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Okay, let’s jump right into it.  You’ve heard about all the rebates available for making medium-to-large home energy retrofits.  But here are a handful of simple, free steps you can take right now.  Some of them involve changing lifelong habits which can be challenging.   Enlist other members of your household to remind each other to stick to the new rules.

If you need inspiration, consider the fact that Americans use 50% more energy in their homes today than they did thirty years ago, and I don’t think most of us were suffering too badly for lack of electric conveniences back in 1980.  If you really want to trip out, consider the fact that the average American uses as much energy as two Europeans, five Chinese, seven Mexicans, 28 Indians,  and 146 Sudanese.  That said:

  • When you leave a room, turn out the light.
  • “Off” doesn’t necessarily mean a device is no longer drawing electricity:  If it blinks, unplug it from the wall.  Plug all your electronics into a power strip, and then turn the strip off at night.  We call this one “slaying the vampire.”
  • Minimize the number of cordless phones in your home–they suck power 24/7.
  • Put a note on your computer saying, “Turn me off at bedtime.”  I know what you’re thinking–that it takes more energy to reboot the computer than it does to leave it on all night.  Without getting into all the studies that have been done on that, suffice to say…”Wrong.”  Turn it off. (If you get in the habit of turning off your computer and using power-saving features, you’ll reduce your carbon emissions by more than a ton and save between $50 and $75 a year).
  • Wash your clothes and hands in cold water.  They get just as clean and, if you use soap, the germs are just as dead as if you used warm water.
  • Hang dry laundry–you can do this in all seasons on a drying rack inside the house.  Clothes dryers are one of the biggest household energy sucks.
  • Run the dishwasher only when full and use the air-dry cycle.
  • Set your water heater at 120º.
  • A watched pot boils faster with a lid on it.
  • Don’t open the oven while it’s on-the temperature drops 25 degrees every time you do.  Preheat only for baking bread or cake, not for roasting meat or vegetables or for reheating leftovers.

Tame your fridge

  • The fridge and freezer can be set to the warmest temperature settings without causing food spoilage–don’t make these units any colder than they need to be (fridge at 38º, freezer at 5º).
  • If your refrigerator or freezer isn’t full, place jugs of water in it–it runs more efficiently when full (for the freezer, don’t fill the jug more than 3/4 full because it will expand when frozen).
  • Don’t store stuff on top of the fridge.
  • Vacuum the coils in the back of the fridge every few months (go ahead, put it on your calendar right now) and, if possible, try not to have the fridge right next to the oven (duh, I know, but guess where mine is?)

Climate control

  • For every three degrees you lower your heat, you reduce your greenhouse emissions by half a ton.
  • Put a note on the inside of your front door reminding you to turn off the heat/AC and all lights when you leave home.
  • If you have a programmable thermostat, you can set the AC for 79º (or higher) while at home and 85º  while you’re away (though if you’re going to be away for more than a day, just turn it off).  Set the heat at 68º when you’re home (or as cold as you can stand it, put on a sweater for God’s sake), 60º while you’re asleep and 55º while you’re away (or, again, turn it off if you’re going to be away for longer than a day).  You can also program it to start warming up/cooling down about an hour before your anticipated return.
  • Use shades or curtains to prevent the sun from heating up a room.  Generally, keeping the windows closed until later afternoon and then opening them to bring in cool air is the most effective strategy but experiment for yourself.  Houseplants can also help keep your home cool, seriously!

Water-wise tips

  • Compost your food waste instead of using a garbage disposal.
  • Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or washing dishes.  Letting the faucet run for five minutes uses as much energy as a 60-watt light bulb on for 14 hours (which of course you would never do!).
  • Take shorter and/or fewer showers. You’ve heard that one a million times but give it a try.
  • When it comes to the toilet, you know the saying, “If it’s mellow, let it yellow…”
  • Cars don’t need to be washed.  Ever.
  • Catch cold shower water in a bucket and use it for flushing the toilet or watering plants.
  • Water the garden in early morning or after 8 pm.  Don’t overwater–stick your finger in the dirt, and only water if it’s dry more than two inches below the surface.  Water slowly and deeply to train plant roots to go deep.
  • Mulch heavily in the garden.
  • Keep grass mowed high or simply lose your lawn and re-plant with drought-tolerant vegetation.

Okay, that’s a lot of advice, so don’t expect to do everything at once.  Choose one or two tips a week and see if you can retrain those habits.  Once you’re successful, target another couple of habits.  Celebrate with a beeswax candlelit raw food dinner followed by a nice relaxing cold shower (ha ha, just kidding, sort of).

If you want to geek out, compare your utility bills to the same month’s bill from last year to see how much you’re saving.  I was able to cut my water bill by a third and my electricity down to almost zero (I have solar panels).  Natural gas has been the hardest to smack down but, by keeping our heat at 63º this winter, my family was able to get nudge it down a good bit.  If I can do it, so can you…good luck!

(By the way, feel free to share any other free/low-cost energy saving ideas in the comment section below).

–Erica Etelson

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.