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
  • Insulate ductwork
    It’s easy and inexpensive to add insulation around ductwork, and doing so can lead to big energy savings.
    GARY REYSA
  • pantyhose filter for electric dryers
    If you have an electric (not gas) dryer, try a filter to vent the dryer indoors and take advantage of the waste heat.
    GARY REYSA
  • Turn off the lights
    One of the author’s top money and energy saving strategies is surprisingly simple. Turn more stuff off!
    ISTOCKPHOTO/MIKE CLARKE
  • power strips for phantom loads
    Most appliances use energy even when they are turned off, but by plugging multiple cords into one power strip, you can turn them all completely off with one flip of the power strip switch.
    GARY REYSA
  • CFLs
    Switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents is an easy and fast way to save electricity.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/ERIC DELMAR
  • bubble wrap windows
    New energy-efficient windows are an expensive investment, but there are simple fixes that will make your existing windows more efficient. One of the fastest and cheapest is to cover them with bubble wrap.
    GARY REYSA
  • Caulk to seal air leaks
    Lower your home heating and cooling costs by tightening up places where air leaks out by sealing them with caulk.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/CARLIN PHOTO
  • electric mattress pad
    If you keep your bed warm with an electric mattress pad, you can save energy by turning down the thermostat at night.
    GARY REYSA
  • Reduce your carbon footprint, make a difference
    In the United States, most of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, a source of energy that produces a lot of greenhouse gases. Trimming your electricity use can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/DUNCAN WALKER
  • pennies saved
    The benefits of home energy improvements are not always obvious because many of these projects save only small amounts of money each day, but over time, the savings multiply quickly. To look at the true benefits of any project, calculate the money and energy savings over 10 years.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/SKIPODONNELL
  • Save big bucks over time
    Some home energy improvements pay off more quickly than others. All things being equal, why not do the projects that save you the most money first?
    ISTOCKPHOTO/SKIPODONNELL
  • home energy projects

    GARY REYSA
  • top eight projects

    GARY REYSA

  • Computer power settings
  • Insulate ductwork
  • pantyhose filter for electric dryers
  • Turn off the lights
  • power strips for phantom loads
  • CFLs
  • bubble wrap windows
  • Caulk to seal air leaks
  • electric mattress pad
  • Reduce your carbon footprint, make a difference
  • pennies saved
  • Save big bucks over time
  • home energy projects
  • top eight projects

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:

chimonger
9/2/2017 4:07:14 PM

I saw a Youtube of a guy who sealed the case of his electric [not gas!] drier, then popped-out one of the pop-out plates on the lower side of the drier, connected a vent tube [can be a squared venting to lay flatter], and ran that to the attic. He used commonly available, cheap HVAC filters, formed into a box-shape, at the open end in the attic, to prevent dust or insulation getting into the drier. Doing this, the air-intake gets the already warm air in the attic, instead of the indoors tempered air, or garage air. I'd LOVE to do this....except at our current location, commonly very bad air, would make the clothes stench as bad as outside does, often....that air permeates the attic area. But for those living in hotter climates or seasons, this "snorkel" for bringing in already attic-hot air, seems a very good thing! It's taken almost 3 years to seal up most of the air leaks in this house....we KNOW if the house is poorly sealed, because the bad-air-days stench can penetrate into the house via poorly sealed junctures of materials...but on really bad air days, a bit can still sneak in. Work in Progress! We adopted CFL's early, out of self-defense...the old circuits in the 1960's apartment we lived in, were terribly insufficient. Changing to CFL's, then LED's, really made a difference. When the 25" "big" cathode TV croaked, it got replaced with 13" unit, which used massively less energy....there were no flat screens then....when there were, we changed to that. Each energy-hog appliance that died, was either never replaced, or, replaced using a unit that drew lots less energy. And, we've started experimenting with some low-tech measures to lower energy, and plan more: 1. 60' of 6" metal tubing, laid on crawlspace dirt, well-sealed, and a Reflectix blanket over them. These vent back into the house, via [2] 4" ducts. The intake has double filters: one washable, one replaceable charcoal. [We need LOADS of good air filtration here!]. This both filters our air, and, feeds ground-tempered air into the house. This system is slated to get another outlet, when we can....and more tubing and outlets for the other half of the house. Tracking temps year-around: the crawlspace stays about 10F.degrees cooler in summer, and warmer in winter, than outdoors ambient temps...or better. How much it saves is not as measurable right now, as it can be once we fully implement this sort of low-tech system. 2. Twinwall Polycarbonate panels at windows. Our windows have a 4" deep casing. That easily fits [2] upper and [2] lower spring-rod curtain holders, between which the overlapping Twinwall panels can sit, pressed together. Ends are sealed using Blue painter's tape, so that it prevents gunning inside the channels, and allows easier sliding of panels to operate windows, as needed. These allow loads of light, as well as thermal barrier, year-around. Also, because of the channels in the panels, a little bit of privacy. 3. Planning to get [2] chest freezers, and use an external thermostat to run one as a fridge. Chest freezers, due to thicker insulation, use dramatically less energy. Can run these off solar panels, easily during days, and the insulation keeps them fine, all night, without any energy, once they reach best operating temps. We just got the external thermostat from Amazon, so it's ready once we get the freezers. Chest freezers are also far less costly than fridges. This is critical, since fridges and freezers are not expected to live longer than about 10 years these days [unlike those made in the 1940's and 1950's, which lasted for several decades!!!] This does require adjusting to using a chest, instead of upright unit...but with the energy savings, I think we can manage! 4. Fir-out windows, to form a 3" or better airspace, and mount a duplicate window on that firring. We can do this, because the old windows are single-paned, and the scavenged windows are duplicates. We were warned that the new dual-pane windows cannot survive high heat generated if the windows are in the sun for too long...it blows their seals. The windows we're using on the furred-out frames, are also single paned. The benefits of having 3" airspace is, that these perform BETTER than industry dual-paned windows! Not a drop of condensate, in 2 seasons. 5. Also planning to make a larger bank of solar air heaters, for free solar air heat during days. We experimented with [2] 4'x8' panels like this, for several years, at our last place. Even badly made, heating the great outdoors, they saved us about 100 kWh's monthly off winter electric heating bills. When I improved the cover material, and added a 4" duct fan to push air through them, they maxed-out at saving about 300 kWh's monthly off electric winter heating. We live in SW WA, where winters can dip to single-digits occasionally, but commonly get into the low 20'sF. The solar air heat panels only stopped working much, during about 2 weeks around Christmas and New Years. It was in a rental house, so we could only boot them in a series, through one small window. I called that a "win!", worth repeating! Current house has a south-facing rear of house, making it easier to do, without anyone complaining. 6. MORE low-tech geothermal, is on our wish-list, only doing it better than the current crawlspace surface tubing. 7. Adding more insulation is also on our future to-do list. Here, that can only happen as an exoskeleton. I found only 1 reference on this, which stated that the old insulation + new proposed insulation, must be added together, and place 70% or more of that total, on the outside of the building, to prevent any dew-point happening in the old wall/insulation. It's not necessary to remove the old siding in this process. For this old place, that means using commonly available Roxul or R-13.5 foiled foal panels, we must have 7" of exoskeleton firring out the outside walls, every 4' along the walls and around windows, fill that with about R30 or better, then house wrap, then new siding. We're into fireproofing: metal siding wins. 8. "Tank farm" will be added at some point, to do water catchment. That also requires good water filtration, or solar distillation, to remove the toxins that now rain down on us all. Prudent Water catchment/filtration + gray water reuse, should be mandatory, country-wide. It just makes good sense! For us, the game of finding low-tech ways to reduce energy use, is far more fun than any usual games. We want to be comfortable, too...we're not into deprivations.


gordyh
8/26/2017 6:21:28 PM

rjacob, When you click on these articles, look at the top left corner. This is from "February/March 2008" that is why CFL's were mentioned. Although good info, MEN did pull a bait and switch by showing a LED in the email that brought us here ;-)


gordyh
8/26/2017 4:31:32 PM

rjacob, When you click on these articles, look at the top left corner. This is from "February/March 2008" that is why CFL's were mentioned. Although good info, MEN did pull a bait and switch by showing a LED in the email that brought us here ;-)




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