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 amount 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 with an Energy Star® rated machine can save $360 over the lifetime of the product.
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 uses an estimated 40-50% of all energy costs. 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. Simple fixes like 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 Energy Efficient Appliances to discover the best options for efficient home appliances.
Take the five lightbulb challenge!
In 2021, 4% of electricity use in the US went to lighting our homes. Commercial buildings, like retail, institutions, and public street lighting used about 11% of the US electricity budget that same year. Many of those bulbs are incandescent, which are energy inefficient.
In contrast, light emitting diodes (LEDs) use 90% less energy and last 25 times longer. On top of saving energy, since they're so long-lasting, you'll save resources and landfill space. 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 $225 a year in energy costs.
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.
TVs pull the most energy when turned off. Try a smart or advanced power strip, which stops energy flow to plugged in appliances when not in use. It can cut your electric use 20-48%, saving you money in the long run.
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.
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.
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 footprint by 10%. Most of the energy in the washing machine goes to heating the water!
Dryers use an egregious amount of electricity, and they're not even necessary household appliances when the sun is right there. While it's not always perfect for all times of year, air drying can go a long way in electricity savings as well as extending the life of your clothes. You can set up more efficient ways to dry clothes, such as using an outdoor clothesline or an indoor drying rack.