Americans are committed to boosting their home's energy efficiencies. Forty-four percent have purchased an Energy Star appliance, while 23 percent have upgraded to a more energy-efficient heating or cooling system.
Consumer Reports recently identified seven simple steps that consumers can take to save on energy costs.
• Jettison the lead foot. Obeying speed limits and avoiding hard acceleration and braking will add several mpg to the fuel efficiency of a midsized car. Yearly savings: $200
• Program your thermostat. Trim up to 20 percent from the heating and cooling bills by adjusting temperatures 5 to 10 degrees at night or when no one is home. Yearly savings: $200
• Fix leaky ducts. Pay a qualified heating and cooling pro to seal and insulate ducts that run through the home, especially in unconditioned spaces. Yearly savings: $400
• Stop pre-rinsing. Washing dishes before putting them in the washer wastes up to 6,500 gallons of water per year. CR's tests show that it's unnecessary. Yearly savings: $75
• Adjust modes. Manufacturers often ship TVs in “retail mode” to ensure best quality, but the more efficient “home mode” is fine for most types of viewing. Yearly savings: $30 to $60
• Tame hidden energy use. Between 5 and 10 percent of residential electricity goes to devices that draw power when they are off or in standby mode. Turn off video games, a major offender, when they are not in use. Yearly savings: $125
• Wash in cold water. Tide 2X Ultra for Cold Water for traditional washers ranked best in CR's testing in removing grass, wine and other tough stains. Yearly savings: $60
A sneak peek at LEDs
What if the lightbulb you put in your baby’s nursery didn't have to be replaced until Junior is off to college? That’s the promise of the latest light-emitting diodes (LEDs), coming soon to a store near you. Those bulbs claim to rival the look, dimming ability, and light quality of incandescents; contain no mercury (as compact fluorescent lightbulbs do); and last up to five times longer than CFLs and 50 times longer than incandescents.
LEDs are not without their concerns. For starters, they can cost $60 or more apiece. But even at that price, an LED bulb would save you about $300 in electrical cost over its life compared with an incandescent.
Top picks in CFL lightbulbs
In the meantime, CR's tests found that there's no shortage of inexpensive, money-saving, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Most delivered on brightness and many provided color that was closer to incandescents' than earlier versions. And all of the tested bulbs had significantly less than 5 milligrams of mercury, the cap that Energy Star sets for those bulbs. Still, CFLs should be recycled.
Here’s how to choose the best CFL:
• Think about fixtures. CFLs last longer and perform better if they’re on for 15 minutes or more. That longevity makes them good for hard-to-reach fixtures. But they take time to reach full brightness, from about 30 seconds for spirals to roughly 2 minutes for recessed bulbs and 3 minutes for outdoor bulbs, so don’t use them in staircases or other areas where you need instant brightness.
• Note the lumens. Lumens indicate how much light the bulb provides. Buying a bulb with just the right brightness and the fewest watts saves energy and money. Energy Star suggests that a 60-watt incandescent and its CFL or LED replacements have at least 800 lumens.
• Consider the kelvins. The color of the light is measured by its temperature in kelvins (K). To match a soft-white incandescent, get a CFL or LED with 2700 K. The light from bulbs with 3000 K is comparable to the whiter light of halogen bulbs, while bulbs with 3500 K to 4100 K give off a cool, bright white light.