August 5, 2015
A great question, as it turns out, because there is a lot of opportunity to reduce your cost and keep more of your money! Let’s explore some opportunities to find “negawatts”, or negative watts.
By far the highest energy load in a home is space heating (around 40% of a home energy consumption), based on a nationwide average, so we will look there first. An easy first step is to use a programmable thermostat, and program it to use heat only when you need it– potentially reducing the setpoint when you are at work during the day, or when you are sleeping at night. If you really want to save, try a wi-fi thermostat, which can also be controlled remotely via smartphone (these start at around $100).
If you have a “multi-stage” heat pump, or have electric elements for backup on your heat pump, don’t change your setpoint significantly, as this can actually take more electricity to heat the space back up.
Also, there are the obvious items like keeping filters cleaned and units maintained. If you are still using baseboard electric heat, consider installing a high efficiency mini-split heat pump system.
Next on the list is water heating, which is around 18% of a home’s annual energy load. If you are still using an electric element for heating your water, you should definitely considering upgrading to a heat pump water heater, which produces about 3 times the water for the same amount of energy. Also, many utilities are offering rebates worth $300 or more when you purchase a unit like this. GE and other brands sell these, and I personally like the GE unit, which has a vacation mode (where it turns off while you are gone but heats the water before you return), and a wifi connect option so it can be controlled remotely via web browser or smartphone. These units also have the side benefit of dehumidifying your air, making the basement an ideal location for these units.
Other opportunities to save hot water include “low-flow” showerheads (I like the 1.5 to 1.75 gallon-per-minute ratings on mine), high efficiency washing machines, high efficiency dishwashers, and of course, fixing any leaky faucets.
When you have taken care of your space heating and water heating, or if you have a fuel other than electricity for space and air heating, then let’s looking at Lighting, Electronics, and Appliances. Here are 2 concepts to remember for efficiency in these areas: Energy Star and LED.
When purchasing an appliance, computer, or TV, look for the Energy Star rating, as this is the most widely used indicator of an energy efficient product. And based on my experience, these rarely cost much more, they only require research and education on the part of the consumer. When purchasing or upgrading lighting, choose LED bulbs or fixtures whenever possible. With efficiencies that surpass CFLs, and a lifetime of over 20 years, the small price premium of LED over CFLs makes good sense for long term ease of maintenance and electricity savings.