We all want to save money on our energy bills, but the issue quickly becomes convoluted about what’s true and what’s realistic. We also don’t usually like to sacrifice our own creature comforts or luxuries in our home, something that we work so hard to attain in the first place.
That’s where this free guide will come in handy. I’ve cut out a lot of the noise around this often-confusing goal to save you time and money.
Even if you can save $20 per month on your energy bill, that’s $240 per year. Nothing to sneeze at!
You can check in most of these things in under a minute, and some are little DIY projects that don’t take up much time.
I’ve generally listed these in order of importance and energy savings you’ll get. Remember that every home is different, so your results will be unique to anyone else’s.
Some of the links below are affiliate links to products, where we get a small commission (1-3%) if you click them and buy through the links. Any commission helps expand our mission and the blog, and you’re welcome to use them or not, or just use them as reference.
Keep reading to start the journey! And thank you so much for your interest and support while we all move towards a more energy-efficient future in homeownership.
Air Sealing – Stopping Those Leaks
What is air sealing anyway? And why is it our first recommendation?
Air sealing is simply the act of plugging up leaky holes and gaps throughout the house that let air escape or come in, depending on the season. The fact is that most homes are incredibly leaky due to hundreds or thousands of small holes in the building shell.
And why is air sealing our first recommendation overall? Because it has the most significant impact for the money and time spent, which is what we’re all about here.
According to EnergyStar.gov, air leakage accounts for 25-40% of the energy used for heating and cooling in a typical residence.
So let’s get started on some practical (cheap and easy) ways to tighten up your home, so it’s not so leaky.
You’ll probably want things like paper towels, shop towels, old rags, and a caulk gun. Things can get sticky! And you don’t want to let it dry before things are in place, either.
But don’t worry, it goes quickly once you get going. Notice there are different kinds of caulk as well. There are various colors, latex or silicone, clear vs. solid, and specialized ones for bathrooms, windows, and exterior (strong waterproof for years). Research a bit to see what to use where.
So let’s take some steps to seal up those leaking areas of the house.
Step 1 – Taking a Survey
You’ll want to walk around the inside and outside of your house and look for any visual cracks in the ceilings, walls, where vents are, behind cabinets (sinks), between the baseboards and hard floors, and around windows, doors, and everywhere else.
You’ll use your caulk and spray foam to seal these up. It’ll take some DIY and is ultimately up to you for the final look and product used, but the goal is the prevent air from coming in and out. As a side benefit, bugs can’t get in now either!
Step 2 – Outlet Wall Insulator Gaskets
Put some outlet insulator gaskets behind the electrical outlet covers.
Step 3 – HVAC Vents
Remove the AC vent/return covers and use caulk or spray foam to seal between the drywall and the outside of the vent cover.
Attic air is leaking into your conditioned (living) space all the time without you knowing it, so we’re squashing this problem too.
Step 4 – Check Places You Can’t Normally See
Check soffits, eaves, or other places you possibly can’t see. Building a home can be sloppy, and areas will be missed (or looked over).
Step 5 – Leaky Baseboards
Use clear silicone caulk (because it’s flexible when dry) to seal between your hard floors and the bottom of your baseboard. Attic air actually goes down through the wall and into or out of these cracks throughout your entire house.
Sealing up this area alone can be a massive benefit to controlling your indoor air better, which also increases your home comfort and draftiness (is that a word?) at the same time.
Wrapping it Up – Air Sealing
Whew! OK, that was a good start. While air sealing can be some DIY and a little bit of money for tools, you can start to see why it’s the first thing you really want to tackle to knock down your monthly bill costs.
Given that HVAC is 40-60% of your energy bill, helping your systems work less (with less on/off cycles) will add up quite a bit over time, with maintenance savings included.
There’s a lot more to air sealing, and if you want to keep diving in, you can check out our articles on our website by clicking here.
Next, we’ll move on to a more straightforward (yet powerful) one.
Simply put, efficient lighting is one of the easiest and most straightforward things we can do in the house to save a good chunk of energy.
Basically, all we’re doing is changing out all the light bulbs to LED technology.
You can do this right away for an immediate impact or just install LED bulbs as older bulbs burn out over time.
Why is LED so good?
In short, they use less heat and energy than traditional incandescent or CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs. The good news is that LED bulbs are quickly becoming the new standard, and the technology is now stable and reliable enough that it’s totally fine to swap them out.
Here’s a quick chart of how much energy is actually used compared with a regular 60W incandescent (regular old bulb) to put out the same amount of light:
How to Calculate Energy Savings
Doing some quick energy-saving math, 60W – 6W by switching to LED saves you 54 watts per hour, per bulb. The result is a 90% energy savings for every bulb you swap out.
When you add up the number of bulbs you have in your house, the savings can be significant.
Here’s a quick calculation on how we figure out payback on your money also (as an example):
- Bulb cost each: $3
- kWh electricity rate: 14 cents/kWh
- Savings per bulb per hour: 54 watts
If you run a bulb for three hours per day, that’s:
3 • 54 watts saved = 162 watts/day • 365 days/year = 59,130 watts saved per year.
Divided by 1,000 (for kilo), that’s 59.13 kWh saved per year. So when you save about 59 kWh per year per bulb, multiplied by your 14 cents/kWh rate, that’s an $8.26 savings per year, per bulb.
Given that the bulb was only $3 (for example) and you make $8.26 per year, that’s only a 4.5-month payback on your money. So you’ll get the full $3 back in about that time, and then from then on, you’re saving money (cash in your pocket).
The Payback On Your Money and Return On Investment From Energy Savings
This is why I wanted to spend a few minutes showing the calculations of what we’re doing. For instance, if you have 30 bulbs in your house, you’re saving about $250/year by swapping old bulbs for LED (using our example numbers).
In ROI terms (Return on Investment), you’re spending $3 to earn $8.26 per year, which equates to a 275% return on your money.
In comparison, the stock market averages 8-10%…
Now that you can see the savings, here are some quick tips on how to tackle your bulbs easily:
- Most bulbs will have a label as to what type they are, such as A19 (regular bulbs), BR30, PAR38, etc. When you unscrew it, it should show what type it is near the base. If it doesn’t, just take the bulb to the store to match it up.
- Be aware of the Kelvin/Color temperature the new bulb says on the box. It’s measured in a range usually from 2700-6000K, where lower is more orange/yellow and higher is nearing the white/blue spectrum of the natural color scale.
Fun fact: The sun itself emits about a 5800 Kelvin Temperature, which we consider natural daylight color.
In most residential spaces, we go for 2700K-3000K for that more warm feeling. I also like 4100K if you want a crisp, whiter light that isn’t too harsh, but it’s totally up to you!
I added this part, though, because sometimes it’s easy not to realize you bought a mix of all different colors, which won’t look good.
So beyond swapping out bulbs one-for-one, here are some other ways to maximize savings with lighting:
- Add dimmer switches or motion sensor lights (usually outdoors)
- Turn them off when not in use
- Add timers for energy savings and security
- Spend a bit more for smart bulbs so you can program (time) them with your phone
HVAC: Heating & Cooling
The air conditioning systems in our home use a ton of energy. In many cases, the payback or ROI is not worth changing out the entire system unless it totally fails on you.
So, for now, we can tackle a few tried-and-true energy-saving methods with HVAC inefficiencies that we know exist already with most homes.
Given that the HVAC system typically uses up 40-60% of our energy bill, a little bit of optimization can really add up.
Step 1 – Check Your Thermostat Settings
Check your thermostat settings, including by the day of the week and times. Go through each day and time to adjust settings for when you’re actually home, away, sleeping, etc. It’ll be up to you but cut back on the system running where you can.
Step 2 – Sealing Up Your Ductwork
Seal up the leaks in your ductwork. If you can and have access, reaching the ductwork and examining it for leaks can make a huge difference in your energy bill. When air is spilling into your attic or crawlspace and not even reaching you, that’s just burning money.
You can get some aluminum duct tape (not regular soft-ish). It’s super sticky and made specifically for A/C ductwork.
You can run your hand along the ductwork or visually see where there are tears or gaps where conditioned air is leaking through. Most A/C systems are leaky, so sealing them can help you see big savings.
Step 3 – Closing Air Registers
Close the air registers in rooms you barely use and keep the door closed. This will push conditioned air to places you actually need, allowing the system to run less.
Don’t close more than 40% of them, though. If you do, you’re putting stress on the system by restricting it too much.
Another trick for the seasons and if you live in a multi-story house:
- Winter – close the top floor vents so hot air will be pumped into the bottom floors, which will rise naturally.
- Summer – close some bottom floor registers/vents so that the cold air comes from the top-down because it’ll naturally fall into the lower floors anyway.
Step 4 – Checking Air Filters
Simply check your furnace or A/C filter. If it hasn’t been replaced in a while, it’ll be gunked up and restricting airflow, not to mention blow dust everywhere and potentially making people sick. So swap it out regularly to allow the system to breathe and operate more efficiently.
Step 5 – Visually Inspect Air Vents
If you can, visually inspect your air ducts and air return vents. If they’re clogged up, the system can’t breathe and needs to be cleaned out.
Step 6 – Using Space Heaters to Save Energy
Use space heaters in the winter for individual rooms or areas rather than running the entire heating system. This is great if you’re working in a home office all day.
Step 7 – Invest in a Smart Learning Thermostat
It’s a bit of a pricier option, but switching to a smart learning thermostat can save 5-10% a year on your A/C portion of the energy bill. They automatically track and monitor activity in the house and your usage and adjusts the operation to save energy throughout the year.
Typical smart thermostats go for $150-250 or so, but they will save money over the first year or two, all while being able to update your home to a smart home with remote control.
There’s a lot more efficiency work you can do, but doing the above can drastically cut down on your HVAC energy use, especially if you have an older or pretty inefficient system.
Next up…Water Heating!
The water heater is usually second in line as the most significant energy hog in a typical home. Why would this be?
The water heater is a giant tank that basically keeps water hot at all times. This takes a ton of energy.
So here are some things we can do right now and with a little bit of money to start making it more efficient:
Step 1 – Check The Heater’s Temperature
First, check the temperature set on the unit. Is the water hotter than what you ever might need for dishes or in the shower? You can turn it down for immediate energy savings.
Step 2 – Flush The Tank
Drain/flush the tank (you can use a garden hose) entirely, which might clear out the debris sitting on the bottom. Unfortunately, the system wastes energy by heating this debris if it exists.
Step 3 – A Timing Device
Buy and install a timing device. Many homes don’t even use hot water during the day when the family is at school or work or when we’re sleeping, for example.
Step 4 – Insulating The Water Heater and Piping
Wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket, and wrap your pipes (hot side only) with pipe insulation.
This is an easy one and won’t take too long. We do this to trap the heat inside the pipes and the heater itself, for the same reason that we insulate the house itself or put on a sweater or jacket.
Pipe insulation is cheap styrofoam that wraps itself around hot water pipes to help keep the heat in. I’m sure you’ve seen it—as kids we played “Gladiator” with it, among other games.
They are pretty inexpensive but should go on any hot water pipe you can reach, starting with right as it comes out of the water heater.
Use them in winter to prevent pipe freeze also!
The large appliances in our homes themselves are costly to replace, and it often does not make sense to swap them out just to save energy, even if things have Energy Star or other savings certifications.
However, we can do a few things to minimize the energy used by the ones we already have. Some will be some habit changes, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a worthy benefit. I’ll also try to provide some numbers to put everything in context!
In no particular order, let’s tackle some of these practical tips:
Step 1 – Cold Water Detergent
Start buying high-efficiency cold-water detergent for the washing machine, and run your cycles on cold. You learned about saving hot water above, and this adds to it!
Step 2 – Air Dry Laundry
Air dry your laundry with a clothesline – this is a bit more manual labor, and some of us may not want to do this if you have a dryer, and that’s OK. You can pick and choose from this entire eBook on things that make sense for you.
It depends on your personal or family use of the dryer, but on average, a dryer will cost you around $100 per year to run at average electricity rates. Many places worldwide (like in Europe) don’t even have dryers as a regular part of the home; the clothesline is standard.
Step 3- Turn The Oven Off Early
Turn off the oven a little before the food is done – because it retains heat for such a long time, there are some savings here!
Step 4 – Use the Dishwasher vs. Hand Washing
Use your dishwasher instead of manually washing dishes – packing the dishwasher full is a much more efficient way to clean dishes versus running tons of hot water.
As an extra “hack,” turn off the drying cycle and just let them air dry instead. In total, dishwashers can cost between $50-$75 per year to run, and you can arguably cut this in half if you don’t use the energy-intensive drying mechanism.
Step 5 – Check Dryer Vents
Check your dryer vents (if still using the dryer now) for blockages and lint build-up – it will run much less efficiently if the vent is clogged up. It’s a good idea to get it cleaned out if it’s clogged. If you have a shop vac or strong vacuum at home, this can often do the trick.
Another dryer vent upgrade is to add a vent cover that automatically closes when not in use. This will help with bugs and a bit more air sealing as well.
Step 6 – Vacuum Your Fridge Vents
Vacuum or clean your refrigerator air intake or wherever the air is brought into the system – these are usually at the bottom front of it, but it varies by model. A clogged-up airway can prevent the heat pump inside it from working and cooling down the food.
This actually happened to me recently. So much built up over time that I had to replace the blower fan motor inside the fridge once it was discovered. That was near a $200 repair because I didn’t check it through the year. So for maintenance savings alone, check this!
Step 7 – Check Temperatures
Freezer and refrigerator temperatures – ideal fridge temps are 40ºF or below, and freezers should be 0ºF. If they are set colder than this, you could save a bit of energy by increasing them to these safe levels.
Water can be pretty cheap or incredibly expensive, depending on where you live. One thing is for sure—water availability is becoming more scarce worldwide, which means it’ll cost more in the future.
We can curb our water use without changing many (or sometimes, any) habits at all, which is better for both the environment and our wallets.
Here are some common sense things we can look at to save on water:
Step 1 – Replace Showerhead
Replace your showerhead with a low-flow or WaterSense-certified one – something that has a flow of fewer than two gallons per minute (GPM) is considered energy-efficient. I have these in my home and they are great, and don’t take away from any shower experience you’d want. All they do is save more.
Step 2 – Fix Leaky Faucets and Spigots
Fix all the leaky faucets and outdoor spigots (where you attach a hose) – you can look up videos on YouTube and guides online for this, but these are slowly wasting water 24/7/365 unless you tackle the fix.
To put this into perspective, ten wasted drops per minute adds up to about one gallon per day of water wasted. So that’s 365 gallons of water per year wasted just with a small drip. Crazy!
Step 3 – Explore New WaterSense Faucets
For any new fixtures/faucets you buy, always look for the WaterSense label – this is the government-tested certification used as the standard to indicate anything that uses water efficiently, including faucets, shower fixtures, toilets, and more.
While home electronics are generally pretty efficient these days, you can still reduce energy usage with a few simple tweaks.
Here are some common ones that can add up over time:
Step 1 – Smart Power Strips
Use smart power strips – tech has come a long way, and now you can get power strips that act as surge protectors (to save your expensive equipment) and also connect to your favorite smart home app or system.
Now you can control each socket, down to the individual thing plugged in on timers, behaviors, or however else you want, all while saving more energy. Pretty cool!
Step 2 – All The Eco Modes
While turning off any electronics will always be the best energy saver, the next best thing is to update the settings so that they go on standby or eco mode, to sleep, or into some other energy-saving mode after maybe 5-10 minutes.
This rule especially applies to TVs, computers, and monitors. Have you ever noticed your laptop battery draining super fast when your screen brightness is turned up? That’s because a bright display eats up a lot of power.
Desktop computers are also power hogs when they are fully active, especially gaming computers.
Step 3 – Efficient Ceiling Fans
We can use ceiling fans to maximize savings on our energy bills without generally giving up any comfort.
In short, it costs way less to run a fan than it does an HVAC system. So if you’re spending a reasonable amount of time in a single room, consider using this instead, and you can turn the HVAC up a bit in summer or down in winter, allowing the system to work less.
Why would you run your fan in the winter, you might ask? Because as heat rises, the warmer air gets trapped near the ceiling. We want to circulate that through the room to even it out. This measure will warm you up at the same time. You can even put the fan on reverse to not feel it as much.
When looking to buy new fans, also look for the Energy Star and ENERGYGUIDE label for energy use.
Doors can sometimes have colossal air gaps outside or at the bottom. Again, this goes back to our top priority of air sealing the home up some more.
A couple ways to seal up doors include:
Step 1 – Weather Stripping
Use door weather stripping – it usually comes in rolls that are adhesive-backed. The key here is just to close the gap all the way around so air cannot get through.
Step 2 – Draft Stoppers
Use an under-door draft stopper – this device installs at the bottom of the door and stops the air down there.
Rebates and Tax Credits
We like free stuff! (Well, I do anyway…)
There are many ongoing energy efficiency and renewable tax credits for doing some of the optimizations we discussed, along with a lot more.
The largest and best website to search for these is DSIREUSA.org. Plug in your zip code and check out what’s available in your area.
Taking it Further
Whew! That was a lot. But I really wanted to give the most amount of easy, cheap, and effective energy savings measures that you can DIY yourself to actually see a difference.
You should now easily see a 10% savings or more per month or year on your energy bills, and even perhaps up to 20-30% savings if you do most of it.
And that’s what the goal was—to spend a little bit of money for a permanent big bang for your buck, all while simultaneously increasing comfort and helping the environment; we’re shooting for a total win-win-win here.
But what’s next? Well, you can take it as far as you want, all the way to being fully net-zero (producing as much as you use).
Assuming that each of these items pencils out (has a good ROI attached to it), we can target:
- A look at whole house insulation
- Entirely replacing your water heater with a more efficient one
- Replacing your HVAC system with a ductless mini-split or a heat pump
- Replacing old appliances that we measure to consume too much energy vs. the price of a new one
- Using a blower door test to measure your actual whole-house air leakage accurately
- Installing energy-monitoring devices to watch every single electrical circuit in real-time
- Converting gas stoves and fireplaces to the new “electrified” tech, now on par or better in many ways
- Once all commonsense efficiency is done, design for a new solar electricity system—add enough solar to power an electric car!
To cap it off, I wanted to share some more resources from our website if you want to dive into this stuff further:
- The case study on the company’s recent netzero home renovation project
- The case study on the company’s first fully-netzero home renovation project
- More on air sealing, including an Ultimate Guide
- All about modular homes
- More on efficient water heater savings
There’s so much more, but if you want to reach out, you can also contact us here.