As people continue to spend more time at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19, residential energy use has been rising in the United States and so have electric bills: By mid-April, one in five households already reported seeing an increase in their energy costs. The start of summer is likely to magnify this trend with hot weather causing the highest electricity demand of the year in many regions as air conditioners flip on.
With so much on our minds these days, the last thing anyone needs is a skyrocketing utility bill to add to their concerns. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to offset these costs by tapping into the nation’s largest and cheapest option to meet our energy needs: efficiency. A typical American household can lower its utility bill by up to 25% between habit changes and energy-conscious upgrades. Here are 15 quick tips for smarter energy use to get you started.
Beat the heat
With many movie theaters, community centers, malls, and other go-to destinations for escaping the heat still closed, you might be tempted to crank up your home’s AC. Try to resist the urge: By far the largest expense on a typical household’s energy bill is heating and cooling, comprising about 42% of annual costs. Thankfully, a few simple adjustments can result in real savings:
- Tweak your settings. Minimizing the difference between the outdoor and indoor temperature of your home will help to minimize your energy bill. And before you go to bed, make sure you turn the dial up: Raising the temperature by 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day from your go-to setting can put you on track for HVAC cost savings as high as 10%.
- Have a little patience. A common misconception is that turning your thermostat way down when you first turn it on will cool your space faster—in reality, you’re only going to lower the temperature more than needed, resulting in unnecessary costs.
- Maintain your AC. You might not look at your AC unit much as long as it keeps the cool air coming, but by simply cleaning or replacing a clogged filter, you can reduce your unit’s energy consumption by 5-15%.
- Keep the heat out. It’s hot enough outside without bringing the heat in—use your heat-generating appliances (such as your dishwasher, or clothes washer and dryer) at cooler times of the day, such as early in the morning or at night.
- Supplement or substitute with a fan. Turning on a ceiling fan will let you raise your thermostat temperature by 4°F without noticing any difference in comfort. Also experiment with using a floor fan before turning on AC—you might be surprised at how effective it is, and it will use about a sixth of the energy.
Make efficient use of electronics
We already lived in a digitalized world, but for many of us, COVID-19 just about shifted our entire lives online. Between teleworking, virtual happy hours, and keeping up with the news, your devices are probably getting more of a workout than usual. A few behavior changes or smart investments, however, can easily minimize electricity bill increases:
- Keep your electronics’ “vampire” side in check. A vampire load is the power used by plugged-in electronics (including computers, cellphones, TVs, and coffee makers) even when they are turned off, which can add up to $200 in yearly energy costs for the average home. Unplug your devices when they’re not in use or charging, or purchase an advanced power strip, which will automatically turn off the power supply to devices not in use.
- Be an efficient gamer. Did you know that video game consoles can use up to 20 times more energy for streaming than a smart TV? Use game consoles for gaming but another device for TV shows or movies to keep your energy use in check, and make sure to turn your console off when not in use.
- Investigate your computer’s energy rating. Laptops use significantly less energy than desktop computers, and if you’re considering a home office upgrade, keep in mind that ENERGY STAR® computers use up to 65% less energy.
- Use your printer wisely. Modern technology minimizes the need for an advanced home printer or copier, so save energy and paper by signing documents and reading reports online. When you do have to print, keep in mind that ink jet printers use less energy than laser models, and make sure your printer is going into sleep mode when not in use.
Save water to save energy
Water and energy efficiency are closely connected, so conscious water use helps to conserve two resources. To offset any extra usage from all that handwashing to avoid COVID-19 (remember to sing through “Happy Birthday” twice!), try out these tips:
- Optimize your laundry. Doing laundry less often will save energy, water, your clothes, and your time. When you do have to run a load, make sure it’s at full capacity (but not overloaded), and take advantage of sunny days to air-dry. If you have to use a dryer, make sure the filter is clean and run loads consecutively to take advantage of residual heat.
- Make washing dishes easy. Dishwashers are actually very efficient, using around 20 gallons less water than handwashing a load. And with modern dishwashers, there’s no need to pre-wash: simply scrape food off before placing dishes in the machine.
- Be good to your garden. Whether you’re a lifelong gardener or just picked up a new hobby while at home, make sure to reduce water waste by watering in cooler parts of the day to minimize evaporation. Also try to concentrate water near the base of plants, rather than misting your whole backyard or patio.
Start a project
Let’s be honest, with so much closed down, many of us have a little more time on our hands than we’re used to. Consider using this time to retrofit your home to make it as efficient as possible—it will provide you with significant savings for years to come. Here are few DYI projects you can add to your summer schedule:
- Seal the deal. Did you know that if you add up all the gaps around the windows and doors in an average U.S. house, you’d have the equivalent of a 3-foot by 3-foot hole in the wall? Check out a list from the U.S. Department of Energy on common problem spots, then grab a tube of caulk to prevent cool air from escaping.
- Keep it light. Energy-efficient LED lightbulbs can use up to 80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, resulting in cost savings of around $75 a year. Look for ENERGY STAR products and see if this is the summer you finally answer how many stuck-at-home families it takes to change a lightbulb.
- Dial it down. Your water heater is easily forgotten, especially in the summer months, but even in a dark basement corner, it’s using up energy. Some thermostats are automatically set to 140ºF even though most households only require them at 120ºF. Take a moment to turn down the heater, then prepare for winter by insulating it with a pre-cut jacket to reduce heat losses by up to 45%.
This may not be the summer that anyone anticipated, but we hope you’ll still find ways to enjoy the season. And by the time Energy Efficiency Day rolls around in October, you might just be better prepared than ever before.