During the long, cold slog from January to spring, it’s a time-honored tradition to stay inside, snuggle under blankets, and watch competing Fyre Festival documentaries back to back. But even though you’re relaxing, your abode is working hard to keep the lights on and the ambient temperature comfortable. The year’s first utility bill may have come as an unwelcome shock.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the average US home uses around 867 kilowatt hours per month, with the greatest share of that energy being spent on basic utilities like heating and lighting. Luckily, new smart home tech makes it possible to trim that usage. Read on for a few tips on how to improve your home’s energy efficiency, save money, and reduce your environmental footprint this year.
Step 1: Run The Numbers
The first step to reducing your energy use is finding out … how you’re using your energy.
If you need help, you can hire a local energy auditor or consult online tools that will walk through your home, take note of your lifestyle, and give you a list of personalized recommendations.
If you’re more of a DIY type, try a home energy monitor like the Sense. It slides into your breaker board, clamps around your mains, and reads the current one million times per second. The monitor then transmits the data to the Sense app via Bluetooth, which allows you to track your home’s energy usage in real time.
The Sense detects small changes in the magnitude, phase, and frequency of the current, and uses machine learning to guess what devices you have and how much energy they’re consuming (if the Sense is wrong, you can correct its guesses in the app). You can also plug in your electricity cost per kilowatt hour, get an estimation of your monthly electricity bill, and set goals to reduce it. Just like any habit-forming app or step-counting wearable, you can quickly course-correct if you see yourself failing in real-time.
The Wemo Insight Smart Plug is also an affordable little gadget that tells you how much energy things are using. Your utility provider may be able to help, too. Several of them have apps, such as DTE Insight, that help detect and monitor home energy usage.
Step 2: Work On Your Heating
Space heating is the second biggest energy-gobbler in US homes, right after space-cooling. You might not be able to convince yourself to turn the heat down while you’re taking your morning shower, but a smart thermostat like the Ecobee can help you make less painful adjustments.
“Smart thermostats use sensors to tell when you’re away, can learn your daily schedule and temperature preferences and even use local weather data to make energy-saving adjustments automatically,” says Katie Wallace, a spokesperson for the Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping residential and business customers use less energy. “Plus, you can control your smart thermostat from anywhere using a tablet or smartphone.”
Equipping your smart thermostat with sensors in different rooms can also help you save energy. The sensors let the thermostat automatically adjust to different conditions. For example, it could take advantage of passive solar heating in rooms with open, south-facing windows.
Insulation fixes will also help you trim your bill. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve already insulated your roof, caulked your windows, and checked your ductwork for leaks. But if those are out of your budget, small improvements like window films, or putting a rug down on an uninsulated floor, can also make a significant difference in how much energy it takes to heat a room.
Step 3: Shut Off Your Stuff, Smartly
Have you switched your bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs yet? If no, why not? Alternatively, you could skip that and get some smart Philips Hue bulbs that you can dim or turn off, even when you’re not at home.
If you have trouble remembering to turn off your bedside lamp or living room lights while running out the door in the morning, a smart plug like Belkin’s energy-conserving switch is an easy, affordable fix.
Smart plugs are also one of the easiest ways to reduce phantom load, which is the energy consumed by devices that you aren’t even using. Try to group devices that you use infrequently, like videogame consoles or stereo systems, onto a single power strip. That will make it easier to plug them into an Amazon smart plug, Wemo, or TP-Link Kasa to turn them off while you’re not using them.
Programs like Energy Star have ensured that bigger appliances, like dishwashers and microwaves, are much more energy efficient today than they were 10 years ago. But even if you don’t have plans to replace your decade-old television (if you do, we have a few TV suggestions here), there are a few ways to make your old appliances run more efficiently.
Step 4: Washing and Drying Tips
Most of a washing machine’s energy consumption is used to heat the water, so washing your clothes in cold water can make a big difference; if you’re worried about keeping your clothes clean, switch to a detergent that’s specially formulated for cold water. If your water heater and washing machine are older models, it might also be worth investing in a smart leak detector to save money from wasted water, and to keep them from dribbling all over the basement floor.
Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to save energy with a clothes dryer. If you’re disinclined to string up a clothesline, or you live in an area where that’s illegal, you might consider setting the dryer to an automatic cycle rather than a timed one, which will stop the dryer once the moisture sensors determine the laundry is dry.
Keeping the lint screen and dryer duct clean will also help the dryer run more efficiently, as will tossing in a few wool dryer balls to help agitate heavy sheets or towels. Remember, the best energy-efficient fixes are the ones that don’t require you to develop any new habits at all. Let your smart home do the work for you, while you get back to the important business of napping and dreaming about spring.