15 ways to conserve energy and save on your electric bill
Last updated 4/5/2023
What is energy conservation?
At its core, energy conservation means using less energy to lower costs and reduce environmental impact. This can mean using less electricity, gas, or any other form of energy that you get from your utility and pay for. With finite energy resources available on our planet, actively conserving energy when possible is beneficial individually and to our larger energy systems.
You can save energy and money at home in many simple ways. If you reduce your energy usage at home, you can help decrease carbon dioxide emissions and minimize the natural resources used to power your home. While commercial buildings can have huge impacts on energy usage, there are plenty of things you can do every day at home.
Energy conservation vs. energy efficiency
While energy conservation is trying to use less energy for cost and environmental reasons, energy efficiency means using specific products designed to use less energy. These two concepts are inherently similar but involve different methods. Examples of energy conservation include using smart appliances and energy-saving bulbs in your home. Energy conservation can help you save money and also increase your sustainability.
According to ENERGY STAR’s website, approximately 60 percent of electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning coal and natural gas, which release greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Your use of energy will vary based on a few factors such as the size and age of your home, how many people live in your home, how well insulated your home is, and the types of products you use throughout your home.
15 ways to conserve energy and electricity at home
Here are 15 ways to start conserving energy:
- Adjust your day-to-day behaviors
- Replace your light bulbs
- Use smart power strips
- Install a programmable thermostat
- Use energy-efficient appliances
- Reduce water heating expenses
- Install energy-efficient windows
- Upgrade your HVAC system
- Weatherize your home
- Insulate your home
- Wash your clothes in cold water when possible
- Replace or clean your air filters
- Use your toaster oven instead of your oven
- Use natural light
- Dress appropriately for the weather inside and outside
Below, we'll explore each of these options for energy conservation in detail.
1. Adjust your day-to-day behaviors
To reduce energy consumption in your home and increase your energy savings, you do not necessarily need to go out and purchase energy-efficient products. Energy conservation can be as simple as turning off lights or appliances when you do not need them. You can also use energy-intensive appliances less by performing household tasks manually, such as hang-drying your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer or washing dishes by hand.
The behavior adjustments that have the highest potential for utility savings are turning down the heat on your thermostat in the winter and using your air conditioner less in the summer. Heating and cooling costs constitute nearly half of an average home’s utility bills, so these reductions in the intensity and frequency of heating and cooling offer the greatest savings.
There are tools known as energy monitors that you can use to figure out where most of your electricity is going in your home and which appliances are using the most electricity on a day-to-day basis.
2. Replace your light bulbs
Traditional incandescent light bulbs consume excessive electricity and must be replaced more often than their energy-efficient alternatives. Halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) use anywhere from 25-80 percent less electricity and last 3 to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs. ENERGY STAR® is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. So, if you look for the ENERGY STAR label, you know you’re getting a product or appliance that’s proven to save energy. For instance, LEDs that have the ENERGY STAR label use up to 90 percent less energy than an incandescent light bulb, while providing the same amount of light.
Although energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive off the shelf, their efficient energy use and longer lifetimes mean they cost less in the long run.
3. Use smart power strips
“Phantom energy,” also known as “standby energy” or “vampire energy,” is the electricity used by electronics when turned off or in standby mode. Standby energy is a major energy waste. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), it accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of residential energy use and costs the average U.S. household as much as $100 per year. Smart power strips, also known as advanced power strips, eliminate the problem of phantom loads by shutting off the power to electronics when they are not in use. Smart power strips can be set to turn off at an assigned time, during a period of inactivity, through remote switches, or based on the status of a “master” device.
4. Install a programmable or smart thermostat
A smart thermostat can be set to automatically turn off or reduce heating and cooling during the times when you are asleep or away. When you install a smart thermostat, you can help reduce the energy you use from heating and cooling without upgrading your HVAC system.
According to ENERGY STAR, a smart thermostat could save you approximately 8 percent of your heating and cooling bills, or $50 per year. Savings may vary based on the climate where you live, your personal comfort preferences, how many people live in your home, and the type and age of HVAC equipment in your home. Smart thermostats come in different models that can be set to fit your weekly schedule. Additional features may include indicators for when to replace air filters or HVAC system problems, which also improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. Learn more about smart thermostats like Google Nest and Ecobee.
5. Purchase energy efficient appliances
When purchasing an appliance, you should pay attention to two numbers: the initial purchase price and the annual operating cost. Although energy-efficient appliances might have higher upfront purchase prices, they usually save you money on your monthly utility bill as well as energy.
When purchasing an energy-efficient appliance, you should look for appliances with the ENERGY STAR label, which is a federal guarantee that the appliance will consume less energy during use and when on standby than standard models. Energy savings differ based on the specific appliance. For example, ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washers use approximately 20 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than other washers, whereas ENERGY STAR refrigerators use only 9 percent less energy. According to ENERGY STAR, certified dishwashers can also save you up as much as 3,800 gallons of water over its lifetime.
6. Reduce your water heating expenses
Water heating is a major contributor to your total energy usage. Other than purchasing an energy-efficient water heater, there are three methods of reducing your water heating expenses: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, or insulate your water heater along with the first six feet of hot and cold water pipes.
If you are considering replacing your water heater with an efficient model, you should consider two factors: the type of water heater that meets your needs and the fuel it will use. For example, tankless water heaters are energy efficient, but they are also a poor choice for large families as they cannot handle multiple and simultaneous uses of hot water. Heat pump water heaters are one of the most efficient ways to heat your home’s water. ENERGY STAR-certified heat pump water heaters can save a household of four people approximately $470 per year on its electric bills compared to a standard electric water heater, adding up to over $4,500 in savings over the water heater’s lifetime. Larger families who typically use more hot water can save even more! While heat pump water heaters usually have a higher upfront cost, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, there are tax credits and rebates available to many homeowners looking upgrade to a heat pump water heater.
7. Install energy efficient windows
Windows are a significant source of energy waste. The DOE notes that heat gain and loss through windows uses 25 to 30 percent of the heating and cooling energy in most homes. To prevent heat loss through your windows, you can replace single-pane windows with double-pane products instead.
For homes in colder regions, “low-e” storm windows are more insulating and can significantly reduce your heating expenses. In addition, low-e interior or exterior storm windows can reduce unnecessary heat loss by 10 to 30 percent. You should especially consider storm windows if your area frequently experiences extreme weather events.
In warmer climates, heat gain through windows may be a problem. In addition to minimizing heat loss, low-e coatings on windows can reduce heat gain by reflecting more light and lowering the amount of thermal energy that enters your home. ENERGY STAR breaks down the most efficient windows by climate or area of the U.S. on their website. Window shades, shutters, screens, and awnings can also provide an extra layer of insulation between your home and outside temperatures, leading to even more energy conservation and better energy management. Some utility companies and states also offer incentives for replacing windows with more energy-efficient versions.
When shopping for energy-efficient windows, there are two key labels to look for:
- ENERGY STAR label: review details on this label just as you would on appliances
- National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label: helps you compare between energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights by providing you with energy performance ratings in multiple categories.
8. Upgrade your HVAC system
An HVAC system is composed of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment. Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR certified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $140. Whether you select heat pumps, or a natural gas furnace, you’ll want to ensure the HVAC equipment you choose is sufficient for your climate.
When it comes to HVAC systems, you can choose to install heat pumps which heat and cool your home. Otherwise, you’ll need two systems to do both, such as an air conditioner to cool your home and a furnace or boiler to heat it.
ENERGY STAR notes that ENERGY STAR certified central air conditioners have higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and energy efficiency ratio (EER) ratings and use 8 percent less energy than conventional new models.
Upgrades to the third component of an HVAC system – ventilation – can also improve your energy efficiency. A ventilation system is composed of a network of ducts, which distributes hot and cold air throughout your home. If these ducts are not properly sealed or insulated, the resulting energy waste can add hundreds of dollars to your annual heating and cooling expenses. Proper insulation and maintenance on your ventilation system can reduce your heating and cooling expenses by up to 20 percent.
The most energy efficient way to upgrade your home’s HVAC system is installing air source heat pumps. In order to heat and cool your home, a heat pump transfers heat from one place to another. As a result, air source heat pumps use energy much more efficiently than other technologies and can help with both heating and cooling. In many cases, they offer a smart home energy system upgrade that’s cost and energy efficient.
9. Weatherize your home
Weatherizing, or sealing air leaks around your home, is another great way to reduce your heating and cooling expenses. The most common sources of air leaks into your home are vents, windows, and doors. To prevent these leaks, you should ensure that there are no cracks or openings between the wall and vent, window, or doorframe.
To seal air leaks between stationary objects, such as the wall and window frame, you can apply caulk. For cracks between moving objects, such as operable windows and doors, you can apply weather stripping. Weather stripping and caulking are simple air sealing techniques that typically offer a return on investment in less than a year. Air leaks can also occur through openings in the wall, floor, and ceiling from plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring.
Air leaking out of your home is most often from the home interior into your attic through small openings. Whether it is through ducts, light fixtures, or the attic hatch, hot air will rise and escape through small openings. As the natural flow of heat is from warmer to cooler areas, these small openings can make your heating bill even higher if your attic is not sufficiently insulated. To reap the full amount of savings from weatherization, you should consider fully insulating your home.
10. Insulate your home
Insulation plays a key role in lowering your utility bills through retaining heat during the winter and keeping heat out of your home during the summer. The level of insulation you should install depends on the area of your house. Your attic, walls, floors, basement, and crawlspace are the five main areas where you should consider adding insulation.
Sometimes utility providers may offer no-cost energy audits through local contractors, which can help you determine if you need to add insulation. In some cases, programs in your area through your utilities may even help cover some of the cost to add the insulation. You’ll want to check with your local utility to see what’s available.
11. Wash your clothes in cold water when possible
Washing clothes is a necessary chore and part of the weekly routine of most Americans. It is also an energy-intensive one, especially if you use warm water. In fact, ENERGY STAR notes that water heating uses about 90 percent of the energy it takes to operate a clothes washer. There are even reports that washing in cold water can increase the lifespan of your clothes by not exposing them to damaging heat.
12. Clean or replace your air filters
Many products across your home use filters, including your HVAC system. These systems often come with displayed reminders to replace or clean filters regularly. Doing so will not only help you avoid having to make costly repairs to your air conditioning or other system, but could also save money. In fact, The DOE notes that replacing dirty filters regularly can reduce household energy consumption by 5 to 5 percent. This is because clean filters are more efficient and put less strain on your system. Check to see whether your filters need to be cleaned or replaced and you’ll want to clean them every month or two usually, or refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific HVAC equipment.
13. Use your toaster oven instead of your oven
Along with other household chores, heating food is a necessary and also energy-taxing process. When it comes to heating food, if you have smaller portions, it’s an energy saver to use a toaster oven instead of a regular oven – saving as much as ⅓ to ½ of the total energy used according to an ENERGY STAR report. Additionally, microwaves are the most energy-efficient ways to reheat food.
14. Use natural light
Using light from the sun is an intuitive way to reduce your energy consumption. When looking for a home, it is better to have north and south-facing windows instead of east and west, if possible. This allows for more glancing light that produces heat and limits harsh light in the winter. While east and west-facing windows allow for more direct sunlight, they aren't as effective at letting heat in.
15. Dress appropriately for the weather inside and outside
While it may seem obvious to bundle up outside when it gets cold in the winter, doing so inside can also help save on your heating costs. If you are staying warm by wearing more clothes indoors, you can reduce the amount of energy needed to heat your home.
How to save energy at home during the winter:
- Turn down the heat during the winter to approximately 68 degrees
- Install a programmable thermostat to eliminate wasteful heating
- Reduce the energy you use heating water
- Install windows that keep heat in.
- Upgrade your HVAC system to meet proper ENERGY STAR certifications
- Weatherize and properly insulate your home to reduce wasteful heating
- Dress warmly inside of your home to reduce heating costs
How to save energy at home during the summer:
- Use your air conditioning less
- Install a programmable thermostat that will cool your home properly
- Install windows to retain conditioned air
- Insulate your home properly to not let cooler air escape
- Replace or clean your air filters regularly to reduce energy consumption in warmer months
Why conserve energy in the first place?
Energy conservation is important and beneficial for many reasons. You can save money, increase your property value, and protect the environment all through simple energy-saving measures. These are great benefits you can gain from saving energy no matter your exact motivation for conservation in the first place. By simply taking a small step towards living a more energy-conscious lifestyle, you can begin to enjoy all of the perks of being energy efficient.
Read more about the many benefits of energy efficiency and energy conservation.
Energy efficient products for your home
There are many different products you can purchase to improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce your overall energy consumption. Below are some examples of ways you can leverage renewable energy sources and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels:
- Solar panels can help you use available energy from the sun to power your home, so you can harness that energy to power your home.
- You can install solar batteries when you install solar panels, allowing you to store the extra solar energy your panels generate when the sun goes down as well as other benefits like increased energy savings.
- An alternative to having two different HVAC systems to heat and cool your home, air source heat pumps are a type of heating and cooling system that moves heat inside during the winter and outside during the summer.
Frequently asked questions
- What wastes the most electricity in the average household?
- An HVAC system uses the most energy of anything in the home. Heating and cooling use about half of your home's energy, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
- What is the average electric bill for a house and apartment?
- The average electric bill is $198 according to data from our nationwide EnergySage marketplace. It varies greatly depending on location and home size.
- Does unplugging things save money?
- Unplugging unused devices around your home can be an easy way to save 5-10% on your electricity bill, according the the U.S. Department of Energy.
- How can I save energy while at work?
- Installing a smart thermometer, insulating your home, and upgrading your HVAC system are all ways to save energy while you’re at work.
- Which month has the highest energy consumption?
- Electricity usage is typically highest during the summer months when homes and offices use air conditioning to stay cool.