SIMPLE CHANGES IN YOUR HOME WILL LOWER YOUR POWER BILL AND MAKE THE WORLD HEALTHIER.
YOU TURN OFF LIGHTS YOU’RE NOT USING and try to keep the AC hovering near 78 degrees during the summer. That’s because you know these small actions will save you money and help the planet too. About 60 percent of our nation’s electricity is generated by burning coal and natural gas, which releases climate-changing pollutants into the atmosphere. Extreme weather events—like the catastrophic storms in Texas in February and record-breaking heat waves in California—are becoming more common, and they increase the stress on our nation’s power grids, says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Any demands we can take off the system will help keep the lights on in these situations, while also lessening the impact on the climate year-round.” To go the extra distance for yourself, your neighbors, and the environment, consider taking these easy energy-saving steps.
Get to Less
SWITCH OUT YOUR LIGHT BULBS
As recently as six years ago, the dominant eco-friendly alternative to incandescent bulbs was CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), but they cast a harsh light. Now the go-to greener swap is LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, which last upwards of 10 years, come in a range of warmths, and are dimmable and contain no mercury (not true of CFLs). Crucially, they can use up to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescents. “People have reduced their electric bills by 30 percent just by changing all their lighting to LEDs,” says Friday Apaliski, founder of Sustainability Concierge, a San Francisco–based company that helps clients green their homes. LED bulbs are measured in kelvins and lumens instead of watts (though watt equivalents are often marked on the packaging). Look for bulbs with a Kelvin temperature between 2,400 and 2,700 for a warm glow, and a lumen rating of 800 for a brightness akin to a 60-watt bulb.
LOWER WATER TEMPERATURES
Heating water is the second highest energy expense in your home (your HVAC tops the list), so try lowering the temperature of your water heater. “It’s often set by the manufacturer to 140 degrees, but most households only need it to be around 120 degrees,” says Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert in Bakersfield, California. “If your heater has a vacation mode, use it the next time you go away for added savings.” Also, on laundry day, choose the cold cycle. “Today’s detergents and washers are designed to operate optimally at cold-water settings,” Horowitz says. Even lowering the temp from hot to warm can slash the energy use of each load in half.
INVEST IN SMART TECHNOLOGY
Smart thermostats and plugs that you control from your phone keep you from wasting electricity when you leave the house without turning off the computer, raising the AC, or lowering the heat, Woroch says. “Some, like the Nest thermostat, can even sense when no one is home and adjust on their own,” she adds.
PURCHASE ECO-FRIENDLY ELECTRONICS AND APPLIANCES
When it’s time to buy a new refrigerator, TV, dishwasher, or other home product, get one that’s been awarded an Energy Star label. Though these models can sometimes be more expensive, their certification guarantees you’ll use less energy, saving you money in the long run. A typical household with Energy Star appliances can save $450 annually.
UNPLUG DEVICES YOU’RE NOT USING
Many items in your home, particularly those with clocks or little lights, use electricity even when turned off (often described as “vampire draw” or “phantom load”). Put them together and it adds up—to the tune of about $165 a year, an NRDC report found. Apaliski suggests buying separate power strips for things that need to stay on all the time (like your modem and router) and things that can be turned off fully, with a flick of the switch on the power strip, when no one is around (like your TV and gaming console).
IF YOU DO JUST ONE THING
Rely on natural light as much as possible, and buy only LEDs. There are more than 6 billion light sockets in the country, Horowitz says, so if everyone switched to LEDs, it would cut about 6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
If you can, harness the clean power of the sun (and help say goodbye to fossil fuels) by installing solar panels on your home. If that’s not possible, see if you can join a community solar project, says Nathanael Greene, senior renewable energy advocate at the NRDC. An estimated 90 million U.S. households are eligible. Programs vary, but generally you subscribe to a nearby solar farm, and your portion of the electricity generated there is credited to your electric bill.