By Richard Buzard, CEM®

Almost everyone wants to cut their home energy costs without giving up lighting or comfort. This article provides some easy no and low-cost ways to cut your utility bill and it explains the calculations that show the energy and cost savings.

While the individual savings may not seem like much, the cumulative annual savings can add up, and provide cash to be used on more important or enjoyable pursuits.

No-cost ways to save energy:
1) Turn off unnecessary lights. A single 60-watt bulb that is left on 2 hours a day, 7 days a week when it could be turned off will cost you $4.43 per year based on Dominion Energy’s rate of 10.13 cents per kilowatt hour. It doesn’t sound like much, but a lot of houses leave 4 to 5 lights on each day. If you need to have the light on as a personal matter of comfort, replace it with LED lighting.

2) Heating and cooling account for about 50% of household utility costs.
The common guidance is to set your thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer. With the humidity in South Carolina, that may not be practical, but what you can do is use a programmable thermostat. If you work away from home, there’s not a lot of sense in heating and cooling the house while you are gone. Even if you work from home a few days a week, these settings can add up. Each additional degree of heating can add 1 to 3% more to your bill, and for cooling, each degree of cooling can add 4 to 8%.

3) Clean your refrigerator coils with a soft brush at least annually, more often if you have pets that shed. This makes for a more efficient transfer of heat and cuts the amount of energy used.

4) Clean the air conditioner condenser coils and fins (on the unit outside of your house) when you see grass and airborne debris collected on them. Use a garden hose with a spray attachment and rags or a soft brush. If the amount of debris is extensive, you can buy condenser cleaning sprays at most plumbing and heating supply houses.

5) Lower your water heater setting to 120 degrees F for both energy saving and safety. This applies to both the traditional tank type and tankless water heaters.

6) Wash as much of your clothing on cold rather than warm or hot settings.

Low-cost ways to save energy:
1) Use an ENERGY STAR® rated programmable thermostat. These thermostats are accurate to within +/- 2 degrees, and when properly used, can save you as much as $150 per year on your heating and cooling costs. Your cost: $30 and up, depending on options.

2) Replace incandescent lights or CFLs with LED lights. The results are similar to no cost item #1; by moving from 60 watts to 9 watts, you’re saving 57 watts, but in this case, you get the same light output. If you use the light 20 hours per week, you will save at least $6.01 per year, per lamp. Avoid using
compact fluorescent bulbs because they contain mercury. Remember that these lights come in a variety of color temperatures; some produce more “white” light than others. If you're concerned about off-white light, try the daylight bulbs.

3) Check for air leaks and drafts at window frames, around doors, windows, or wall-mounted air conditioners, attic hatches, baseboards, etc. An easy way to do this is to use a candle or strip of yarn and watch for it to deflect. Use weather stripping for moving surfaces (doors, windows, etc.) and polysulfide or urethane (not silicone) caulking for the rest. This can save you between 5 to 30% on your heating bill.

4) Replace your furnace/ air conditioner air filter every 3 months. Dirty filters cause the blower to work harder and waste energy. Clean filters will save you between 3 and 5% per month of your air conditioning or heating costs. Your cost: $7 to $20, depending on the degree of filtration. Be careful in the type of filter you use. Those with extremely high filtration must be replaced more often because as they get dirty, the amount of air flowing through them decreases. This puts a heavier load on the fan and results in less cooling or heating. Remember to clean the return air duct grills for the same reason.

5) If you have a traditional “tank type” water heater, use a water heater blanket and insulate the first 3 or 4 feet of the discharge pipe (more if you have easy access). This will reduce energy use by 10 to 15%. Your cost: about $40. These lace up around your heater just like a pair of shoes.

6) Use ENERGY STAR rated ceiling fans. The upfront cost can be $100 or so for each, but can save over $600 per year when compared to the cost of running an air conditioner.

7) Fix leaky faucets; this can save you up to $35 per year on heating costs for hot water. Your cost: About $6 for a faucet repair kit, with O-rings and gaskets.

8) Rather than a timer or manual control, install a photocell to control outdoor lighting. They are much more accurate and do not require resetting as the time of sunset and sunrise changes. Your cost: $15 and up.

9) Maximize your clothes dryer's efficiency. Remove and replace flexible lint ducting, especially the slinky-type plastic tubing (replace with metallic). It holds lint and causes the fan to work harder. Open the back and bottom of the dryer and vacuum it out to remove additional lint and debris.

10) Consider using a clothesline if you have space available. Why spend money on electricity when the weather is good? A consideration might be whether or not you have a privacy fence. 😊

11) Shade is a great insulator. Maybe there are places where trees or shrubs can be planted on the east and west sides of your house. Leave the southern side clearer to accept the sun's warmth during winter, or plant deciduous trees here. An added boost is that trees are great for the environment. If trees aren't an option, consider window awnings.

12) How much insulation do you have in your attic? Newer, more energy-efficient homes have 10 to 14 inches of R-38 insulation. For details, see https://www.energystar.gov/campaign/seal_insulate/do_it_yourself_guide/adding_attic_insulation

13) Are you building or buying a new home? Energy Star appliances, windows, and high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment are a fantastic investment, and some of these can be rolled into the purchase price.

Richard Buzard is a Certified Energy Manager® and CEO of Virtual FM LLC, an ENERGY STAR® Service and Product provider. The firm provides energy, facilities, and related services to educational, government, and commercial facilities throughout South Carolina and the Augusta, GA and Charlotte, NC metro areas. If you have questions, or would like a free Introductory Energy Assessment for your business please reach out at rbuzard@virtual-fm.com or (850) 481-2974.