Solar (If Possible)
While investing in a solar installation can help reduce energy use, it can be a significant cost and the savings are not immediate. In addition, depending on where you live–in an apartment or home with extensive tree coverage–your property may not be eligible for solar panels.
To solve these problems, community solar allows people to access renewable energy and reduce their energy costs without needing to install solar panels on their property. Instead, access to local solar facilities is shared by multiple community subscribers. The subscribers receive a credit on their electricity for the share of the solar power produced.
Community solar is not offered in every community, but new programs are emerging and expanding. To learn more about community solar and whether a program is offered in your area, see the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s community solar page and the DOE’s Community Solar Basics page. and In addition, The Institute for Local Self-Reliance provides a Community Power Scorecard that is worth reviewing.
Reduce Energy Use: 3 Long Term Options
Regardless of high energy bills, this is a perfect time to reassess your carbon footprint and make long-term adjustments that will benefit your wallet and the planet. The ultimate goal should be to electrify your home and transport, thus freeing yourself from the grip of volatile gas prices.
Get a Home Energy Audit
For a detailed assessment of your home’s energy usage, consider a professional home energy audit. The auditor will conduct a thorough examination of your residence, including your utility bills. See the Department of Energy’s comprehensive guides on resources for professional and do-it-yourself home energy audits.
Make sure you get a few references before you make your selection. The Residential Energy Services Network‘s directory lists certified energy raters and auditors near you.
Make Energy-Efficient New Purchases and Investments
The main way to reduce energy use and your bills is to make investments in electrifying your home, including appliances, cleaning and cooking equipment, and heating and cooling systems. So, as your gas-powered appliances and equipment die out, replace them with electric versions.
Depending on the extent of your upgrades, the upfront costs of — for example, clean energy heating and cooling systems — can be comparatively expensive. The good news is that existing and emerging technologies have made clean energy systems an increasingly cost-competitive option.
Knowing where and how to start can be a bewildering exercise. Fortunately, there are a number of guides that can assist homeowners ready to make clean energy upgrades. Here are a few recommendations of reputable sites and guides:
- EPA’s ENERGY STAR page lists numerous approved products, including electronics, office equipment, lighting, and heating and cooling equipment. Try out the ENERGY STAR Savings Calculator to help you look beyond the sticker price for energy savings and visit the ENERGY STAR home upgrade page to see the six high-impact, energy efficiency improvements for your home.
- EPA’s renewable heating and cooling page provides extensive resources, cost comparisons, and solutions for saving energy and money with renewable heating and cooling technologies for homeowners.
- Rewiring America’s comprehensive guide will walk you through how to electrify everything in your home.
- Department of Energy’s Energy Saver DIY Project Guide includes a comprehensive list of DIY home improvement projects that will save you energy and money.
- Your home state will likely have an agency that offers programs to help you lower your home or business’s energy bills. In New York, visit the State’s NYSERDA page to find clean energy and transportation programs tailored for homeowners.
Buy an Electric Car
If you’re looking for a new car this year, make it an electric vehicle. New research has found that with surging fuel prices, it’s quickly becoming more economical to purchase an electric car.
Check out the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide and the ENERGY STAR EV Ready page to help you select the best model for your budget and lifestyle needs.