Beginning Simple Energy Efficiency

American households seem to be re-awakened to the importance of living a lifestyle that not only saves money, but leaves the environment minimally impacted. Whether your motivation is to save the environment, live in a healthier home, save money, or simplify your daily existence, there are many easy, small steps you can take toward energy efficiency.

The American Household uses approximately the same amount of electricity as it did in 1978, though there have be great advances in insulation and appliances that use less electricity. How can this be? Technology. Gadgets and Electronic use has made up for the potential savings brought about by heating and cooling advances (See Figure 1).

As you consider even smaller purchases or changes in your life, you may also be interested in Return on investment, or ROI, on these purchases. When are you likely to recoup the cost invested, and is the extra cost worth the energy savings? Take a look at different “levels” of household improvement and their corresponding ROI.

Figure 1.

Total energy use in homes

So how can you lower your household impact? Here are some small, easy steps:

Household impact

Heating and Cooling:

  • Make sure your home is “tight”. Leaky windows or poor insulation can cost you a lot in wasted electricity. Simple investments in weather stripping, caulking, and insulation can go a long way.
  • Get a programmable thermostat, adjust thermostat when not home. A programmable thermostat can help in reducing heating and cooling costs by making automatic adjustment to the temperature when you are out. You can program the temperature to adjust during the times you are at work, or during the night.
  • Close fireplace damper when not in use.
  • Clean or replace the filter on the heater.

Water Heating:

  • Lower water heater temperature. By lowering the temperature on your hot water heater you can save electricity by not having to heat the water as often or as long.
  • Insulate your water heater and the pipes around your water heater.This can help keep the water hot, reducing the energy used to keep it at a certain temperature.


  • Replace incandescent lightbulbs with compact florescent lightbulbs (CFL). CFL last longer, and reduce the amount of energy used.
  • Turn off lights when not in the room, Use only the light that you need. Many of us are used to a well-lit home, however lights left on when no one is in the room is a waste of electricity. If you are planning on being gone from the room for more than 30 seconds, it is more efficient to turn off the light and turn it back on than to leave it on.


  • Unplug electronics when you’re not using them. Even when electronics such as TVs, DVDs and Computers are not on or on standby, they can be pulling electricity when they are plugged in. Unplug them when they are not in use, or use a surge protector or power strip to cut the power to them.


  • Wash clothes in cold water. This saves electricity by not using hot water the hot water heater will have to refill.
  • Air dry clothes.
  • Clean refrigerator coils. When coils become dusty or dirty it can reduce their efficiency.
  • Run dishwasher when it is FULL.
  • Air dry dishes in dishwasher.


  • Take the bus or your bike to work.
  • Plan out your errands to reduce backtracking

Green your home through the 5R’s

Many of us have heard about the “4Rs” of household resource management: reduce, repair, reuse and recycle. However, there is an additional “R” in today’s environmentally conscience motivation – refuse. ‘Refusing’ can take various forms – refusing to buy into a consumerism lifestyle, refusing to keep by the appearance of wealth by owning things, refusing to purchase cheap, one-time-use products, refusing to take something just because it’s “free”.

Several examples of applying the 5Rs are:


We have become a nation of “throw away” consumers. Many of us purchase more before we take inventory of what we already have. We think little of how much packaging we bring home and throw out.

We all have ways to reduce the amount of “stuff” we consume. Some ideas include:

  • Place small purchases in your purse rather than using a store’s bag and bring shopping bags with you.
  • Use the four simplest cleaning ingredients (baking soda, salt, borax, and white vinegar) and use only the amount of cleaning product needed for the job.

Repair and Care

Knowing how to make simple repairs can not only save you money but can green up your lifestyle and reduce the energy used in making a replacement product. Properly caring for things we own helps keep them in service longer.


When something’s primary use is finished, it is often possible to make use of the item in a new way – thereby extending its useful life away from the landfill. Reusing includes finding another use for the item yourself or donating it or selling it to someone else.

  • Compost your leaves and vegetation kitchen scraps.
  • Pump gathered rain water from an unused cistern to water landscape.
  • Use old prom or bridesmaid dresses for children’s dress up play.
  • Cut up old t-shirts for rags.
  • Give your old eyeglasses to your optician — they likely know of a group that replaces the lenses for international reuse distribution.
  • Use the internet to sell your items on a global market!


Keeping things out of the landfill by placing them into recycle system rather than the trash can save raw materials and resources.

Things we may not typically think of can be recycled:

  • Old aluminum lawn chairs
  • Computers and printers
  • Automobile tires
  • Cell phones
  • Appliances
  • Ink jet and laser printer cartridges
  • Motor oil
  • Car batteries
  • Carpet

Refuse and Return

Rethinking whether acquiring things is the best way to spend our time and energy needs to be visited and regularly reflected upon.

Think of ways to refuse:

  • Get your household on the “don’t send us junk mail” list
  • Don’t register for contests that put your household on mailing lists.
  • Turn down offers to be sent “free” trail products that result in more mail.
  • Just say “no” to trinkets and cheap one-time-use products.
  • Return unwanted/unneeded gifts.