8 Easy Projects for Instant Home Energy Savings

It’s easier than you might think to reduce energy consumption and reduce your carbon footprint. These eight simple home energy projects are easy enough to do yourself, and pay for themselves quickly in instant energy savings.


| February/March 2008



Computer power settings

Computers use a lot of electricity, so you can save a lot of energy quickly by setting your computer to go into sleep or hibernate whenever you’re not using it.


ISTOCKPHOTO/PHIL EARLEY

Reducing your home energy use is the best of win-win deals — not only does it reduce your carbon footprint, it also saves you big bucks on your energy bills. That’s especially exciting when you consider that many home energy improvements are fast, easy and inexpensive. Often, the savings from an individual project are small, but when you start putting them together they add up quickly.

My family set a goal of cutting our total energy use, energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions in half, and we were able to meet that goal with the help of these simple home projects. We found these reductions in our energy use easy to accomplish without making any significant lifestyle changes.

Here are the details: We cut our total energy use from 93,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year to 38,000 kWh per year. This is saving us $4,500 per year in energy costs, and has reduced our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17 tons! Our rate of return on the money we invested in this program is more than 50 percent — tax free.

Altogether, we took on 22 different projects, including two solar heating efforts that have already appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. (See Build a Simple Solar Heater, December 2006/January 2007, and Solar Heating Plan for Any Home, December 2007/January 2008.) You can find details about all the projects we’ve done at our home in Montana on my website, Build It Solar. But those I’ll explain in the following pages are the fast, simple ones. These eight easy home improvement projects cost us about $400 and will save us at least $9,000 over the next 10 years!

Prioritizing the Projects

When you start looking at any group of energy saving projects, you’ll likely find a huge difference in the bang for the buck. In our case, it was the simple things — such as controlling the amount of power that our computers use or basic insulating projects — that had especially good paybacks. On the other end of the spectrum, the solar photovoltaic project we intend to do in the future will cost as much as all 22 of our other projects put together, yet will only account for 2.5 percent of the total energy reduction!

Why was the total payback on our projects so good? The keys to our success were:

kgkicker
3/19/2015 11:59:54 AM

Why not just get better blankets and eliminate bed heating altogether?


daniel branton
6/3/2014 10:10:11 PM

The Dryer vent was a really neat idea! I discovered this out of desperation last winter. Our furnace went out and the repairman was not going to be able to make it out for several days. I have a large family, (6 children), so we do a lot of laundry. On average we do 2 loads per day. I had two small space heaters. I place those in what ever part of the house we were in at the moment. Then I unhooked the dryer vent and ran it into the main part of the house. I plugged the vent going outside and place a pillowcase over the dryer vent. This kept our house pretty warm while in use. The added moisture was a bonus since I am in a dry climate.


gary reysa
9/3/2012 2:56:52 PM

Hi Vincent -- There are lots of them out there. If you go to Amazon and search for "heated mattress pad" several are listed. We use a Westpoint Stevens and its still going strong after several years. We have added them to all the bedrooms. Gary


gary reysa
9/3/2012 2:53:26 PM

Hi Bruce -- The ten year savings include a 10% per year fuel cost increase -- you can ramp that down if you think its too high. The saving on the two computers AND all peripherals was done very carefully (took half a day) with a KillAWatt -- your results may vary and computers are getting better, but the savings is well worth while. Certainly agree that using a clothes line instead of a dryer is a big saving -- about 900 KWH a year for a family according to a CA study. The main idea of the article was to point out how a few well chosen (for your situation) ideas can save a lot of energy and offer a very high return. The main thing is to have a plan to select the ideas that will work best for you: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/Half/Half.htm Thanks Gary


vincent west
9/1/2012 8:31:00 PM

The information I would have liked to see in this article is where to get heated mattress pads for AC systems. I've seen many for DC systems, but I live in a standard apartment and I'm pretty sure my landlord doesn't want me to rewire the place. I could set up a transformer, but that's pretty lossy. Probably still better than turning up the heat, but I'd rather just be able to plug it in and turn all that electricity into heat for my bed, rather than using some of it to heat the unused space under my bed.


bruce
5/2/2012 9:16:12 PM

Hmmm - the math doesn't seem to work re: yearly savings and 10 year savings? Some of these savings seem very large as well - 2 computers for example. Now that it's been a couple of years, can you please confirm the savings. Some aditional savings could include turning down the temp on the water heater, using a clothes line all year (hang in garage on wet days), motion sensors on light switches to turn lights off after the kids leave the room, low flow shower heads (less hot water = water heater savings)... got these ideas and a few more from www.greenterrafirma.com


dave f._2
12/24/2010 12:55:03 PM

One thing that the author missed that is easy and also has huge energy savings is outdoor lighting. Most outdoor lights waste anywhere from 25 to 40% of their light by allowing it spill UP into the night sky. This is incredibly wasteful. Fully shielded lights that direct light downward to where it needs to light are FAR better at lighting, while using less light to do it. The additional benefits of this are increased security (due to the light being placed where it needs to be) and better seeing at night (due to less glare). I recently went to a home improvement store and of the hundred or so lights was appalled to find only TWO that fully shielded the light and directed it downwards. But there are sites out there which sell these lights, and they are comparable in cost to other new lights. So when putting these in, you can use a lower wattage bulb (saving money over time) for a similar up-front cost for the fixture. One last additional benefit: You'll see more stars at night, because you won't be contributing to light pollution. And if you have nearby neighbors, you won't be committing light trespass by having your light spill onto their property (perhaps forcing them to put up shades/blinds to block it). Easy project; big rewards.


marc cyr
9/27/2010 5:33:50 PM

I mocified a five gallon kerosene water heater that was no lomger in use. Now it is warming 55 degree F. water from the city water works. The recycled heater now gets 135 degree air blown through by a woodstove made in Virgina. Now uses wood fuel instead of kerosene to send warm water through the cold water supply pipe of my electric water heater. The stove is EPA certified and as long as there is city water pressure you can have a hot shower during a power outage using the wood heater. The gap between the top of the firebox and the water tank can be adjusted to maintain a safe water temperature without boiling so no circulator pumps are needed. I burn wood for at least six months per year. There is still enough room on top of the woodstove for a coffee pot during power outages.


gardener_3
8/22/2010 12:17:18 AM

Great except for electric mattress pad heater. I bought one and very soon started to feel fatigued every morning. Turns out it had magnetized the steel bed springs. Moving a hikers compass from head of bed to foot caused the needle to gyrate. I took the electric pad off and used a plug in bulk demagnetizer from Radio shack to demagnetize the springs by running it from head to foot of bed. Had to do it 10 times to cover the full surface of the bed. Re-checking with compass now showed no gyration and I no longer felt fatigued. Plan to get a futon(no metal springs) so I can put the mattress pad back on.


jim z._2
8/20/2010 11:38:20 AM

Over the years we have (Colorado): 1. replaced older furnace, 2. installed double-pane windows/glass doors, 3. replaced all bulbs with cfl, 4. blown insulation into roof, 5. replaced refrigerator, 6. bought front-loader clothes washer, 7. we drip-dry all clothes, 8. installed insulated glass door drapes, 9. installed openig clerestory windows (thus no AC needed in summer), 10. installed programmable thermostat, and 11. replaced roof w/ lighter-color shingles. Our monthly public service bill is slightly less than it was 23 years ago, yet we added a 1,000 s.f. pop-up to the house 14 yrs. ago (the addition was built w/ 2x6 studs for more insul.).


mary_4
4/3/2010 6:48:21 AM

We bought a front loader washer/dryer set a couple months ago and have already noticed a savings of about $10.00 a month on our electric bill. We are also looking at installing a new hybrid electric water heater that uses a heat pump system. The manufacturer claims a regular electric water heater costs about $550 per year to operate while the hybrid is about $234 plus it recovers faster and has a 10 year warranty. We will be tearing an old shed down this summer (offering the old wood on freecycle.org so it doesn't go to the landfill) and building a new one incorporating some recycled windows. We are using opaque fiberglass panels for the roof and are going to take a crack at installing a solar panel to operate a small pump in our cistern next to the shed that irrigates our garden.


mary_4
4/3/2010 6:45:48 AM

We bought front loader washer/dryer set a couple months ago and have already noticed a savings of about $10.00 a month on our electric bill plus the washer uses about 1/2 the water. We are also looking at installing a new hybrid electric water heater that uses a heat pump system. The manufacturer claims a regular electric water heater costs about $550 per year to operate while the hybrid is about $234 plus it recovers faster and has a 10 year warranty. We will be tearing an old shed down this summer (offering the old wood on freecycle.org so it doesn't go to the landfill) and building a new one incorporating some recycled church windows. We are using opaque fiberglass panels for the roof and are going to take a crack at installing a solar panel to operate a small pump in our cistern which is right next to the shed that irrigates our garden.


shane_1
1/8/2009 6:14:26 PM

The average household in America uses 10,656 kWh per year. If we are to make a significant difference to help prevent global warming we must cut that in half, 5,000 kWh per year. Cutting your very extravagant energy consumption down to 40,000 kWh per year is just not enough. Yes, to prevent global warming we will have to change our lifestyle. Short of that you are just wasting your time.


gary reysa
1/8/2009 10:09:25 AM

Hi Shane, The 10,700 KWH you mention is just the average electricity use per household. When you add energy for space heating, water heating, and transportation, the total average energy use is much, much more. Our going in usage was: Electricity 11,300 KWH (a bit less than your average) Heating: 35,000 KWH Water Heating: 8,400 KWH Automobile: 38, 700 KWH As far as I have been able to determine, these are pretty typical for households in cold climates. I agree that they are too high, but I don't think they are out of the ordinary at all. We have cut all of these by more than half, and we continue to make progress in the downward direction. The material I've read on climate change indicates that we will eventually need to cut GHG emissions by about 80%. Our family is still short of 80% target. But, if everyone would do the kind of 50% to 60% reduction we did, we would be a long ways toward the target, and would be in a much better position to figure out how to get the rest of the way. The point is that for most people the first 50% of the saving is easy to do, can be done right now (no new tech needed), can be done by us (rather than depending on others), and is very very cost effective. Its the best of win-win situations. All the figures on our usage, savings, and projects are tabulated here: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/Half/Half.htm Best -- Gary


shane_1
1/8/2009 1:24:04 AM

The average household in America uses 10,656 kWh per year. If we are to make a significant difference to help prevent global warming we must cut that in half, 5,000 kWh per year. Cutting your very extravagant energy consumption down to 40,000 kWh per year is just not enough. Yes, to prevent global warming we will have to change our lifestyle. Short of that you are just wasting your time.


dan_26
12/26/2008 2:24:37 PM

Gary's suggestions are really good. There are also additional energy conservation ideas just as or even simpler and less costly. We've compiled from our own practices, as well as the contributions of many, a list of 240 energy savings ideas, of which 180 cost nothing or next to nothing to do. Most are common sense, but then again, where would we be if everyone used common sense every day? :) You can see the list we've compiled here on the Energy Conservation page of our home web site: http://dailyhomerenotips.com/energy-conservation/ Energy conservation is typically must less costly and much simpler for the average home owner than the home owner's own generation of energy. The more we reduce the demand side of the supply - demand equation, the less of a supply we will need, IMO. Dan






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