Easy and inexpensive ideas for conserving energy

January 06, 2011|Lynn Little

All of us have been affected by rising energy costs and a growing concern that we need to start living a more sustainable lifestyle. A great place to start is by reducing energy use in your home. There are a number of easy and inexpensive ways to conserve energy in your home and keep some money in your pocket.  

Control the thermostat. Controlling your thermostat at energy-efficient temperatures is one of the easiest ways to reduce energy use and cut costs. A recommended temperature setting is 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees when you are sleeping or away from home. You can save about 1 percent of your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat.

Lower water temperature. Your hot water is probably hotter than you need. Most water heaters are set at 140 degrees. By turning the temperature down to 120 degrees (medium setting on a gas heater dial), you can reduce your water heating costs 6 percent to 10 percent. Many electric heaters have both an upper and a lower thermostat; both will need to be adjusted.  

Insulate water heater. Wrapping your water heater tank in a blanket of insulation can reduce heat loss 25 percent to 45 percent, resulting in a savings on your water heating bill. Read and carefully follow the installation directions for the insulation wrap or jacket. It is especially important not to block air intakes and exhaust vents on gas models, and thermostat access panels on electric heaters with the insulation wrap. Insulation wraps and jackets work well for older water heaters and those located in unheated areas. An insulation wrap might not be recommended for newer water heaters that are already well insulated, so check the water heater manual.

Plug leaks. You can reduce your home’s heat loss quickly and easily with inexpensive materials. Every leak you plug means fewer drafts and lower heating bills.

— To reduce air leakage under exterior doors, buy an inexpensive door sweep.

— If your door leaks around the entire frame, install foam weather-stripping with adhesive backing between the door and the frame.

— If you have a fireplace that gets little use and does not have a door, make sure the damper is closed and the opening is sealed. Cardboard and tape can effectively do the job.

— Use caulk to seal along the basement sill plate and around door and window frames.

— Seal small holes around water pipes and stuff or spray insulation into larger holes around plumbing fixtures.

— Heat also leaks out of light switches and electrical outlets. Inexpensive foam gaskets that fit behind the cover plates easily solve this problem.

Seal air leaks around windows. Use clear weather-strip tape along the gap where glass meets the frame and seal any cracks. On double-hung windows, tape over the pulley hole and use rope caulk between the upper and lower windows. Adding another layer of glass or plastic creates a dead air space, and trapped air is a good insulator. This is especially important if you currently have single-pane windows. Plastic film window kits are the lowest-cost option and can be easily installed on the inside of your existing windows. Be sure the air space is at least 1/2 inch and not more than 4 inches. Once you have sealed air leaks around your windows, you can double their insulating value by installing storm windows.

Clean or replace furnace filter. All forced air furnaces have filters that keep dust and dirt from blowing into your house. If they are not periodically cleaned or replaced, dirty filters can greatly affect the furnace’s heating ability and waste energy. Some filters are disposable, while others can be washed and reused. Do not reuse disposable filters. A new filter can often be purchased at a low cost. Clean or replace your furnace filter(s) every one to three months during the heating season.

Use a low-flow showerhead. A standard showerhead sprays you with up to 8 gallons per minute of warm water. Replacing it with a good-quality low-flow showerhead allows you to use only 1 to 2 gallons of water per minute. Low-flow showerheads quickly pay for themselves by reducing water consumption and energy used to heat the water.

Wash with cold water. Water heating accounts for about 90 percent of the energy used by washing machines. Washing in hot water costs 20 to 40 cents per load and is unnecessary, except for special loads such as diapers or stained clothes. Wash clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents, and be sure to wash full loads whenever possible. You might also hang wet clothes on an indoor or outdoor clothesline to save dryer electricity.

Watch appliances. Refrigerators cost $5 to $8 per month to operate and account for 6 percent of your home’s total energy use. To keep out warm room air, keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible. It also helps to regularly clean dust out of the coils and to minimize freezer ice build-up. Keep the refrigerator compartment at 35 to 40 degrees and the freezer compartment at zero to 5 degrees. Keep a stand-alone freezer set at zero degrees. Having a refrigerator with automatic moisture control can also help keep energy use down.

Replace light bulbs. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent lamps (CFLs), especially in frequently used light fixtures. CFLs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs; however, they last longer, use less energy and produce less heat for the same amount of light. CFLs reduce your energy use and costs, and quickly pay for themselves.

Other energy-saving ideas include cooking small meals in a microwave rather than on your stove; turning off your TV or computer when not in use; using a switchable power strip to prevent “ghost loads” that draw electricity even when appliances are off; running the dishwasher only with a full load and air-drying your dishes. When the time comes to purchase a new appliance, make sure it is Energy Star rated.

There are many easy and inexpensive home energy ideas that can help you save on your energy bill and in the process, conserve natural resources. For more energy conservation information and ideas visit:  

— Energy Star,

— Online home energy audit,

— U.S. Department of Energy,;

— PowerSmart:

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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