Big Box of Energy Savings: A roundup of home energy saving tips

Home interior

The home is like a big box of energy savings just waiting to be opened. There are so many ways to conserve energy at home that are often overlooked. And it’s this low-hanging fruit that actually saves the most money despite being the easiest things to do. From reducing heating and cooling to installing energy-efficient appliances to saving water, here are some tips that will reduce energy consumption and save you money.

Home energy usage

General tips

Return on investment estimates for household energy efficiency improvements

3High efficiency showerhead
13Fireplace pillow-stops air leakage up chimney
14Bathroom Faucet Aerator
17Attic Insulation (R-0 to R-38)
23Compact Fluorescent bulb
23Kitchen faucet aerator
43Attic insulation (average)
44Duct insulation and sealing
68Wall insulation (R-0 to R-25)
88Floor insulation (R-0 to R-13)
Source: Portland General Electric. April 2003
  • Choose energy-efficient home appliances that have been designed with energy conservation in mind. Look for the ENERGY STAR or other similar labels that promote energy-efficient consumer products.
  • Choose natural gas furnaces, water heaters, stoves, and clothes dryers. Natural gas is significantly more efficient than electricity derived from fossil fuel sources, for heating purposes. An efficient way to use electricity for heating is with a heat pump.
  • Try to use natural ventilation and only use your heater when temperatures drop below 20°C (68°F), and try to only use cooling devices when temperatures get above 26°C (78°F).

Reduce heating costs

  • Operate your furnace efficiently:
    • Install a programmable thermostat and set it so your home will not be heated as much when you are away or asleep.
    • Check your furnace’s air filter monthly – replace/clean as required. Do this more often if there is a lot of dust or pet dander in your home’s air.
    • Get furnace serviced annually, check for slow gas line leaks – especially at the meter and pipe junctions
    • Do not obstruct or close heating or air-return vents by placing furniture or other items in front or on top of them.
  • Insulate and weatherize your home effectively:
    • Ask your local utility to inspect your home to ensure that you have adequate insulation installed. Some may provide incentives for this checkup.
    • Seal off rooms that are not in regular use and close heating vents.
    • Carefully hold a smoking combustible material (such as an incense stick) near the frames of exterior doors and windows. If the smoke moves towards or away from the window, an air leak is likely. A thin shred of paper or string may also be used if a combustible smoking material is not available, though it may not work as well.
    • Replace old, leaky windows (especially single-pane glass) with newer double or triple pane, gas filled, low E windows. If you have single-pane basement windows, consider replacing them with better windows, or, if they are never opened, consider replacing them with glass block, which is about as good as an ordinary double-pane window [1], though not as good as an argon filled and/or low-e double-pane window. Keep at least two basement windows in place, however, so you can vent the basement if needed.
    • Install heavy curtains over windows. Use them at night, let the sun in during the day.
    • Fit full-length curtains that fit snugly with the floor. Fitting a pelmet above will also help reduce air circulation when the curtains are drawn.
    • There are still benefits to be gained in placing radiators beneath windows so as to counteract the down-draft effect that the windows continue to generate despite improvements to window insulation. Radiators beneath windows will obviously have greatest night time effect if a minimum of window cooled air is enabled to sink into a room while allowing the maximum radiator warmed air to remain in the living space. Overlaps between radiators and curtains should typically be avoided. One practice is to tuck curtains behind the radiators or onto window sills on cold nights.
    • Try not to place furniture in front of radiators especially if circulating air is prevented from being drawn in to the radiator’s base by either the furniture itself or by all the stuff that gets packed beneath it. [1]
    • Protect your home from cold winds using windbreaks or other energy-efficient landscaping methods.
    • Choose an apartment or condominium rather than a free-standing house. These dwellings share walls and therefore have fewer exterior walls.
  • Heat less space:
    • Choose a smaller home and avoid unnecessarily high ceilings to reduce the volume of space your heating system will have to heat.
    • Wear several layers of clothing to keep your home’s air temperature lower during the day.
    • Use thick blankets so you can keep your home’s air temperature lower at night. Wearing a cap at night can enable much lower temperatures. Use an electric blanket for comfortable sleeping while allowing the room’s air temperature to be lower.
    • If you live alone and/or in a large home, it may be more efficient to keep your overall house temperature low (55 to 65°F/13 to 18°C) and use an electric space heater to heat the areas you use most often. For example, keep a heater near your desk, or use one in the bathroom to avoid heating the whole house during your morning routine. You could even carefully use a hair-dryer to preheat your bed in seconds. Take care to use electric heaters safely, especially near water.
  • Heat water efficiently:
    • Turn down the temperature on your water heater to 120°F/49°C and drain the silt occasionally with a water hose. Be sure to check and replace the anode rods periodically as well.
    • Replace your water heater with a gas tankless water heater, which heats water on demand rather than storing heated water.
    • Consider solar water heating options, especially if you live in a sunny region.
  • “Reuse” heat:
    • Leave hot water in the bathtub or in cooking pots instead of draining it immediately. This allows the water’s stored heat to dissipate into your home rather than being lost down the drain. Keep lids on the pots to avoid cooling them by evaporation instead of by delivering heat to the room, and to avoid adding excess humidity.
    • If you have an electric dryer, you may vent it inside occasionally. The vented air will be very moist, so track humidity levels; if the humidity is high for extended periods you may encourage mould and mildew growth. Venting the dryer hose into an empty bucket or garbage can will allow much of the humidity to condense and be collected. Under no circumstances should you vent gas dryers indoors due to carbon monoxide present in the exhaust.

Reduce cooling costs

  • Many of the steps you can take to reduce heating costs, such as insulating and sealing your home, will also reduce air conditioning costs.
  • Install (easy for DIY folks) solar shades on the outside or exterior of all east, south and west facing windows. They prevent most of the sun’s UV rays from even entering the home through the window. They cost much, much less than say an awning. And, you can still see outside.
  • Use fans instead of air conditioning (Fans make the air feel about 4 degrees cooler).
  • Turn fans off when no one is directly in the air stream of the fan. Fans do not actually cool the air; they help your skin to evaporate water more quickly, which cools you.
  • If you have more than two window air conditioners, it is usually more energy-efficient to install a central air conditioner.
  • Pay attention to efficiency ratings when looking for a new air conditioner.
  • Size your system properly. Calculate the heat loads. (Free online calculator.)
  • If you have a portable air conditioners, be sure that it is vented outside. If it is vented inside, you are actually heating your home.
  • In geographic areas where summer night-time temperatures fall below 75°F/24°C, open windows and use window fans to pull cool outside air into your home. Depending on the layout of your home, it may be best to only open certain windows and position fans so outside air is pulled in on one side of the house and interior air is pushed out on the other side of the house. It may be a wise choice to install a whole-house fan (if in a sufficiently dry climate), which pulls air through your home and pushes it out through your attic. Choosing a whole-house fan.
  • Install awnings over windows and close window blinds or curtains to keep direct sunlight out.
  • Plant trees near your home. Choose locations that will shade your house during the afternoon. Even trees not directly shading your home will reduce local air temperatures.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help your body cool itself.
  • Keep closets doors closed. This can save you up to 5 per cent in heating/cooling and air costs alone.
  • When possible avoid adding heat to your home, by eating cold foods or cooking outside on your grill, solar oven, or earth oven, by line drying instead of using a dryer, etc.

Reduce lighting costs

  • Take advantage of sunlight and leave lights off during the day. If possible, adjust your daily routine to align your waking hours with sunlit hours.
  • Use LED or compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of conventional incandescent light bulbs. A CFL uses approximately one-fourth the wattage of an incandescent bulb producing a similar level of illumination, and they last 8,000 to 10,000 hours. The savings in electricity typically amounts to over $30 per replaced bulb. Replace your most-used bulbs first for maximum savings. Though they cost more, LEDs use even less energy than CFLs and are better for the environment.
  • Install motion-detection switches or timers for outdoor lighting rather than leaving lights on all night.
  • Install dimmer switches for incandescent light fixtures so you can use less light when less is needed. CAUTION: Most CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs are not designed for use with a dimmer.
  • Replace incandescent night lights with LED or electroluminescent (Indiglo™, Limelite™, etc.) lights.
  • Don’t use excessive holiday lighting.
  • Dust light bulbs occasionally (with the power off) to increase light levels.
  • Use limited, focused lighting when performing a task in a small area instead of lighting the entire room.
  • Choose light fixtures that require fewer bulbs, or unscrew some of the bulbs in existing fixtures.
  • Change conventional ballast with electronic ballast
  • Try to limit the extent to which you put lights in forms of shade. When “light shades” are needed choose those that merely diffuse light and have less potential to gather dust.[2]
  • Use special capacitor for lamp, see the example of calculation in[3]

Reduce electricity usage

  • Turn off all electric appliances (lights, computers, televisions) when they are not in use. Computer printers and photocopiers are typically high energy users.
  • Watch TV with the light off.
  • Change out a CRT TV with an LCD model of equivalent size.
  • Reduce miscellaneous electric use from power adapters and electronics in standby mode by plugging them into a power strip that can be switched off.
  • Use the new LED light bulbs available. You may have to switch to E-27 Sockets in order to fit the new bases for the LED lights.
  • Set your computer to automatically shut off the monitor and switch to standby mode (if available) after a certain number of minutes of disuse. Choose a flat panel display instead of a conventional CRT. Adjust your display’s brightness to the surrounding light conditions (less brightness is needed in dark rooms).
  • Purchase a laptop and use it as a replacement for your desktop computer. Most laptops are optimized for energy efficiency and don’t need an uninterruptible power supply, since the battery can be used during thunderstorms and the like.
  • Use products with the ENERGY STAR label (or similar). In particular, recycling and replacing old refrigerators with an ENERGY STAR-approved one can save a few hundred kilowatt-hours a year. Replacing old refrigeration and air conditioning units (even if they are still functional) with more efficient ones is often an economically and ecologically sound decision.
  • Consider installing and using a clothes line for drying clothes. Each load not dried in an electric dryer saves 3 to 5 kilowatt hours.
  • Unplug appliances that will not be used for an extended period of time; many devices, especially consumer electronics, use a small amount of electricity even when they are switched off, due to indicator lights or listening for remote-control signals. Direct current converters, which are typically used to connect small consumer electronics devices to household power, lose a significant amount of energy as heat, even when the device is not plugged into the converter.
  • Set your furnace/AC fan to “auto” rather than “on” so it will not run when the furnace/AC unit itself is off. The fan uses a significant amount of electricity.
  • Your refrigerator is probably among the biggest energy users in the home. Take special care to operate it efficiently:
    • Clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator to keep them operating efficiently.
    • Reduce the number of trips you make to the refrigerator/freezer and do not leave the door open unnecessarily.
    • Refrigerator/freezer configuration affects the unit’s efficiency. Bottom-freezer models are generally most efficient. Top-freezers (the most common configuration) are reasonably efficient. Side-by-side models are relatively inefficient. Chest freezers are generally more efficient than conventional front-opening models.
    • Small refrigerators are often less efficient than larger models because they usually have less insulation or a less-efficient compressor.
    • Keep your refrigerator/freezer reasonably well stocked so that less cold air is lost when the door is opened.
    • Cover beverages and moist foods to keep the humidity level in the refrigerator lower. Dry air is easier to cool.
    • Keep your refrigerator’s temperature above 36°F/2°C and below 42°F/5.5°C. Keep your freezer’s temperature at about 0°F/-18°C. A good gauge of freezer temperature is ice cream. If the ice cream is too soft, lower the temperature; if it is very hard and difficult to spoon, raise the temperature.
    • As an alternative to using your refrigerator, consider storing less-frequently used foods in a cold-store room, cellar, or garage.
  • When cooking:
    • Turn off your electric oven or stove shortly before the end of the required cooking time; the heating element will still be hot enough to finish the cooking process.
    • Cover pots to reduce heat loss.
    • Do not heat a small pot on a large burner.
    • Microwave foods when possible. However, microwaving liquids or foods with high moisture content is usually less energy-efficient than heating it on a stove.
    • Thaw or partially thaw frozen food in the refrigerator prior to cooking.
    • Replace drip pans periodically. Dirty drip pans are much less reflective than new pans and cannot reflect as much heat back up to the pan being heated.
    • Avoid opening the oven door unnecessarily. Instead, view the food through the door’s window and use a timer to help you determine when the food will be fully cooked. Most foods are fully cooked when the fragrance of the food begins to fill the room from within the oven.
    • Invest in a solar oven if your region will allow for it

Reduce water usage

  • Install water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets.
  • Fix leaky pipes and plumbing fixtures in your home’s plumbing system. Toilet tank leaks are easily detected by adding a few drops of food colouring to the water reservoir. If the water in the toilet bowl becomes dyed, water is leaking from the tank and the valve should be repaired or replaced.
  • Lower the water level of your toilet’s water reservoir. Be careful not to lower it to the point that it does not flush adequately. If your toilet’s flush mechanism does not allow an easy way to lower the water level, place a plastic or glass jar filled with water into the water tank, clear off the flush mechanism, to displace water. Do not use a brick in your water tank, as it can break down and cause plumbing problems.
  • Invest in a composting toilet
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Have an outdoor shower, where one hangs a five gallon bag in the sun through out the day to heat. (bags found in camping section) To wash, wet for 1 minute, close clamp, soap up all bodily parts, then rinse with remaining 2.5 gallons. Saves water and electricity on heat.
  • Use the light cycle when using a dishwasher on dishes that aren’t extremely dirty. Try the same when using a washing machine.
  • Install a water softener if your water is “hard.”
  • Water outdoor plants early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation.
  • Mulch plants heavily to prevent weed growth (that would use up water) and water evaporation.
  • Invest in a water barrel – use for watering plants, washing the car.
  • Use a public swimming pool instead of purchasing your own.
  • Wash and rinse clothing by hand with a hand wringer.

Ventilate properly

Proper attic ventilation will:

  • keep the house cooler in hot weather. Attics radiate heat downward when they are hotter than the living area.
  • keep the attic cold in the winter, which can prevent ice dams.
  • allow moisture to escape from the house. Warm, moist air rises from the living area. Ventilation of this humid air is important year-round for preventing mould and rot, but it is especially important in the winter, when the moisture is more likely to condense.

Be aware that increased ventilation decreases the effectiveness of any insulation that is a poor barrier to air infiltration, such as fibreglass batting. The increased ventilation will create low pressure areas, so that the house will push conditioned air through the insulation faster than it normally would.

With insufficient ventilation:

  • Attic heat can penetrate into living areas during summer.
  • There will be excessive humidity, which can cause mould and eventually rot.
  • Water vapour can condense and collect on insulation, on rafters, and on the underside of roof sheathing. This will reduce the effectiveness of the insulation and can greatly hasten the activity of mould and rot.
  • Condensation and mould will also occur in the living area, especially on perimeter walls (because they are coolest) and where ventilation is poorest, such as in corners and around furniture.

You will need more ventilation than usual if:

  • You live in a damp climate.
  • Your house is in the shade.
  • The crawlspace or basement has a dirt floor.
  • There isn’t much wind.
  • You have a modern, super-tight house.
  • You have a solid masonry house.
  • You have a house with impermeable siding such as vinyl or aluminum.
  • You do not have sufficient (or any) vapour barriers.

Most houses treat the attic and basement as unconditioned space. You can think of unconditioned space as outdoor space, minus the rain and snow. The unconditioned space surrounding the living area shouldn’t be wide open, but it shouldn’t be sealed shut either. A good compromise is to have two foundation vents in the basement and two different types of vents in the attic. Vents should always exist in pairs (but not necessarily two of the same type) to allow for cross-ventilation. In an attic, one member of the pair should be low on the roof and the other member should be higher up, so that outside air is pulled through one and out the other. Natural attic ventilation through these vents is usually sufficient. Powered vents in the attic may interfere with proper furnace and fireplace venting.

Some ways to ventilate an attic naturally:

  • Soffit vents
  • Ridge vents (you can cover the ridge vent with shingles)
  • Gable vents

Modern homes often incorporate all three types of attic vents, providing continuous cross-ventilation via multiple air pathways.

Make sure gable vents have screens to keep out insects and animals, and keep the screens clean to maintain proper ventilation.

Never close or block off the vents to a damp basement or crawlspace, except in extreme cold to prevent pipes from freezing. Closing the vents to a damp basement or crawlspace will cause mould, rot, and structural defects. Sometimes a basement or crawlspace will look bone dry but is transpiring moisture through the dirt floor at a rapid rate. To see if this is the case, lay down some clear plastic on the dirt floor for a few days and observe how much water collects on its underside.

If your basement or crawlspace is dry and has been dry for several years you can:

  • Close the foundation vents in the winter to conserve energy, and open them again in the warmer months to allow interior moisture from the house to escape.
  • Close the foundation vents permanently, install a polyethylene vapor barrier on the floor (just to be safe), insulate the basement or crawlspace walls, and part of the floor, if necessary, and include the basement or crawlspace as part of the conditioned space of the house. If you take this route you don’t need to insulate the floor above the basement or crawlspace, but it doesn’t hurt if the floor is already insulated. Keep an eye on humidity. There will be less condensation on walls and pipes, but possibly greater humidity because of trapped air, requiring increased ventilation in the upper floors and attic to compensate.

Advantages of insulating a dry basement and crawlspace and making them part of the conditioned space of the house:

  • Decreased condensation, because walls are closer in temperature to the air inside the house, and because cold pipes are not exposed to outdoor air during the warmer months.
  • Reduced energy losses from ducts passing through the basement.
  • Reduced risk of pipes freezing in winter.

Residential ventilation checklist

  • Vent sources of moisture directly to the outside. This is especially important for the bathroom, which normally produces more moisture than any other room in the house, and for the dryer, which produces more moisture than any other appliance.
  • Do not vent moisture directly into the attic. The last thing you want to do is put warm, moist air into the attic. In cold climates this can contribute to icing and resulting leaks.
  • A whole-house fan is acceptable because of its usual location, installed in the attic floor near a gable vent, and because it is not directly connected to a source of moisture. The whole-house fan can help to remove cooking odors and can cool the entire house when it is not hot enough to turn on the air conditioning. Use caution: natural-draft heating appliances could be adversely affected by too much exhaust – products of combustion could be drawn into the house.
  • If you cannot vent the bathroom directly to the outside, install the vent up through the attic and down through a soffit vent. This will prevent water from dripping back down into the vent as it would if you installed the duct straight up through the roof. Wire the bathroom vent to a timer switch, so that people can turn it on without having to remember to turn it off.
  • Always vent the clothes dryer to the outside with a smooth-walled (do not screw into walls of duct), metal (not plastic) duct that is as short as possible. To prevent a house fire check the duct for clogs regularly. Do not vent the dryer directly into the laundry room. This puts much too much moisture into the house.
  • Kitchens should have a vent hood with an exhaust fan. The vent hood should have a back draft flap to keep out insects and cold air – but some cold air will inevitably seep in.
  • Install ceiling fans to improve ventilation and distribute heat. To disperse heat properly run the ceiling fan in reverse so that it pushes warm air up against the ceiling and down along the walls, where people tend to sit.
  • Do not block air intake vents for heating or air conditioning equipment. Blocking these vents will starve the equipment for air, causing it to run inefficiently.
  • If your unfinished basement has windows, keep them closed on hot, humid days to prevent moisture from condensing on the walls continuously, all day long. Open the windows once the humidity drops below the natural humidity of the basement so that moisture doesn’t build up inside.
  • People, in their zeal to do a good job, sometimes pack insulation into the eaves, blocking the soffit vents, because they don’t know that the vents exist or don’t know what they are for. If you are installing insulation in the attic for the first time do not cover the soffit vents with insulation.
  • If your attic is already insulated on the floor make sure insulation is not blocking the soffit vents. This is more of a problem for loose-fill, since wind can scatter the fill around. To prevent loose-fill from scattering and covering the soffit vents, you can install baffles between the rafters. You staple the baffles to the underside of the roof sheathing, and the baffles maintain 2 inches of ventilation space next to the sheathing.
  • Wind coming through soffit vents can also push batt insulation up off the floor, causing cold airflow against the ceiling and cold spots high up on exterior walls. Baffles installed near the eave should also prevent this problem by keeping the batts from flipping up and over.
  • If you are going to install batts or spray foam between the rafters, you should extend the baffles all the way up to the ridge vent. This will keep the sheathing dry and prevent it from rotting invisibly behind the insulation.
  • Likewise, when you insulate between the floor joists in the ceiling of an unconditioned basement or crawlspace, you should leave some space between the insulation and the sheathing (subfloor) to allow water vapour to escape.


Article originally published on Wikibooks (CC BY-SA)

image: subirpal

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