Quick: What’s the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint? If you said your car, you’re incorrect. For most of us, it’s our homes, with heating and cooling making up nearly 50% of energy usage.
Even if you’re not worried about climate change, energy efficiency should be on your radar. The average household spends $2,200 annually on energy bills; being more energy-efficient means lower bills and a more appealing home to buyers.
Luckily, you don’t need to get fancy to start saving money. Sure, solar panels and geothermal heating systems have great return on investment over the long haul, but they have expensive upfront costs. It’s easier and cheaper to begin with the low-hanging fruit.
From smartly situated shrubbery to cleaning your HVAC unit, here are 25 simple hacks that will help you start saving kilowatts — and Benjamins — fast.
1. Get a home energy audit
Hiring an auditor to do a simple checkup of your home helps determine where you might be losing energy — and money — and how to correct it. Many utility companies offer this service for free.
2. Mind the gaps
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the gaps around windows and doors in most houses are equivalent to having a 3-by-3-foot hole in your wall. Good insulation is the best measure for keeping cooled and heated air inside, but caulking and weatherstripping are the next best things. Heavy drapes and other window treatments can also help.
3. Purchase efficient appliances
When replacing appliances, look for Energy Star–certified models, which are held to higher standards of energy efficiency. Learn how to read EnergyGuide labels — and recognize that they aren’t the same thing.
4. Get programmable
Programmable and smart thermostats such as Nest help reduce energy costs by turning down the heat or air conditioning when you’re not around. Nest can learn your routine or recognize when you’re away; plus, you can adjust it anywhere from an app on your phone.
5. Clean vents
Clean HVAC vents and ducts regularly and replace filters according to manufacturers’ guidelines to keep them in peak running order.
6. Choose the right size
For in-window air conditioners, look for one designed to meet the needs of a room based on square footage. If it’s too big for the space, it’ll waste energy.
7. Turn it up … or down
If you must use air conditioning, turn it up 2 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Turn the heat down 2 degrees in winter.
8. Use fans smartly
Ceiling fans can work in conjunction with heating or cooling units (look for fans that reverse direction to push heat down in wintertime). However, they don’t change the temperature of a room, so turn them off when you’re out.
9. Try an evaporative cooler
Live in a dry climate? An evaporative, or swamp, cooler distributes cool moisture into the air using less energy.
Open windows across the room or house from each other to create cross-ventilation.
11. Get fired up
Fireplaces are cozy, but they allow air to escape — air you paid to heat. When the fireplace is not in use, be sure to close the damper. Better yet, consider a high-efficiency fireplace insert, or a wood-burning or pellet stove, which don’t allow air exchange between indoors and out.
12. Plant trees
Plant leafy trees on the south side of your home. In summer, they keep interiors shady, reducing utilities costs. In winter, with no leaves, they allow the sun to warm up rooms.
13. Install awnings
Overhangs and retractable awnings also help control the amount of sunlight that enters your house in summer and winter.
14. Plant shrubbery
Evergreen shrubs planted close to a foundation can add insulation value and protection from cold winds and high heat.
15. Go low-flow
After heating and cooling, water heaters account for the next highest energy use in most homes. Combat spending on hot water by taking shorter showers, but also by installing low-flow showerheads. Look for an aerating variety — they still have great pressure, but use air instead of water to deliver it.
16. Turn down the water heater
The factory setting on most water heaters is set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit — too hot for human skin. Turn yours down to 120 — it’s plenty hot and you’ll never again accidentally scald yourself.
17. Put on a jacket
Traditional water heaters keep a tank of hot water at the ready at all times. If your home has one of these, get a jacket for it. They’re available cheap at any home improvement store and help insulate the tank.
18. Go tankless
When it’s time to replace your water heater, look for a tankless or hybrid variety, which is much more efficient.
19. Launder efficiently
In general, use cold or warm water to do laundry, and do full loads. Hang your clothes to dry whenever possible.
20. Use the dishwasher
Here’s one tip that everyone will like: Using the dishwasher is more energy-efficient than washing by hand. Just be sure to do full loads.
21. Clean the fridge
Keep the vents and fan on your refrigerator clean, which allows it to function more efficiently.
22. Glow right
Compact fluorescent light bulbs are so 2004. Graduate to LEDs, which use a fraction of the energy, last longer, and provide better quality light.
23. Be bright
Install motion sensors, dimmers, and timers on lights; this is especially useful outdoors.
Up to 75% of electricity used to power household electronics is sent to them while they are turned off. Unplug those cords when your devices aren’t in use, or use smart power strips, which shut down power to products in standby mode.
25. Get smart
Upgrade to Internet-connected appliances that can be checked on from a smartphone or tablet, giving you remote access to all your devices to help you save energy. Bonus: You’ll never worry about leaving your curling iron on again.