Like the old saying about charity, protecting the environment begins at home. According to Donnie Grill, an engineer for the University of Alabama Facilities Energy Management, there are 10 easy steps you can take to reduce your own negative impact on the planet while—bonus!—also cutting energy costs in your house or apartment and saving money on your monthly bills.
1. Adjust the Thermostat: Set your thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer, especially when you’re sleeping or away from home. For every one degree you raise/lower your thermostat setting, you will save 5% on your heating and cooling costs. Wear light clothes in warm seasons and heavy clothes in cold seasons. Using an electric blanket at night is more economical than heating the entire house. And although they cost more than typical thermostats, ranging from $100-$250, smart thermostats can save users significant energy and money.
2. Minimize Hot Water Usage: Avoid unnecessarily long showers. If you shower in very warm water, consider turning the temperature down slightly. Avoid running your washing machine or dishwasher before you have a full load.
3. Move the Air Around: Energy.gov states that a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about four degrees with no reduction in comfort. A two-degree increase in your thermostat setting can reduce your air conditioning energy usage by up to 10%, and the cost of running a ceiling fan is minimal. A 36- to 44-inch diameter cooling fan will also effectively cool rooms up to 225 square feet.
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4. Change Your Air Filter: Replace your air filter at least once each season. Invest in a good quality pleated air filter.
5. Don’t Use the Oven So Much: Whenever feasible, choose the microwave over the oven. It requires much less electricity. When used properly, air fryers can lead to significant energy savings as well. A standard 4-quart air fryer is about 50% more energy-efficient than the average full-size electric oven. If you must use the oven, avoid opening it unnecessarily.
6. Block the Outdoor Cold and Heat: In the summer, keeping the curtains closed will prevent the sun from heating up the inside of your home. In the winter, keeping the curtains open will allow the house to absorb the sun’s heat. Closing outside louvers, attic vents and crawl space vents in the winter will help keep your house warmer, but don’t forget to reopen them once the weather warms up again.
7. Update Lighting to LED Technology: LED lamps use 87% less energy than halogen, 81% less energy than incandescent and 12-23% less than compact fluorescent. LED lights produce less heat than other types of light fixtures, requiring less energy for your air conditioning in the summer. Also, turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Nothing saves more energy than simply turning things off.
8. Unplug the Unused: Unplug devices whenever they are not in use. This includes smart devices, appliances and even televisions. If the constant unplugging and re-plugging of devices seems daunting despite the savings, it may be in your best interest to invest in smart power strips. They detect when these devices are in standby mode and cut off the power to them.
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9. Eliminate air leaks and add insulation: Check the exterior caulking around your doors and windows and make sure doors close tightly. Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with double-pane, low-emissivity windows. Adding insulation creates a more uniform temperature and increases comfort. Recommended levels of insulation are R45-R60 in the attic, R15 in the walls and R25 in the floor. The higher the R-value, the better. Use your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fan to remove excess heat, moisture and odors. But don’t run it longer than needed or it will be taking out excess conditioned air.
10. Take Care of Your Outdoor Unit: Dust, pollen, falling leaves and lawn mowers are all potential sources for dirt and debris. Mow grass away from the condenser in the summer and keep the fan grill free of leaves in the fall. Clean your condenser coil annually using a mild cleaner and trim back foliage at least two feet away. This will allow for adequate airflow around the unit.
This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website. The University of Alabama is a Sullivan Foundation partner school.