Most homes, including yours, waste energy. That inefficiency is costing you plenty, but it doesn’t have to, according to the editors of Consumer Reports.
Even if you’ve already switched to compact fluorescent bulbs and retired the refrigerator in the basement, there’s more you can do. Some of the simplest projects, such as adding insulation and sealing cracks and ductwork, can yield the biggest savings. And thanks to new federal tax credits, it will take less time for those projects to pay for themselves.
Yet in a nationally representative CR survey of 2,014 Americans, only 12 percent had added or upgraded their home’s insulation in the last three years. Just a paltry 5 percent had insulated their heating and cooling ductwork.
Conflicting and confusing claims can make it hard to know where the real savings are. So CR recently examined the claims across four key categories — heating and cooling, water, recycling and electricity — and ordered them by potential money and energy savings based on national rates for electricity, gas and water.
• Heating and Cooling: Annual Savings $550. Approximately 40 percent of residential energy bills are for space heating and cooling. This is also the area in which homeowners can save the most. To eliminate leaks, use a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant and weather stripping to fill gaps. Check insulation levels; if the attic has less than 11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose, you should probably add more. Compressed insulation loses its effectiveness, so don’t store anything on top of it. Sealing ductwork is the most frequently overlooked step. Spending $500 to seal leaky or poorly insulated ducts that run through crawl spaces, attics, or other areas that aren’t heated or cooled can save about $400 per year. A programmable thermostat is worth every penny. Automatically lowering the heating system 5 to 10 degrees at night and during the day when no one is home can shave up to 20 percent off your heating costs.
• Water Consumption: Annual Savings More Than $400. Almost four in five states anticipate water shortages by 2013, which could lead to steeper rates and penalties for excessive water use. Stopping drips is the fastest way to conserve, saving the average household $70 a year. Low-flow showerheads can save as much as $265 per year on water bills and low-flow toilets can save $90. CR also recommends watching the water heater; lower the temperature to 120 degrees F and insulate hot-water pipes.
• Electricity Use: Annual Savings $300. Electricity accounts for almost 40 percent of the average home’s energy use, but there are ways to cut back in each category without sacrificing. Changing 10 bulbs and replacing three major appliances with energy-efficient models can save hundreds per year. According to CR’s survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents have replaced an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb. Also, 34 percent of appliance owners have upgraded to an energy-efficient model. That number is likely to rise nationwide as states begin distributing rebates, expected later this year, that could reach $200 for each Energy Star appliance as part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill.
• Recycling: Dollar Savings $250. Recycling saves the least money, but generated some of the highest results in the survey, with two-thirds of respondents recycling paper and plastic and more than half recycling metal and glass. RecycleBank lets people put all of their recyclables in one container instead of separating them by type, then weighs the container and issues rewards or points redeemable at local retailers. The average household gets $250 worth. Also redeem bottles; millions of dollars are unclaimed every year.