Helping the environment may give you more cash in the long run.
On the Road
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Americans spend more than $160 billion a year on energy. This energy -- used to heat, cool, light, and otherwise keep our homes running smoothly -- represents about 21 percent of the nation's total energy use. But our impact could be smaller. Take the time to implement even a few of the following energy-efficient improvements, and the results could cut your total energy consumption by up to 30 percent.
On the Road
- Drive safely -- and not just when baby's on board. Any aggressive driving (think speeding, rapid acceleration or hard braking) wastes gasoline, lowering your highway gas mileage by 33 percent and city mileage by 5 percent.
- Keep up with car maintenance. A clean air filter -- important because it keeps dirt and other foreign particles from entering the engine -- can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Properly inflated and aligned tires will improve gas mileage by 3 percent.
In the Home
- As much as 85 percent of the energy used for washing clothes goes toward heating the water. Switching the setting from hot to warm (cold for your colors) will cut a load's energy use in half.
- Quick fixes for your dryer: Clean the lint filter after every load to improve air circulation. Dry towels and heavier cottons separately from your lighter-weight clothes. Don't "over-dry" -- and if your machine has a moisture sensor (it automatically shuts off once the clothes are dry), use it.
- Regularly defrost your manual-defrost refrigerators and freezers. Don't allow more than one-quarter of an inch of frost to build up. Frost buildup decreases energy efficiency.
- Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make your fridge work harder.
- Replace all standard light bulbs (incandescent) with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs are more expensive but last 6 to 10 times longer.
- When shopping for appliances, think of any new purchase as having two price tags. The first and more obvious cost is the purchase price. The second? The cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime -- in other words, your monthly utility bill for that appliance (likely to last you for the next 10 to 20 years). On average, refrigerators last for 13 years, room air conditioners and dishwashers last for 11, and clothes washers last for about 9.
- Conduct home energy audits. If you're handy or someone in your family is a contractor, you can perform your own home energy audit to pinpoint problem areas. Look for holes or cracks in your walls and ceilings and around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and lighting and plumbing fixtures, to make sure air isn't leaking into or out of your home. Caulk inside and out where necessary. Make sure all appliances and your heating and cooling systems are still working properly. Old, worn-out equipment that doesn't function properly can lead to higher bills. Also consider using light controls, like dimmers or timers, to reduce your family's lighting-energy use.
- If you don't have the expertise for the job, you can also pay for a professional energy audit. An energy auditor should do a room-by-room examination of your home, as well as a thorough examination of past utility bills. To prepare for your appointment, make a list of any existing problems, such as condensation and uncomfortable or drafty rooms, and have a summary of your home's yearly energy bills available. Visit the Residential Energy Services Network (natresnet.org) to locate an auditor in your area.
- Enter your zip code into the Rebate Finder on the Energy Star Web site (energystar.gov) to find out about rebates and other offers in your area.
Heating and Cooling Your Home
- Water heating is the third largest energy expense in your home, typically accounting for about 13 percent of your utility bill, so lower the thermostat on your water heater. A setting of 120 degrees F. provides comfortably hot water for most uses.
- Install a programmable thermostat. Replacing the older, manual kind is an easy and inexpensive way to conserve energy, when used properly. Setting the thermostat to a lower temperature at night when everyone is snug in bed or during the day when kids are at school and parents are at work can save your family $150 a year or more depending on its settings.
- Take advantage of natural lighting to regulate the temperature in your home. Keep blinds closed during the summer, especially on those windows facing the sun, but open during the winter.
- Forget about shortcuts. Setting your air conditioner to run colder than normal when you first turn it on won't cool your home any faster. If anything, the lower setting will lead to excessive cooling and -- more chilling news -- higher bills.
- Buy an air conditioner that's the right size for the room. An air conditioner that's too big will perform less efficiently than a smaller, more appropriately sized unit. Room units work best running steadily over a longer time instead of constantly switching on and off, which is more likely to happen if the unit is too big for the space.
- Keep lamps and TVs away from your air conditioner's thermostat. It will sense the heat from these appliances, which could cause the AC to run longer than needed.
- Place your AC unit on the north side of your house and/or in the shade. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10 percent less electricity than one in the sun.
- Plant a tree on the sunny, or western, side of your house. The foliage will help to shade your house during summer.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of American Baby> magazine.