But simple things also affect how much energy you use. Take lights for instance. You use them every day, and they can account for 10% or more of your annual energy bill. Install compact fluorescent or LED light bulbs and use 75% less energy than when you use incandescent bulbs. CFLs convert 85-90% of the energy they use into LIGHT. Incandescent bulbs convert only 10-15% - the rest turns into heat! LEDs are even more efficient than CFLs, and they last three to five times longer. Reduce the number of lights on the same switch. Wire fewer lights together and you won’t turn on more lights than you need at any given time. ENERGY STAR estimates that “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than three million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.”
Anytime you use window coverings, you reduce the amount of heat you gain or lose through the glass. The R-value for most window glass is low (R1 to R4). But the combined R-value of a good thermal shade or quilt and a double or triple-paned window can equal an insulated wall. Save energy by closing them (1) when it’s cold outside and the sun isn’t shining; (2) when it’s hot outside and the sun is shining directly into your home and; (3) every night when the temperature outside is different from the temperature you want inside. Want to see outside when shades are closed during the day? Install solar shades with a reflective poly or metalized Mylar lining facing the window—you can see out as the shade reflects heat and glare.
Appliances and electronics have two costs—the purchase price and the lifetime operating cost. A low priced item with a high operating cost can cost more during its lifetime than if you buy the higher priced item with lower operating cost. The U.S. Department of Energy requires major home appliances meet specific energy requirements. Under the Appliance Standards Program, appliances are tested to determine energy consumption, approximate annual operating costs, and how they compare to other similar appliances. The results are printed on bright yellow Energy Guide labels, and should be posted on every appliance.
An Energy Guide label does not mean the appliance is ENERGY STAR® qualified. To meet ENERGY STAR® standards, appliances must save ten to fifty percent more energy and water than similar appliances. Appliances and electronics that qualify for ENERGY STAR® are identified by a blue label. So check labels before buying! Refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, and water heaters can account for twenty-five to fifty percent of your monthly utility bills.
Many appliances and electronics use electricity even when they’re “off." For instance, a microwave that has a digital clock draws electricity to power the clock even when it's not cooking food. Any device that has a clock, timer, “instant on” capability, or stand-by mode continuously draws electricity. This is called a “ghost” load, and when you add up all the ghost loads in your house and multiply it by twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, the total is significant.
Locate ghost loads by looking for lighted digital displays or small glowing red, blue, or yellow dot on the device. Plug appliances and electronics into a power bar or surge protector that you can turn off completely with one flip of the switch.