Energy Efficient Home Improvements for 2014: Part 4 – Reduce Your Daily Use

In the past 3 entries of our 4-part series about Energy Efficient Home Improvements you can complete in 2014, we covered windows and doors, air sealing, and insulation. In this last installment, we’ll take a look at how you can cut costs in your daily energy use.

Cutting your energy costs is a great way to save money especially if you’re facing high electricity bills from the recent cold weather. The problem for some homeowners is that they might not be certain about the kinds of energy problems to look out for in their home.

Little Things Add Up

Apart from air conditioning, high energy use in a home doesn’t typically come from one single thing.

Often, high energy use in many homes comes from lots of smaller inefficient lights and appliances or from those things being habitually used without care for the amount of energy they consume. The point is this: a little bit can add up quickly. For example, a single 20 watt halogen light bulb left on for 10 hours every day can add up to 1,460 kWh over the course of a year. A 5-watt “wall-wart” transformer powering a weather radio that’s left plugged in all day and night can consume 43.8 kWh in a year —even if the radio isn’t turned on. So, if your home contains a lot of energy-wasting gizmos or your family has a habit of leaving things on, then you’re paying for wasted energy each and every month.

Luckily, it’s child’s play to solve this puzzle.

Light Bulbs

Energy Efficient Home Improvements for 2014: Part 4 - Reduce Your Daily UseTo begin, each time you burn out an incandescent, halogen, or CFL bulb, replace it with an LED bulb. It’s a matter of basic energy efficiency – LED bulbs convert more electricity to light and last much longer. This is because LEDs are semiconductors that use electroluminescence to convert almost 90% of the electricity into light with very little heat. They are coated in clear epoxy instead of glass.

On average, an incandescent lasts about 1,000 hours (about a year on average). CFL bulbs may last 10 times longer than your old-school incandescent, but LED bulbs last 25 times longer on average. That’s 25,000 hours.

Sure, LED bulbs have cost more than CFLs in the past, but their prices have dropped below $10. They are also dimmable and are available in wider variety of tints. How much can you save? That 20 watt incandescent halogen bulb can be replaced by a 2.9 watt LED bulb that only uses 10.5 kWh a year.

Kill the Energy Zombies and Vampires

What about that ugly 5-watt wall wart? That little black box actually contains a transformer, and it’s on all the time. Of course, not all wall warts contain transformers since many newer gizmo-chargers use smart rectifying circuits that use only a sip of energy when they are in stand-by mode (or just waiting around to be used). Still, the point remains that these energy vampires are always on.

The easy way to save money on these things is to either unplug them or plug them into a switched power strip. You can also plug large electronics, like computers, their peripherals, and home theater systems into smart power strips. A smart power strip switches off power once the wattage used falls to the stand-by mode level. An estimate by Lawrence Berkley National Lab suggests that between “5-10% of residential electricity” is used just for stand-by power. That’s about $100 per average US household per year.

Keeping Cold, Keeping Hot

Refrigerators alone can use on average 725 watts, and depending on how it’s used and maintained, this device can eat about 13.7 percent of a home’s energy. Here are some EnergyStar tips for keeping that energy usage low.

  • Set the right temperature. Most models function best at 35° to 38° F (follow manufacturer’s guidelines).
  • Keep it in a cool place and out of direct sunlight.
  • Make sure it has adequate space for air to circulate around the coils.
  • Be sure to clean these every few months.
  • While a full fridge keeps temperatures stable, don’t overfill it so that air doesn’t circulate properly inside.
  • Check the door seals for cracks and keep them clean.
  • Keep the doors closed to keep the cold inside.

If your fridge is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with an EnergyStar qualified fridge. EnergyStar has a Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator you can use to see how much you can save as well as a product finder for comparing different qualified models.

An average American home spends 15% of its annual heating costs on heating water in a tank. That means for about 14 to 16 hours everyday, your home has a tank of water that is kept heated and ready for use when no one is home. Even though these systems are common and inexpensive, the system can waste a lot of energy. Fortunately, there’s a few simple things you can do.

  • Add a 1″ thick fiberglass water heater insulation jacket. You wrap this around your water heater and secure in place with vinyl duct tape.
  • Also place foam pipe insulation on all the hot water pipes in your home to keep that water warmer longer. Both a hot water jacket and foam pipe insulation together shouldn’t cost more than $20 at your local home center. Not only will these reduce your water heating energy usage but you’ll also enjoy getting hot water into your shower much faster.
  • Remember, too, to drain and flush your hot water heater once a year. This will remove any sediments and lime scaling that can drastically reduce the lifespan of your hot water heater.

We hope that you have enjoyed this 4-part series on energy efficient home improvements. In case you missed the earlier installments, you can check them out here:

Here’s to an energy efficient 2014!

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