5 Ways to Save Energy and Lower Your Electric Bill

Washing Machine on Cold Setting
Washing clothes in cold water saves energy and preserves fabrics, too. Armstrong Studios/Getty Images

Without a doubt, most homeowners can get behind the idea of saving money on their energy consumption. But when the dialogue turns to topics like shutting off the heat and wearing coats inside, most homeowners understandably grow cold at the idea. Paring back on energy consumption, though, does not have to be that difficult or painful. With the vast amount of energy waste found in most homes, owners don’t have to look very far for simple opportunities that will ease sticker shock when the energy bill comes due.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

If you haven’t heard yet, washing your clothing in cold water is not only possible, it can be beneficial to your clothing. EnergyStar estimates that 90 percent of the energy expended on a warm water wash cycle goes toward heating up the water. By going from hot or warm down to cold, your washer is immediately running at a scant 10 percent of its former energy consumption. Cold water ensures colorfastness and preserves fabrics. With newer washers running more efficiently than ever, cold water works better than ever for most loads. Plus, you can add baking soda or distilled white vinegar to drastically ramp up your washer’s cleaning power, without adding a single drop of hot water. However, there is a time and place for warm or hot water washes: very dirty clothing, soiled clothing, or clothing worn by family members who are sick.

Use Your Dishwasher More Often

If you avoid using your dishwasher on the assumption that it is an energy waster, you’re in for a surprise.

Studies have shown that, over a ten-year span, using a dishwasher saves not only energy but water over washing dishes by hand. As if that weren’t enough, dishes washed in a dishwasher are cleaner and more sanitary. How does this work?

A dishwasher is a closed system, with all of the dishes and utensils tightly packed and well organized.

In other words, it is the perfect environment for cleaning a lot of items in the most efficient manner possible. Make sure that your dishwasher is labeled as EnergyStar-certified. Consider purchasing a new dishwasher if yours is too old or is ​beyond repair.

Seal Your Home Against Air Infiltration

Homeowners who readily buy into energy-saving initiatives like using dishwashers may raise an eyebrow when it comes to easier moves like caulking windows against air infiltration. After all, how can air seepage truly affect a home’s energy consumption when there are apparently biggest issues to deal with?

As it turns out, air infiltration is a massive energy waster. In one study, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that air infiltration alone was responsible for 33 percent of heating energy use in buildings. Additionally, some green home experts argue that we have become too “R-centric,” focusing too much attention on insulation in walls versus the far simpler and obvious issue of a leaky building envelope.

To do this the right way, begin by hiring a company to perform a blower door test. In this simple test, your home is sealed up and depressurized with a fan. Leaks are then located throughout the house by puffing smoke near doors, windows, outlets, and other common infiltration points.

Seal small cracks with caulking. Press foam weatherstripping into larger cracks. Outlets and light switch boxes are other sources of drafts, and they can be sealed with foam gaskets.

Cook Smarter and Save Energy

Kitchens use a huge amount of energy. You’ll find a myriad of simple, pain-free ways you can trim back your energy usage and save money when cooking. Conventional ovens are indispensable for baking, but be sure to limit them to large items or large quantities of items. When you do use them, place items on the highest rack, where heat rises (unless the recipe specifically calls for a different location).

When you can, use a microwave. Not only do microwaves use far less energy than conventional ovens, they heat up the house less in those warm seasons when you’re trying to keep the house cool.

That said, microwaves should not be used for everything. For example, if you’re in the habit of boiling water in the microwave, buy an electric kettle since they use less energy and work faster. Countertop convection ovens fill the gap between large conventional ovens and microwave ovens if you like to make small pizzas or a personal-size number of cookies.

Use Even More Natural Light

During the day, your curtains are open. At night, you close them. For many people, this may be the extent of natural light usage in their home. And while that’s great, there are other ways to boost your home’s natural light that you may not have tapped. Painting your interior walls in glossier sheens increases light bounce. On the exterior, you can paint the eaves (the underside of the roof that extends past the house) white to encourage more light to enter the home. Finally, some homeowners have started to adopt an innovative, eco-friendly feature called a light shelf. Imagine a white or translucent shelf that is about two-thirds of the way up your window and almost touching it. This shelf promotes light bounce. Best of all, you can have shades closed on the bottom two-thirds, yet still have natural light beaming in through the top one-third section.