By BARBARA?E. RILEY, Ohio Department of Aging Director
The typical U.S. family spends about $1,900 a year on home utility bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Unfortunately, a large portion of that energy is wasted because of inefficiency. The best way to save money and increase energy efficiency is to have a home with an energy efficient furnace, appliances and windows, plus walls and an attic that are well insulated. If all that is not in your budget, there are small things you can do to lower your energy consumption without spending a lot.
Heating and cooling your home uses more energy than any other system in your home and typically accounts for 56 percent of your utility bill. A programmable thermostat, easily installed and with starting costs around $30, allows you to automatically adjust the temperature of your home when you are asleep or out of the house, saving you approximately $180 a year, according to the Energy Star program. Turn off kitchen, bath and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing - in just one hour, these fans can pull out a house full of warm air. Make sure registers, baseboard heaters and radiators are not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes. Fix all holes or cracks around your walls, windows, doors, lighting and plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets that can leak air.
Windows can account for 10 to 25 percent of your heating bill. You can help your current windows be more efficient by adding clear plastic film during cold winter months or installing storm windows, which can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent. Many retailers sell winterization kits, most starting around $6.00, that include plastic sheets to fit most windows. Installing insulating window shades or awnings also can help windows operate more efficiently.
Heating your water is the third largest energy expense in your home and accounts for approximately 12 percent of your utility bill. There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, insulate your water heater or buy a new, more efficient model.
Making improvements to your lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. An average household dedicates 11 percent of its energy budget to lighting. A compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will pay for itself in about 6 months and save about $30 over its lifetime. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.
Approximately 40 percent of the electricity that home electronics use is consumed while the products actually are turned off. The typical American home has 20 electrical appliances that use energy even when switched off in order to support features such as timers, clocks, memory and remote “on” and “off” switches. Satellite receivers for televisions and VCRs, among other appliances, use almost as much electricity when they are switched off as when they are on. Some of the biggest energy wasters are the adapters that come with rechargeable, battery-powered phones, power tools and other electronic devices. Most draw power whenever they are plugged into an outlet, regardless of whether the device battery is even connected.
Unplugging devices when they are not being used eliminates potential energy loss. To save the time and hassle of unplugging everything, plug them into a power strip or surge suppressor that can be turned off with a single switch. Also, choose the model that uses the least standby power when buying an appliance or electronic device. If standby power is not included on a given product label, check the U.S. Department of Energy’s online database of manufacturer-supplied information.
A simple way to save is to avoid buying products that include “bells and whistles” you don’t need. Those extra features might be fun and convenient, but they waste energy and cost you money.