15 energy saving strategies
Last updated 4/14/2022
What is energy conservation?
At its core, energy conservation is the practice of using less energy in order 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.
Energy conservation vs. energy efficiency
While energy conservation is the practice of 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.
15 ways to save energy and electricity
Here are 15 ways to start conserving energy yourself:
- 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
- Replace your air filters
- Use your microwave instead of your stove
- 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 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 an excessive amount of 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.
Although energy efficient bulbs are more expensive off the shelf, their efficient energy use and longer lifetimes mean that they cost less in the long run.
3. Use smart power strips
“Phantom loads,” or the electricity used by electronics when they are turned off or in standby mode, are a major source of energy waste. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of the energy used to power household electronics is consumed when they are switched off, which can cost you up to $200 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 programmable 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 programmable thermostat, you eliminate wasteful energy use from heating and cooling without upgrading your HVAC system.
On average, a programmable thermostat can save you $180 per year. Programmable thermostats come in different models that can be set to fit your weekly schedule. Additional features of programmable thermostats can include indicators for when to replace air filters or HVAC system problems, which also improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system.
5. Purchase energy efficient appliances
On average, appliances are responsible for roughly 13% of total household energy use. 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, their operating costs are often 9-25% lower than conventional models.
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 consume 25% less energy and 45% less water than conventional ones, whereas ENERGY STAR refrigerators use only 9% less energy.
6. Reduce your water heating expenses
Water heating is a major contributor to your total energy consumption. Other than purchasing an energy efficient water heater, there are three methods of reducing your water heating expenses: you can simply use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, or insulate your water heater and the first six feet of hot and cold water pipes.
If you are considering replacing your water heater with an efficient model, you should keep in mind two factors: the type of water heater that meets your needs and the type of 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. Efficient water heaters can be anywhere between 8% and 300% more energy efficient than a conventional storage water heater.
7. Install energy efficient windows
Windows are significant source of energy waste - they can add up to 10-25% of your total heating bill. To prevent heat loss through your windows, you can replace single-pane windows with double-pane products instead.
For homes in colder regions, gas-filled windows with “low-e” coatings can significantly reduce your heating expenses. In addition, interior or exterior storm windows can reduce unnecessary heat loss by 10 to 20 percent. You should especially consider storm windows if your region experiences frequent 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. Depending on where you live, ENERGY STAR windows can save you $20-$95 each year on your utility bills. 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.
8. Upgrade your HVAC system
An HVAC system is composed of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment. Heating alone is responsible for more than 40% of home energy use. Because homes in Northern regions are exposed to much colder temperatures during the year, ENERGY STAR gas furnaces have different specifications in the northern and southern halves of the United States.
Upgrading to a “U.S. South” ENERGY STAR certification can save you up to 12% on your heating bill, or an average of $36 per year. ENERGY STAR furnaces in the northern half of the U.S. are labeled with the standard ENERGY STAR logo and are up to 16% more energy efficient than baseline models. This translates to average savings of $94 per year on your heating bill in the Northern U.S.
Air conditioning, by comparison, isn’t a significant contributor to energy bills – on average, it only makes up six percent of the total energy use of your home. ENERGY STAR central air conditioning units are eight percent more efficient than conventional models. Air conditioning systems are usually integrated with heating systems, which means that you should purchase your new furnace and air conditioner at the same time in order to ensure that the air conditioner performs at its maximum rated energy efficiency.
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%.
9. Weatherize your home
Weatherizing, or sealing air leaks around your home, is a 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 recommended level of heat resistance, or “R-value,” for your insulation depends on where you live. In warmer climates, the recommended R-value is much lower than for buildings located in colder regions like the Northeast.
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. Use the Home Energy Saver tool for recommendations based on the specifications of your home, or find general regional recommendations on the Department of Energy’s webpage on insulation.
11. Wash your clothes in cold water
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, the majority of energy used during the clothes washing process goes towards warming water. There are many possible economic benefits to using cold water as well, with consumers potentially able to save more than $50 a year by reducing the temperature of their washing water by 15 degrees. There are even reports that washing in cold water can increase the lifespan of your clothes without damaging heat.
12. Replace your air filters
Many devices across your home use filters, including your HVAC system. These systems often come with displayed reminders to replace filters regularly. Doing so will not only help you avoid having to make costly repairs to your air conditioning but could also save money. In fact, The Department of Energy released a report saying that replacing dirty filters regularly can reduce household energy consumption up to 15%. This is because clean filters are more efficient and put less strain on your system.
13. Use your microwave instead of your stove
Along with other household chores, reheating food is a necessary and also energy-taxing process. Depending on your preference, a stove may preserve the flavor of food a little better. Independent of taste, however, there is evidence to suggest that a microwave is more energy efficient. The nature of a stove makes it prone to losing energy. A microwave, while using a lot of electricity, uses relatively short bursts of power for small amounts of time.
14. Use natural light
Lighting accounts for a significant amount of energy costs and using light from the sun is an intuitive way to reduce your energy consumption. If you can, it is better to have north and south-facing windows instead of east and west. 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, your heating system does not have to work as hard. This allows you to save money and use less energy.
How to save energy at home during the winter
- Adjust your behavior to turn down the heat during the winter
- 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
- Adjust your behavior to use 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 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.
Frequently asked questions
- What wastes the most electricity in the average household?
- An HVAC system uses the most energy of any appliance in the home. Heating alone is responsible for more than 40% of home energy use.
- What is the average electric bill for a house and apartment?
- The average electric bill for a 1 bedroom in the US is between $50-$100. This can vary based on size and electricity use.
- Does unplugging things save money?
- Unplugging unused devices around your home can be an easy way to save 5-10% on your electricity bill
- 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.