When it comes to being earth-friendly, there are few things that make a bigger impact than your home. And improving energy conservation in your home can help you conserve in other ways, too -- namely your pocketbook.
Energy conservation in your home isn't hard, and there are lots of choices to choose from—which can be overwhelming. Some home energy conservation ideas are more expensive and involved, while others take just a few minutes and cost little. Here's a guide to six of the top ways to help you on the path toward conserving energy in your home.
Inexpensive: Check your windows. Hot or cold air leaking out of windows can make you miserable in temperature extremes and take a big chunk out of your utility budget, too. Close all windows and doors during the day in summer, locking windows to eliminate leaks and shutting any curtains or shades to stop heat gain. During wintertime, reduce the cold flowing in with DIY plastic sheet insulator kits that seal your windows. Also, make sure windows aren't leaky; hold a candle near closed windows on a windy day to see if the flame flickers. If it does, check that storm windows are installed properly and that caulk isn't broken or cracked.
Expensive: Replace your windows to improve energy conservation in your home. New windows can improve insulation and lessen heat transfer, as well as keep out summer heat. And, Energy Star-qualified windows can save the typical household $125-$450 per year in energy costs over single-pane windows and $25-$110 per year over double-pane clear-glass windows, according to the EPA.
Inexpensive: Reduce your appliance load. If you generate heat inside in the warm summer months, it will be harder to keep your house cool. Cook outside if you can, and run appliances such as the washer, dryer, and dishwasher first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.
Expensive: Replace inefficient appliances. The Energy Star program identifies eco-friendly items on everything from lighting to stoves. Just swapping one utility-hogging piece can save big: An Energy Star-certified fridge, for example, must use at least 15 percent less energy than a noncertified model.
Inexpensive: Turn your thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, and use fans strategically. During summertime, keep your air conditioning set at 78 degrees F. In wintertime, turn it to 68 degrees F (and lower when you're sleeping or at work). Translation: A thermostat that's turned down 10 degrees for eight hours equals savings of 5-15 percent a year on a heating bill. Ceiling fans can be used to blow air down during summertime and draw it up in winter. Box fans will help move air across rooms.
More expensive: Install a programmable thermostat. Proper use of a newer thermostat will trim energy costs by about $100 a year. Also, schedule annual maintenance on your heating and cooling system, and replace the air filter as needed.
Inexpensive: Stop small air leaks around your house. 1. Doors: Do they close tightly? If not, hinges might be loose or the weather stripping might need to be replaced. 2. Foundation: Are there cracks? Try a foam sealant to fill them. 3. Water pipes: Insulation tape or perforated plastic foam around pipes in unheated spaces will keep them from freezing and save energy. 4. Chimney: Have it inspected to ensure that the flue seal is good.
Expensive: Make sure that spots such as the attic are insulated between joints. If you are working on a project on the exterior of your home, think about a house wrap or updated insulation to better manage interior temperatures.
Inexpensive: Track your rainfall, and supplement by watering early in the morning or late at night. Watering your plants during the day leads to quick moisture evaporation, depriving your plants of needed irrigation and boosting your water bill.
Expensive: Plant trees and install an automated sprinkler system. Mature trees on the south and west sides of your house can help to block the sun's most intense rays from reaching inside your home. And, an automated watering system can help to better time your water usage.
To go all out in conserving energy in your home, try geothermal. These systems bury pipes filled with liquid; during warmer months the system pulls the warm air out of your house and in winter it goes in reverse. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, geothermal systems save homeowners 20-50 percent in cooling costs and 30-70 percent in heating costs compared with conventional systems.