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:

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 ;-)


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 ;-)


keithsnyder
8/26/2017 7:49:14 AM

Household electronics require a LOT of money. My computer used to run 24/7 (it was for a reason, not just not wanting to bother turning it off). When I had to replace a hard drive, my household energy bill was cut by 1/5 because I switched to an SSD (solid-state drive). I measured the exact numbers with the computer plugged into a usage meter. SSDs are even cheaper now than they were at that time, and even though they are still noticeably more than a regular hard drive, the energy savings will cover that cost very quickly. When I need to replace my remaining hard drive, it will also be and SSD. An additional advantage is that my boot time shortened by about 80%, so that now that I don't need my computer running constantly, when I do want to start it up, it gets up and running very quickly.


keithsnyder
8/26/2017 7:31:53 AM

Household electronics require a LOT of money. My computer used to run 24/7 (it was for a reason, not just not wanting to bother turning it off). When I had to replace a hard drive, my household energy bill was cut by 1/5 because I switched to an SSD (solid-state drive). I measured the exact numbers with the computer plugged into a usage meter. SSDs are even cheaper now than they were at that time, and even though they are still noticeably more than a regular hard drive, the energy savings will cover that cost very quickly. When I need to replace my remaining hard drive, it will also be and SSD. An additional advantage is that my boot time shortened by about 80%, so that now that I don't need my computer running constantly, when I do want to start it up, it gets up and running very quickly.


elephile
8/25/2017 12:32:31 PM

Sorry, my note should have been to kgkicker, not Daniel Branton.


rjacob
8/25/2017 12:32:30 PM

Some good ideas - but just one point: Why choose fluorescent lights when you can use LED? Fluorescent lights are not suitable for everyone and still use more electricity than LED. Note to Daniel Branton - they did address your question by saying that only insulating the beds just didn't do it for them, and I can attest to that. In winter, it can take me hours to warm the bed up enough with just body heat and during that time I'm not sleeping. The use of a small heating pad for 10-30 minutes before bed time, placed just right, means I can go to sleep almost immediately. I turn off the pad before falling asleep and, unless it's very cold, don't use it for the rest of the night.


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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