You can save $1,500 with these 4 strategies
Most homes, including yours, waste energy. That inefficiency is costing you plenty, but it doesn't have to.
Even if you've already switched to compact fluorescent bulbs and retired the refrigerator in the basement, there's more you can do. Some of the simplest projects, such as adding insulation and sealing cracks and ductwork, can yield the biggest savings. And thanks to new federal tax credits, it will take less time for those projects to pay for themselves.
Yet in a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 2,014 Americans, only 12 percent had added or upgraded their home's insulation in the last three years. Just a paltry 5 percent had insulated their heating and cooling ductwork.
Conflicting and confusing claims can make it hard to know where the real savings are. So we've examined the claims across four key categories -- heating and cooling, water, recycling, and electricity -- and ordered them by potential money and energy savings based on national rates for electricity, gas, and water. We've also mined our survey data to figure out what consumers are doing and where there's room for improvement. The result is a road map for taking your home's energy efficiency to the next level.
1. Heating and Cooling
Annual Savings $550
Approximately 40 percent of residential energy bills are for heating and cooling. That's also where you can reap the greatest savings. In the winter, warm air inside your home rises and escapes into the attic through holes and gaps. It's replaced by colder exterior air that's pulled in through cracks and gaps in the lower levels. That leads to drafty, uncomfortable rooms and high energy bills, even in newer homes. "There's a huge gap between what's in the building code and what's needed for optimal energy efficiency," says Frank O'Brien-Bernini, chief sustainability officer for Owens Corning, an insulation manufacturer.
Use a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant, and weather stripping to fill gaps. Attics in particular are often full of holes from recessed lights, electrical wiring, chimney chases, and more. Look for dirty insulation, which is a sign of air leaks. In the basement, check for gaps around ductwork and plumbing pipes. And don't forget about window and door frames, as well as electrical outlets and switches. Cracked caulking and staining around those openings are indications of air leaks. One trick of the trade: Turn on all of the exhaust fans in the home and then use an incense stick or smoke pen to spot leaks. Or try that without the fans on a windy day.
Check Insulation Levels
If your attic has less than 11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose, you would probably benefit by adding more. Also check for missing insulation, over the attic hatch, for example. Compressed insulation loses its effectiveness, so don't store things on top of it. You may also need to add insulation in the basement or crawl space. Go to www.energysavers.gov and search for "ZIP code insulation program" to find specific recommendations for your area.
|Shades of Green|
|Here's a snapshot of those green measures that have been embraced and those that still have a ways to go. |
It's the last step, and the one that's the most overlooked. Spending $500 to seal leaky or poorly insulated ducts that run through crawl spaces, attics, or other unconditioned areas can save you about $400 per year, according to the Energy Efficient Rehab Advisor, an online calculator available at www.rehabadvisor.pathnet.org. Remediation is dirty work that requires the right materials. Leave it to a qualified heating and cooling pro.
A buttoned-up house won't leak energy, but you should still have your heating and cooling equipment inspected annually, and change furnace and A/C filters monthly. A programmable thermostat is also worth every penny. By automatically lowering your heating-system thermostat 5 to 10 degrees at night and during the day if no one is home, the device will shave up to 20 percent off of your heating costs. It can also save on cooling costs. In our survey, roughly six in ten respondents with a programmable model have seen savings. But you need to stick to those settings to save.
Easy, Low-Cost Solutions
Lock double-hung windows to prevent air from escaping. Open curtains on south-facing windows on cold days to let in the sun.
The Lux Smart Temp Touch Screen TX9000TS programmable thermostat, $80, was especially easy to operate and maintains steady temperatures. The screen on the $55 Hunter Set & Save 44360 was easier to read than most. Some tested thermostats were so difficult to use that you might end up using more energy.
2. Water Consumption
Dollar Savings $400
If you're not already aware of your household's water use, you will be soon. Almost four in five states anticipate water shortages by 2013, which could lead to steeper rates and penalties for excessive use. When it comes to showering and washing dishes and clothes, you're also paying to heat the water.
It's the fastest way to conserve, saving the average household about $70 a year. Next, upgrade to water-efficient fixtures. Low-flow showerheads can save as much as $265 per year on water bills. "A $30 showerhead can save more money than $3,000 worth of solar panels," says Charlie Szoradi, of Green and Save, a company based in Devon, Pa., that analyzes the payback of energy-efficiency projects. Switching to a low-flow toilet, which uses 1.28 gallons per flush compared with the 3.5 to 5 gallons of a 15-year-old or older model, can save $90. Also check for utility rebates.
Watch the Water Heater
Lower the temperature to 120° F and insulate your hot-water pipes. If your unit is more than a decade old, do your research now. That way you'll get a new unit that has a long warranty and is sized appropriately, not whatever's on the truck of the only plumber who calls you back when your old heater breaks.
Easy, Low-Cost Solutions
Insulate your water heater. Don't prerinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Add an aerator to faucets.
Kohler's Cimarron K-3609 toilet, $300, excelled in our solid and liquid tests and used 1.28 gallons per flush.
Our testers described the watersaving American Standard FlowWise Dual Function 1660.717 showerhead, $50, as refreshing and stimulating. The Moen Inspire 21777, also $50, used slightly more water but has more settings.