Energy efficiency refers to ways of improving products or systems so that they require less energy to do the same amount of work. Increasing energy efficiency is one of the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective technological solutions for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and mitigating climate change.
Energy efficiency also makes economic sense: people and businesses can save money by reducing the amounting of electricity, heating, and cooling that they use. Energy efficient appliances, like those rated by Energy Star®, the EPA’s energy efficiency program, can save a lot of money. Home appliances like refrigerators and washing machines account for about 13% of all household energy costs. Even replacing just your washing machine saves an average of $45 per year. If your washing machine was manufactured before 2007, an Energy Star®-rated washing machine can save you $210 per year!
Here are some ways Green America recommends to increase your efficiency:
Optimize heating and air conditioning
The air conditioning and heating unit in your house can use up to one-half of total home energy consumption. Cutting your energy use here, therefore, is one of the most effective ways to reduce your home’s ecological footprint.
- Get an energy audit and shave 5-30% percent off your energy bill just by plugging air leaks. Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows, cover your air conditioner, shrink-wrap window glass, and install insulating shades to keep icy drafts out of your home in winter.
- Turn the thermostat or air conditioner down when you're away from the house. Programmable thermostats can store as many as six temperature settings per day, returning to pre-set schedules automatically.
- Open south-facing shades during the day, and close the curtains at night to make the most out of the sun's energy during winter. During the summer, close these shades during the day.
- Read our article: Buying the Best Appliances and check out the Energy Department’s page on appliances, including energy efficient home heating and cooling options.
Take the five lightbulb challenge!
In 2016, about 279 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors in the United States, about 10% of total energy use in those sectors. Most of that power is lighting incandescent bulbs, which are notoriously inefficient. In contrast, halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs)use 25-85% less energy and last 3-25 times longer. On top of saving energy, since they're so long-lasting, you'll save resources and landfill space. Plus, for every five CFLs you install, you'll keep 900 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Challenge yourself to replace at least five of your incandescent bulbs in your home with energy efficient bulbs. You won't just be doing the environment a service—you'll save up to $75 per year! Check out this page for ways to maximize the life of your bulbs.
Control “vampire” loads
Vampire loads is the term used for when appliances and electronics continue to draw electricity when they are turned off or on in standby mode. One way to reduce vampire loads is to unplug your electronics while they are not in use. Another way is to purchase an Advanced Power Strip (APS), which can save up to $100 per year!
Turn down (or replace!) your refrigerator
The refrigerator is the biggest energy consumer in most households—adding up to a quarter of an average home's energy use. You can save energy by ensuring that you don't keep your refrigerator below the recommended temperature setting of 35°-38°F for refrigerators and 0°-5° F for the freezer section. To test the temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water inside your refrigerator or freezer and take a reading after 24 hours. Also, make sure your seals are airtight, cover liquids foods stored in the refrigerator (uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder), and regularly defrost manual-defrost freezers and refrigerators.
You could also consider replacing your fridge with an Energy Star®-rated one, which saves an average of $144 and over 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over five years. If your fridge is from before the year 2001, those numbers go up to $349 and over 11,000 pounds of carbon dioxide! You can calculate your own individual savings using this calculator.
Maximize your dishwasher’s efficiency
Some dishwashers will allow you to turn down the internal temperature. Other recommendations include: use cold water only to rinse dishes before loading them if necessary; be sure your dishwasher is full, but not overloaded when you run it; and let your dishes air dry instead of running the drying cycle. The easiest way to reduce the use of your dishwasher is to try to use fewer dishes throughout the day.
Reduce the cost of cleaning your clothes
Despite popular misconception, washing your clothes with cold water will still get them clean, as well as create less wear and tear. Switching to cold water also reduces your carbon emissions by 600 pounds for every load.
Replacing just your washing machine saves an average of $45 per year. If your washing machine was manufactured before 2007, an Energy Star®-rated washing machine can save you $210 per year!
The second largest electricity-using appliance is your clothes dryer. Energy Star® does not rate clothes dryers because the amount of energy used from model to model varies little. The average dryer consumes about 88 kilowatt hours per month, with an average annual cost of $89 per year to operate (for a family of four). But you can set up more efficient ways to dry clothes, such as using an outdoor clothesline or an indoor drying rack.
- Visit the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings »
- Check out the US Department of Energy's EnergySavers Website »