With higher heating and electricity costs on the horizon, and the economy teetering on a freefall this week, it seems prudent to muster a few energy-saving efforts around the house.
For the past nine months, I've investigated a range of big-ticket investments to help cut my home's energy costs – from solar panels and geothermal wells to “tankless” water heaters. Down the road, I'll likely invest in some of these. But meantime I've managed to trim bills by taking a few smaller eco-steps.
The good news: The little steps work. My electricity consumption this year has dropped 687 kilowatt-hours from the same period a year ago; in the past two months alone, I saved about $86. Keeping that up, I'd be on target to save roughly $500 – or nearly 40 percent of last year's electricity bills – over the next 12 months.
“In this economy, people are looking for easy things to do,” says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the federal government's Energy Star program, which puts its seal on select energy-efficient products and guides consumers on home improvements.
Here are eight steps I've taken:
Chest freezer swap
Why it helps: Chest freezers consume 10 percent to 25 percent less energy than comparable uprights because cold air doesn't spill out of the door when opened, according to the Department of Energy. Manual-defrost models use 35 percent to 40 percent less energy than comparable automatic-defrost models, which may also dehydrate food, causing “freezer burn.”
Cost: $298 for a 10-cubic-foot Energy Star Whirlpool chest freezer at Lowe's.
Savings: My large 1998 upright 20-cubic-foot freezer cost an estimated $77 a year to operate and sat mostly empty. The slimmer new one costs about $30 to run annually. To calculate how much your old freezer or fridge costs and what a new model would save, go to recyclemyoldfridge.com.
Dryer use and hot-water washing
Why it helps: Clothes lines may seem rather Depression era, but then, there was this week's stock market plunge. The average electric dryer is an energy hog, consuming about 970 kwh a year, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. While newer models are more efficient and shut off when clothes are dry, going au natural can save more. I use an indoor drying rack for about half my wash.
Cost: $32 at Amazon.com for a chrome Polder folding dry rack; $96 for a retractable line unit at breezedryer.com.
Savings: Cutting out 50 percent of electric drying saves about $52 a year.
Why it helps: There's a hidden price tag to the DVRs, iPods and cell phones proliferating at home. Even when fully charged or in off or standby mode, many plugged-in devices still draw, or “leak,” power to operate remote controls, clocks and other needs. That costs the average household about $100 each year. The worst offenders: TVs and computer printers.
Cost: PowerSquid surge protector, $49.95 at powersquid.com; Kill A Watt Electricity Power Meter, $29.95 at cableorganizer.com.
Savings: Eliminating “leaking” could save 9 percent to 12 percent on monthly electricity bills.
Why it helps: Thomas Edison's incandescent invention turns 90 percent of the energy used into heat and only 10 percent into light. The new winners: compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and certain halogens.
Cost: CFL prices range from $2 to $15 at most lighting retailers; $385 for 20 linear feet of LEDs from Borealis Lighting (onlnie at borealislighting.com).
Savings: Lighting costs $50 to $150 a year in energy bills for the average U.S. household, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. The Department of Energy estimates newer technologies can cut lighting-energy usage by 50 percent to 75 percent.