Article By Sean Rosner of Mother Earth News

These days, it’s more of a win-win than ever to save on energy. Every time you lower your utility bills, you put more money back into your bank account. And lower energy bills also mean less energy consumed, which means less harmful emissions released into our environment. And what makes this an even better deal is you don’t have to overhaul your home (or buy a new one) to make it more energy efficient. There are many easy, effective things that you can do, with little investment and little or no DIY experience, to save energy at home. Here’s a list of 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Minimize Phantom Loads

The term “phantom load” refers to the energy that an appliance or an electronic device consumes when it is not actually turned on. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “In the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.” A report from the University of California Berkeley says that phantom loads account for about 6 percent of all national residential electricity consumption. You can eliminate phantom loads by unplugging appliances and electronics when you are not using them, or by plugging them into a power strip, and turning the strip off when they are not in use. For more information, see Save Energy, Eliminate Phantom Loads.

2. Use More Energy-efficient Appliances

If you are shopping for new appliances, make sure to look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label before making a purchase. Energy Star appliances use between 10 and 50 percent less energy and water than their conventional counterparts. They may cost more than appliances without the Energy Star designation, but in most cases, they will more than make up that additional cost through energy savings.

3. Change Your Light Bulbs

One of the least expensive and most effective changes you can make in your home is replacing your light bulbs. According to Energy Star, one of its qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which cost just a few dollars, “will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.” Although some people are concerned because CFLs contain mercury, Energy Star says that CFLs do not release any mercury when in use, and actually, reduce mercury emissions because they lessen the need for electricity from power plants that emit mercury. Learn more at Energy Star’s CFLs and Mercury page. For more energy-efficient lighting, see Bright Ideas for Home Lighting or the Energy Star CFL page.

4. Install a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats work by automatically adjusting your home’s temperature to your schedule, keeping it comfortable only when you need it to be. If you don’t already adjust your thermostat throughout the day, a programmable thermostat could save you as much as 15 percent on heating and cooling costs. For more information on programmable thermostats, including a step-by-step guide to installing one, check out How to Install a Programmable Thermostat.

5. Use Fans for Cooling

In the summer, use stationary, ceiling, and whole-house fans to cool your home, reducing the need for air conditioning. Simple Ways to Cool Your Home and Save Big explains that for every degree you raise your thermostat, you reduce your cooling costs between 7 and 10 percent.

6. Seal Air Leaks

In addition to thinking about whether your home has enough insulation, you should also look for any small cracks and gaps where the air is leaking into and out of your home. Energy Star says that between improving insulation and sealing leaks, homeowners could potentially save 10 percent on their annual energy bill. The article Leak-proof Your House and Save suggests that the first step in sealing a house is to tackle windows and doors. If searching for leaks sounds like a daunting task, you can hire an energy auditor to assess your house and find problem areas.

7. Make Windows More Efficient

Even if you seal windows well, window glass is a thin barrier against outside temperatures. If you can afford it, install new storm windows in your home. How to Make Your Home Energy Efficient explains that storm windows reduce temperature loss by sealing leaks and creating a dead airspace between window panes. Though installation is expensive ($8,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on a variety of factors), storm windows have a relatively short return on investment (about 10 years).

If you can’t install new storm windows, there are other simple and inexpensive ways to improve the energy efficiency of your windows. You can cover windows with transparent material to improve insulation. Energy guru Gary Reysa recommends using bubble wrap for this and estimates that it can reduce heat loss from a window by half. Check out Save Energy with Winter Window Treatments for other ways to make your windows more efficient, including using insulated shades and window quilts.

8. Improve Insulation

The Energy Star program estimates that more than 50 percent of a home’s energy use goes toward heating and cooling. Beefing up the insulation in your house’s attic, walls, floors and ceilings slows the flow of air between inside and outside, making it easier to control your home’s temperature. The easiest place to add insulation to your home is the attic. You can find out how much insulation you have in your attic — and how much you can add — in How to Insulate Your Attic and Save Money Year-round.

9. Conserve Water

Using less water will lower your water bill. And when you use less hot water, you’ll also see savings in your gas bill, or your electric bill if you have an electric water heater. According to DOE, water heating is the third most energy-consuming function in the home. To cut down on water use, take faster showers and be conscious of the water you use when washing dishes and clothes and preparing food. You can also save energy by lowering your hot water temperature. According to DOE, a water thermostat setting of 120 degrees is sufficient for most uses. If you want more water-efficient fixtures and appliances, refer to the EPA’s WaterSense program when buying a new faucet or showerhead. See Save Money on Water for more on the WaterSense program, or the DOE site on Water Heating.

10. Plant Trees and Shrubs

Planting shade trees around your home can lower your summer energy bill by reducing your home’s exposure to the sun. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which operates a program that gives free trees to its customers, says that properly placed trees can cut your summer electric bill by up to 40 percent. Energy savings from a tree varies greatly depending on its size and location in relation to your house. Planting shrubs and bushes around your home can improve insulation in the summer and winter. DOE says that if they are planted 1 foot away from your home, they create a dead airspace that shields you against cold or hot outdoor temperatures.

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