The Twelve Days of Energy Savings
Between holiday lighting displays, large festive meals and the arrival of cold weather, Americans use the largest amount of energy in December and January. Spreading holiday cheer doesn’t have to come with a hefty energy bill. There are many ways you can save energy this winter while still celebrating the holidays and keeping cozy.
This is the perfect time of year to get started. We’ve identified 12 energy saving projects, each taking less than a day to complete, that will add up to big savings for you and your family. It’s time to start celebrating the Twelve Days of Energy Savings!
Day 1: Understand Your Energy Bill
Ease into your 12 days of energy projects with a simple one that can make a big difference: understanding your monthly energy bill. You can find an easy-to-read breakdown of your bill on the Virginia Energy Sense website. Know what you spend the most money and energy on to lower your usage next month.
Day 2: DIY Energy Audit
Now you’re ready to dive in. Start saving right with an energy assessment of your home to identify what fixes will help boost your efficiency. A professional energy audit is the most thorough way to inspect your home for energy waste, but you can also get started cost-free with an online home energy test. That will provide some potential ways to save based on your home’s age, energy sources and other characteristics.
Day 3: Light Bulbs
Did your energy audit reveal that you’re still using incandescent light bulbs in fixtures you forgot were there? By replacing 15 traditional incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs you can save $50 a year and more than $600 over the life of the bulb. They live much longer and save you money. The best of both worlds!
Day 4: Detecting and Sealing Air Leaks
Most homes have air leaks that need to be sealed to make your home more comfortable and ensure the money you’re spending on heating and cooling isn’t escaping. A simple way to detect some leakage is by lighting an incense stick and passing it around edges of common leak sites. Wherever the smoke is sucked out of or blown into the room, there’s a draft. Focus first on baseboards and junctures of the walks and ceilings, where leaks occur most often. Once you’ve detected drafts, use the U.S. Department of Energy’s easy guide to get started with the right air sealing for your problem areas.
Day 5: Water Heater Temperature
Today’s task is as easy as pie. Simply lower your water heater’s maximum temperature to 120 degrees. The default manufacturer setting for many water heaters is 140 degrees, but 120 should be sufficient for most homes. This simple act can save you up to 11 percent on your water heating costs and still provide you with a hot shower.
Day 6: Water Heater Blanket
Head back to your water heater for another simple fix: fit your water heater and the first five feet of exposed pipe with insulation blankets. Heating water, though necessary, consumes a lot of energy. Adding the blanket and insulating your pipes can help raise your water temperature 2-4 degrees, saving you money water heating for showers, laundry and other tasks.
Day 7: Sealing Your Switches
While your light switches are covered by a wall plate, air can still easily escape from them. Check to see if there are foam gaskets under the faceplate. If not, these inexpensive gadgets can be purchased from your local hardware store and easily installed for quick energy savings. Foam gaskets can also be placed behind electrical outlets. Complete the process by plugging in child safety plugs to further reduce escaping air.
Day 8: Doors and Windows
Another great way to keep the heat in (and the cool air out) this winter is by weatherstripping your home. Weatherstripping is good for areas that often open and close like doors and windows. As there are many different kinds to choose from, consult the Department of Energy’s guide to decide which is best for your project.
Day 9: Install a Programmable Thermostat
A programmable thermostat can regulate the temperature of your house based on time of day, season and your schedule — helping you save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling costs. They can be purchased for as low as $20 or as high as a few hundred dollars. But before you make a purchase, check with your utility provider to see if they offer free installation or an incentive toward your purchase.
If you do install it yourself you should:
- Carefully read all instructions
- Place it on an interior wall, away from any heating or cooling units that may affect its temperature reading.
- Shut down electricity during the replacement to ensure your safety.
You can also find programming instructions in our DIY Guide (pg. 12-13).
Day 10: Smart Power Strips
Even when you aren’t charging a device, a plugged-in charger still draws power. To avoid being a victim of “vampire power” — which can account for adding 10% or more to your energy bill — stop plugging appliances and electronics directly into wall sockets. Instead, try smart power strips that can automatically cut power drain. Even if you are using traditional power strips, you can easily turn off all connected appliances with one simple switch.
Day 11: Save on New Appliances
Your home can always benefit from a little retail therapy. Take advantage of the holiday sales to upgrade an old refrigerator, dishwasher, laundry machine or water heater to a newer, more efficient model. Energy efficient appliances, which are easily identified by an ENERGY STAR label, will save you money for years to come.
Day 12: Refrigerator and Freezer
Check your temperature settings for your refrigerator and freezer. The fridge should be set anywhere between 37 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer should be around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. For even more savings, try the “dollar bill” test.Try to slide a dollar bill in your refrigerator door. If you can easily move the dollar back and forth, replace the seal around the door.
Just because we’ve limited our list to 12 days of energy savings doesn’t mean you have to! Head over to virginiaenergysense.org for tips to help you become even more energy efficient all year round.
Great Gifts for the Energy-Savers in Your Family
The holidays often find us searching for the perfect gift for our friends and loved ones. Virginia Energy Sense is here to help. We have 10 gift ideas for efficiency-minded gadgets that are sure to be a hit with the energy savers in your family.
Each of these presents can be found at your local hardware or electronics store or online retailer, and many cost just a few bucks. Pick up one of the gadgets and start helping your loved ones save energy and money for years to come.
1) Air Filter Whistle — You should regularly replace the air filters on your heating and cooling unit — as frequently as every month during the summer and winter, when you use the system the most. Air filter whistles make it easy to remember. Simply attach the whistle to your filter and it will automatically “sing” when it’s clogged, reminding you to make the swap. Sure, the whistling isn’t quite as catchy as your winter sing-alongs, but clean filters maximize efficiency saving you money in the long run – helping you keep that holiday cheer all year long.
2) Smart Power Strips —On average, 10 percent of the cost to power our electronics is wasted to vampire load, the energy used when devices aren’t even in use. Smart power strips have special settings that maintain continual power to critical devices while cutting electricity to others when they are not in use. So go enjoy your lights shining as brightly as Rudolph’s nose and then turn them off with one simple click.
3) Wireless Outlet Controls —Do you always forget to turn off the house or holiday lights? If so, pick up a wireless outlet controller to give yourself a backup. These devices enable you to control any electronic device remotely on your computer or with an app on your smartphone. Simply plug the controller tool into the wall, and then plug any appliance or device into the controller to instantly give you the power to save on the go.
4) Insulated Letterbox Flap — Mail slots in doors are notoriously drafty and lead to major heating and cooling loss. If you don’t want to replace your entire mail slot, find models that now attach to the inside of the door and are invisible from the outside. They cut down on drafts while still allowing mail to be pushed through.
5) Electrical Outlet Gaskets — The average household spends nearly half of its electric bill on heating and cooling, but you could be wasting money from gaps, cracks and other air leaks in your home. A simple way to start preventing some of this air loss is to install foam gaskets behind your light switch and AC outlet faceplates. The gaskets only cost a few bucks and you can seal up all your outlets with nothing more than a screwdriver.
6) Electricity Usage Monitors —To save energy, you need to arm yourself with information. Plug the monitor into the wall and enter the price per kilowatt-hour for your area. Next, plug any device into the monitor and use it as normal for a few days. Check back later and the monitor will tell you how much it costs to run the device per month, including how much energy is wasted to vampire load. After a few weeks, you’ll have a good understanding of your biggest expenses, meaning you know where to target your savings.
7) Device Charging Stations —Holiday gifts like your new phone, music players, and tablets will consume plenty of electrical power. Cut down on the power you use by consolidating them into a single charging station. The stations enable you to charge multiple devices simultaneously, reducing the amount of energy consumed per device. They also sense when devices are fully charged, automatically shutting off to reduce vampire load.
8) Radiator Insulation Panels —Also called radiator reflector panels, these thin metal sheets slide between your wall and radiator, and reflect the heat off the wall and back into the room. By circulating the air and reducing the heat wasted into the wall, your heater doesn’t have to work as hard. These simple devices can cut up to 30 percent off your heating bill.
9) Water Tank Jackets — Curling up inside with a warm blanket is a great way to pass the time in the winter. Don’t let your water heater miss out on the fun. Wrap your water tank with a blanket to improve insulation by as much as 45 percent. Heating water takes a lot of energy but keeping the water hot lets your water heater take more frequent breaks, saving you money.
10) Efficient Showerheads — Speaking of hot water, pick up one of these nifty showerheads that reduce the water wasted while you wait for your shower to heat up. The showerhead has a built-in thermometer and runs normally when you first turn it on and the water is still cold. Once the water’s hot, the showerhead automatically cuts the flow to a trickle. The change in sound will signal your shower’s ready and reduce wasted water before you hop in. A simple pull of a lever will return the flow to normal. Pick up one of these to help you conserve electricity and water.
Sure, they may not be the most traditional stocking stuffers, but they are the gifts that will keep on giving for many years (and holidays) to come. For more energy-saving tips, visit www.virginiaenergysense.org.
Tackling Energy Savings: Series Pt. III - Living Room
This post is the third in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.
Football is back and it’s time to score energy savings in the room where families across Virginia gather every weekend to watch the game. For many of us, the living room is the entertainment capital of the house. You can lead your entertainment center to optimal savings with a few energy efficient improvements. Practice makes perfect, so establishing energy saving habits will greatly improve your home’s efficiency. Here’s the game plan:
Start by clearing the area in front of air vents to avoid blocking cool air and/or heat. Install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts your heating during times you’re typically away from home and during sleeping hours. If you have ceiling fans, set them to spin clockwise on colder days to push the warmer air down; ceiling fans allow you to lower your thermostat by 4°F without noticing a difference. You can also reduce your reliance on the thermostat on cold sunny days by opening blinds to heat your space naturally.
Still scrambling for more savings? Some simple practices include using the locks on your windows to make them tighter and draft resistant. Smart power strips have special settings that maintain continual power to a critical device while cutting electricity to others when they are not in use. Even traditional power strips are handy for powering off several unused devices with one flip of the switch. And if you have a fireplace, make sure the flue damper is closed tightly when not in use to prevent heated air from escaping through the chimney.
Make bigger plays by sealing leaks in your home that allow cold air in:
- Install foam gaskets behind your light switches and outlet faceplates to reduce air leaks through even the smallest of gaps and cracks.
- Caulk and seal windows and doors where air loss and leakage commonly occurs.
- Mail slots in doors are drafty and lead to major heating loss. If you don’t want to replace your entire mail slot, find models that attach to the inside of the door and are invisible from the outside. They cut down on drafts while still allowing mail to be pushed through.
- Have single-pane windows? Add storm panels to cut heat loss by 50 percent for a cheaper alternative than new window treatments.
And no living room is complete without an ENERGY STAR qualified television, which, on average, are 25 percent more energy efficient than conventional models.
Don’t get sacked by high energy bills. Protect your home with more energy saving tips at www.virginiaenergysense.org and check back next week for our final installment on how to reduce your home’s energy consumption and save money.
The Recipe for Energy Savings: Pt. II - Kitchen
This post is the second in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.
While the best meals often involve secret family recipes, the perfect recipe for saving money by keeping your kitchen energy efficient is well-known. The kitchen is a major contributor to the energy waste that occurs in many homes. By taking a few steps around your cooking station, you’ll be on your way to lower utility bills.
It starts with your refrigerator, which should be set between 37°F and 40°F to keep food cool without using too much energy. Likewise, you can set your freezer at a steady 5°F. Remember that refrigerators run inefficiently when dust builds on the coils behind the unit, so cleaning the coils will allow your appliance to run easier and longer. And while you’re improving your fridge, slip a piece of paper between the door and pull the paper out – if it comes out easily, you may need to adjust the latch or replace the seal to ensure air doesn’t escape.
When planning your meals, consider grilling instead of using the stove or oven. Grilling saves energy and money and doesn’t add unwanted heat to your home. Here are a few more things to consider when cooking:
- Allow your oven to multi-task – bake several items at once; using glass and ceramic pans allows you to reduce the heat by 25 degrees while cooking just as well.
- When possible, use a toaster oven or microwave instead of your large oven.
- Try to avoid checking your food in the oven by repeatedly opening the door. Instead, use the oven light (but make sure to turn it off after you’re done cooking!).
When it’s time for cleanup, hand wash dishes and allow them to air-dry. When you do use the dishwasher, flip on the automatic air-dry switch or turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open slightly so the dishes will dry faster.
Looking to renovate your kitchen for long-term savings? Purchasing ENERGY STAR appliances will keep your energy bills down for years to come:
- Save up to $100 a year on energy costs with an ENERGY STAR refrigerator; a top mounted freezer uses 10-25% less energy than side or bottom mounted models.
- Install a range hood to help remove cooking odors and control moisture; ENERGY STAR qualified models are quieter than standard models, use 65% less energy (for models with lighting) and save you $120 in energy costs over its service lifetime.
Don’t stop at your kitchen, check back next week for our third installment and visit us at www.virginiaenergysense.org for more energy efficiency recipes for energy savings.
Five Rooms Ready for Savings: Pt. I - Bed & Bath
This post is the first in our series featuring ways to reduce consumption and save money in your home’s most used rooms.
When you wake up in the morning, your first thought probably isn’t, “How will I save energy in my home today?” But maybe it’s time to incorporate energy savings into your morning and nighttime routines. Your bedroom is the most used room in the house and — along with the bathroom — is a place where you can start saving energy today.
There are a few simple ways to make your bedroom and bath more energy efficient: If you get a lot of natural light, open your blinds and curtains to brighten your room with sunlight in the morning instead of light fixtures. Light your room at night without burning out your wallet by replacing all of your traditional incandescent lights with CFLs or LEDs; CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights, while LEDs last up to 10 and 15 times longer.
Instead of relying on your air conditioner, set your ceiling fan to counterclockwise to cool the room by 3-5°F without lowering the thermostat. When the air conditioning is on, make sure to clear the area in front of your floor vents to prevent air blockage.
Now that you’ve started down the path towards saving energy, why not go a few steps further? Place your hand near your light switches and outlet faceplates. Feel a draft? That’s an air leak that allows hot air into your cool home and lets cool air escape. Give your A/C a break by installing inexpensive foam gaskets behind the switches and faceplates to reduce air leaks through even the smallest of gaps and cracks.
Try your hand at a couple more low-cost tips:
- Turn off bath exhaust fans within 20 minutes of bathing; and when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
- Use energy-saving power strips. These allow you to easily turn off all electronics, like your TV, charging devices and lamps, with one click.
For improvements with an even greater return, consider:
- Conserving electricity and water by installing an energy efficient showerhead.
- Caulking and weather stripping gaps and cracks to prevent air loss and leakage. Caulking is best for sealing gaps or cracks that are 1/4 inch or less. Use weather stripping for locations where movement occurs, such as windows and doors.
- Installing a wireless outlet controller to turn off any electronic device remotely from your computer or smartphone app. Simply plug the controller tool into the wall, and then plug any appliance or device into the controller to instantly give you the power to save on-the-go and keep your home safe
Your energy savings doesn’t have to end here: Work with a professional home energy auditor to learn how your home is performing and where there are inefficiencies and opportunities to save on your monthly utility bills. You can also use our guide here to get started with a do-it-yourself assessment.
If you’re eager to find out the next room you can experience more savings, check back next week for part two and also visit us at www.viriginiaenergysense.org to have all of our tips and resources at your fingertips!
Partners making an energy-efficient difference: CORNERSTONE ARCHITECTS
(This is the first post in a series highlighting the great energy efficiency work Virginia Energy Sense partners are achieving across the state.)
Located in Richmond, Virginia, Cornerstone Architects is an architecture and interior design firm committed to building environmentally friendly structures that make a statement and a contribution to the community. Recently signed on as a Virginia Energy Sense partner, Cornerstone Architects just completed the Emergency Command Center project located at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans’ Administration Hospital. This LEED Silver building project services more than 200,000 veterans coming from 52 cities and counties covering 22,515 miles of central and southern Virginia. The building incorporates energy saving strategies including a super insulated building envelope, high efficiency mechanical equipment, LED lighting, light controls and occupancy sensors.
The firm also owns a historical building in the “Old and Historic District” in downtown Richmond. This location allows employees to walk to several client sites and a variety of lunch options, further reducing their environmental footprint. The Cornerstone Architects team recently improved the energy consumption in the building by applying a “White Roof” coating that increases reflectance, cuts down on heat gain, lowers the electric bill and extends the life of the roof.
Have an energy efficiency story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear what you’re doing and any ideas on how your company/organization can help encourage Virginians to reduce their energy use. For your chance to be featured, contact the Virginia Energy Sense team at Tabitha@virginiaenergysense.org.
Deck the Halls With Minimal Cost
We’re noticing lots of holiday decorations up already! You can make your home festive for the holidays without ruining your energy efficiency efforts. Read on to learn a few simple ways you can make sure your home is full of holiday cheer with minimal impact on your utility bill this season:
Tip 1: Get Creative
Skip lights and go for old-fashioned and edible decor. Gingerbread men, candy canes and popcorn strings make great decorations— and require zero energy!
Make your home sparkle by strategically placing tinsel, glittered stars and other shiny to catch lights already in use. They will give off a twinkle similar to lights and keep your energy use down over the holidays.
Tip 2: If you can’t skip lights, choose LEDs
Did you know it costs about $10.00 to light a six-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with incandescent lights? To light that same tree with mini-LEDs for the same amount of time costs about $.82—now that’s what I call savings.
As you pull decorations out of storage, check your lights. If they’re damaged or you’re using incandescent bulbs, consider swapping them for LED bulbs and mini-lights.
You can find energy efficient lights in a variety of colors at most local hardware and retail stores. Before you buy, search ENERGY STAR’s Special Offer/Rebate Finder to find deals and other incentives. Enter your zip code to find rebates near you.
Tip 3: Set a Timer
Automatic timers make it easier for you to schedule your holiday lights to shine… when you want them to! Look for timer models that come with dusk/dawn sensors or shut off after a specific length of time. Newer models also have settings to create a light show and can even be combined with music—a fun addition if you’re hosting a holiday party.
If you don’t have a timer, consider plugging lights into centrally located power strips to make it easier to turn them off before you go to bed or leave the house.
Question of the Week: what’s a lumen?
It’s no secret that our home lighting choices have become significantly more efficient. Now, instead of measuring our old, incandescent light bulbs by the amount of energy they use (watts), we’re measuring them by the amount of light they emit (lumens). This new measurement helps ensure you pick bulbs that use the least amount of energy while providing the appropriate brightness you need! Here are some tips to make sure you get the right bulbs for you:
1) Before your next trip to the hardware store, think about your home. What kind of lighting do you need? Are you looking for energy efficient light bulbs for reading, or a brighter bulb for your desk? Make a list of your lighting needs.
Tip: There are also free mobile apps to help you while at the store, including Light Bulb Finder, the winner of the U.S. EPA’s Apps for the Environment contest.
2) Bookmark this graphic from the FTC to help you remember what kind of light bulbs you’re looking for.
3) Once you get to the store, take a look at each bulb’s packaging label. It will include important information you’ll want to consider, including:
· Brightness (in lumens)
· Yearly estimated energy cost
· Expected bulb life (in years)
· Light appearance (how warm or cool the light will look)
· Wattage (the energy used)
For more information on other simple steps you can take to reduce your energy use at home, check out the Virginia Energy Sense Do-It-Yourself Guide, full of low and no cost projects to help you Value Your Power!