For a simple list of actions, check out our Top 10 What Families Can Do list and post it on your bulletin board or refrigerator. Focus on one item each month to take action with your family!
Why Home Energy Efficiency Matters to Moms and Families
by Audrey Querns
I am an accidental home energy conservationist. My husband and I started making changes to our home because when I was pregnant with my second child, my super-sensitive pregnant lady nose noticed that my entire house smelled like a basement. I hired a home energy auditor to come check it out and learned that because our basement air ducts were so leaky, our furnace was pushing warmed basement air throughout the house. You know the air I’m talking about – filled with basement mold, fumes from old paint cans, and who knows what else. That’s the air my family was breathing upstairs. Ugh! Armed with instructions from the inspector and $20 worth of supplies from the hardware store, we sealed up the ducts in a couple of hours and now our house smells like kids and dogs…as it should. He gave us a list suggesting other improvements, primarily DIY projects, and now we are on our way to a home that is cheaper to heat, uses less water, has safer air, and is much cozier on cold winter days.
no time to read the entire article, go to the 10 easy actions list here
Why Take Action
Taking a few simple and inexpensive actions to increase your home’s energy efficiency can go a long way toward increasing the comfort and safety of your family’s home and saving money on your utility bills. Families spend thousands of dollars each year on heating and cooling their homes, heating their water, and running lights and appliances. Actions such as weatherproofing windows and doors, insulating pipes, crawl spaces, and attics, and changing the furnace filter can make a difference of hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year.
To get an estimate of just how much, try out this Home Energy Saver Tool. It uses your zip code and basic information about your home to suggest changes and the amount each change will cost and save you in a year. When I entered my 100-year-old Seattle home, it estimated that I could save $1,268 each year. When I entered information on the house in which I grew up in Indiana, it estimated a yearly savings of $2,206. That’s a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine trains!
Where to start?
How about with the cheapest and easiest actions that will provide the greatest impact. Here’s a breakdown of where our energy dollars are spent.
courtesy US Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2009
As you can see, keeping our homes a comfortable temperature is by far the greatest expense, followed by heating our water, running our appliances, and lighting our spaces.
Making Your Home More Energy Efficient Can Effect Climate Change
Before I started working on my home’s energy efficiency, I was sure that cars were the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S., but I’ve learned that the main source of direct CO2 emissions is from the burning of natural gas and oil for heating and cooling residential and commercial buildings. Transportation comes in second. The average home causes the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the average car.
The beauty of making changes to improve your home’s energy efficiency is that many of the changes do not involve a dramatic altering of your behavior and habits. For example, the impact of changing your water heater temperature or sealing your windows is simple and permanent: set it and forget it. Yet, you will be saving hundreds of pounds in CO2 emissions.
There are so many voices out there telling us how to “green” our homes – home magazines, our utility company, companies trying to sell us their products. Many of the ideas are great. Some are not. Only you and your family can decide what fits in your budget and what you are capable of accomplishing yourself, and it can be a daunting process. Fortunately, many of the cheapest and easiest actions also have big payoffs in your utility bills and in reducing your family’s carbon footprint. It’s okay if you are not in a position to install solar panels on your rooftop. The return on investment of a programmable thermostat is actually more impressive.
10 easy actions...
your family can do and most of them free or under $100. Also included are some numbers to illustrate impact on your utility bills and CO2 emissions, suggested resources to learn how to do it yourself whenever applicable, and a few ideas for how you can get your kids involved.
Reset Your Thermostat
Why: For each degree you lower your thermostat, your energy consumption drops by 2%, so putting on a sweater and lowering the temp by 2° can save you $125/year. For even bigger savings, lowering the temperature from 72° to 60° for eight hours (while sleeping or when everyone is out of the house during the day) saves 12% on your annual heating bill.
How to get it done: If you have a manual thermostat, just get into the habit of turning it down when you are leaving the house in the morning and before bedtime. If you have forced air heat, you can heat the house back up in a matter of minutes when you get home. A programmable thermostat may be set to change at regular times. If you do not have the thermostat’s manual, check the manufacturer’s website for instructions on how to program it.
Cost to you: Free, if you manually change it or already have a programmable thermostat. Good programmable thermostats can be purchased for $30-$120.
$ Savings: $125/year or more
CO2 Savings: Heating and cooling systems in the United States together emit 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, adding to global climate change
Family activity: If you have a manual thermostat, this is a great chore for your elementary-age child. He or she can turn it down at bedtime and turn it back up in the morning.
Experiment with what is comfortable for your family. We like to sleep with our house at 60 degrees, and then turn it up to 68 degrees in the day.
Replace 5 Light Bulbs with CFLs
Why: Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are 4 times more energy efficient and last 10 times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs. CFL technology has improved in the last couple years. They now illuminate immediately without a flicker or buzz. These are not your mother’s CFL bulbs.
How to get it done: Choose the 5 most-used lights in your home, and figure out which type of bulb you need (e.g. 3-way for lamps, dimmable for the dining room). Check the package to figure out the right wattage (e.g. a 60-watt standard bulb is usually replaced with a 13 watt CFL bulb). Because of the small amounts of mercury in CFL bulbs, they do have to be recycled as hazardous waste. Hardware stores such as Lowes and Home Depot offer CFL recycling. To find the CFL recycling drop-off closest to you, check here. To bust the myths and get the facts about CFLs go here.
Cost to you: $2-$20 per bulb
$ Savings: Replacing your 5 most-used bulbs will save about $60/year.
CO2 Savings: If every household in the US replaced just 1 standard bulb, we would prevent CO2 emissions equivalent to 800,000 cars annually.
Family activity: A young child will enjoy going around the house finding and counting all the light bulbs. The average house has 45. An older child may actually be able to do a study to help you figure out which bulbs you use the most, and thus should be replaced first.
Use Cold Water for Laundry
Why: When you wash clothes in hot water, 90% of the energy used goes to heating the water. It also causes your clothes to wear out faster.
How to get it done: Unless you’re dealing with oily stains, cold water will work just as well. Try a cold-water detergent. When you need to sanitize clothes, a natural disinfectant such as vinegar may be used or make your own using some of these tips.
Cost to you: Free
$ Savings: $70/year on energy bill
CO2 Savings: Seventh Generation has a tool to figure out how much money and CO2 you can save switching to cold water.
Family activity: While you are thinking laundry, did you know you might be washing your clothes too often? Could your kids wear their pajamas one more time before they go into the laundry bin? Won’t those expensive jeans you splurged on hold their color better if you don’t wash them so often? Real Simple Magazine has a great guide to how often different items need to be laundered. Who doesn’t want to do less laundry?
Lower Your Water Heater to 120°F or Below
Why: On average, 14% of our energy bill is spent on heating water. Moreover, the standard 140° F can scald skin – especially dangerous for children and the elderly. Setting your water heater to 120° F or below saves money and makes your home safer.
How to get it done: If you have never adjusted your water heater, here are step-by-step instructions for gas and electric heaters. You can also find video instructions on YouTube . While you are adjusting your heater, touch the outside of your heater, if it is warm to the touch, you should consider investing in a water heater insulation kit to trap heat and lower the water heating bill. Tip: You will need to know how many gallons your water heater holds.
Cost to you: Free to lower temperature. $15 for water heater insulation kit
$ Savings: Lowering water temperature by 20° F saves 6-10%. Adding an insulation blanket can also save 10%.
Seal Leaks Around Doors and Windows
Why: Because your home may be losing up to 20% of its heat through leaks in windows and doors, this may be the project with the biggest bang for your buck. Sealing leaks with caulk and weather stripping also makes your home warmer and more durable.
Cost to you: A tube of caulk is $4-$7. Weather stripping tape is $3-$5 per roll.
$ Savings: Knock up to 20% off of your utility bill!
Family activity: Have your child help you find the leaks in your house by holding a ribbon or, if they are older, a burning incense stick up to the edges of doors and windows. If the ribbon or smoke moves, they have found a leak that needs to be sealed.
Insulate Water Pipes
Why: Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2°F–4°F hotter than non-insulated pipes can deliver. You can then lower your water temperature due to this captured heat. You also won't have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or showerhead, which helps conserve water.
How to get it done: Insulate all accessible hot water pipes, especially within 3 feet of the water heater. It's also a good idea to insulate the cold water pipes for the first 3 feet. Here is a video on YouTube to help you get started.
Cost to you: Pipe insulation wrap or foam costs from $3 to $9.
Change Your Furnace Filter
Why: Changing your furnace filter every 1-2 months while it is in use helps the heating system run more efficiently and last longer. Clean filters also do a better job of trapping dust, mold, pollen, and other pollutants that are in your home’s air.
How to get it done: Buy filters by the case to save money and label them with the months you intend to use them. Change the filter every 1-2 months in winter or year-round if you have air-conditioning.
Cost to you: $6 and up per filter
Eliminate Vampire Power
Why: Many of our household appliances, are never fully switched off, but spend most of the time in a standby mode. Even though we are not using them, they use energy to power functions lights and remote sensors. The clever new name for this energy suck is vampire power. It can account for as much as 10% of a home’s energy consumption. Think about everything that leaves some kind of light on when you’re not using it: TV, DVD player, computers, video game systems, charging cell phones, e-readers, and iPads, even your electric toothbrush.
How to get it done: Unplug your devices when not in use. Make sure you are using the real on/off switch, not a stand-by switch. Buy a “smart” power switch for the devices you charge such as your laptop, cell phone, and iPod. These will automatically turn off once your devices are fully charged. iGo and Belkin both make these. Also use a Kill A Watt* to assess your appliances and their efficiency plugged in.
Cost to you: Unplugging is free. The “smart” power strips cost $30.
$ Savings: The Vampire Sucks website will estimate the money that you spend on vampire power each year. My households total was $80/year.
Family activity: Since kids are often big users of household electronics, they should certainly be responsible for preventing vampire power. Let them know they need to unplug video games and computers when not in use.
Install Low-Flow Showerheads and Faucet Aerators
Why: Water uses your home’s energy when it is heated, but it also uses energy before it gets to your home during its production, treatment, and distribution. Municipal water and wastewater systems consume about 4% of all electricity in the United States. According to the US EPA, this is enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year. For an idea of what this means for an individual consumer, letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours. Installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators can reduce your water usage by many thousands of gallons each year.
How to get it done: You can find low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators at any hardware store. Starting in 2010, these high-efficiency showerheads will carry the EPA WaterSense logo, making them easy to identify. Low-flow showerheads have a flow rate of less than 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm), but most homes only need a 1.5 gpm shower head. The flow rate should be listed on the box. Every shower you take will use 25% less water and energy if you opt for a 1.5 gpm shower head over a 2.0 gpm model.
Cost to you: Low-flow showerhead is $5-$50. A faucet aerators is $2.25.
$ Savings: The EPA WaterSense calculator will estimate the money you can save in both water and energy bills by installing low-flow faucets and shower heads. My household estimate was $67/year.
Family activity: Kids can figure out how much water they can save by turning it off while they brush their teeth. Place a bucket under the running faucet. Brush your teeth. That’s how much water is wasted if they leave it running. Also, let kids use a timer to see if they can take a shower in 5 minutes or less. Oh and yes, moms and dads can take a shorter shower as well!
Get a Home Energy Audit
Why: A certified home energy auditor will analyze your energy bills and examine your house room-by-room, basement to attic, and perform tests to assess leakiness, insulation level, and heating efficiency. They may also check air quality and the efficiency of your water, lighting, and appliances. The auditor will then provide you with a report with suggested energy improvements, their estimated costs, and their potential for energy and climate impact reduction.
How to get it done: Many local governments and utility companies provide lists of certified home energy auditors. Some may even send their own auditors. Check with your local utility to see if they list recommendations. You may also visit the Residential Energy Service Network to find a certified auditor.
Cost to you: Many local governments and utilities offer free or reduced prices on energy audits. For example, Seattle City Light offers a complete energy audit for $95. Without reduced pricing or rebates, a thorough audit can cost up to $300.
$ Savings: Once you make all the improvements suggested by an auditor, you can expect to save an average of 20% on your energy bill each year.
Family activity: You can also perform your own on-line home energy audit, for free and in your pajamas. Home energy calculators take anywhere from 2 minutes to a half hour to input details about your home, the calculator will then make recommendations for improvements based on those answers, your climate, and local energy prices. I have done both: hired a home energy auditor and used the on-line calculators. While I appreciated the customization of having an auditor assess my house, about 60% of the recommendations on his list were also made by the on-line calculators. Here are a couple websites to try:
Home Energy Saver Created for the US Department of Energy.
Microsoft Hohm Asks for great detail, but gives back highly customized recommendations.