If you've been a little lax about nudging the thermostat or leaving lights on, now is the time to turn over a new leaf. Here are 50 energy-saving tips to help lower your utility bills.
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TURN DOWN THE THERMOSTAT
Each degree you lower the thermostat for a period of at least eight hours can cut the heating bill by 1 percent, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy. Just throw on warmer pajamas or snuggle under an extra blanket at night.
INSTALL A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically turn down the heat while everyone's at school or work all day and in bed at night. This avoids the more extreme (and costly) swings that often come with manual adjustments.
SEAL YOUR DUCTWORK
The federal government's Energy Star program warns that about 20 percent of heated air can escape through the ductwork. Bring in a professional make sure the distribution channels are leak-free and make any necessary repairs.
CLEAN AIR DUCTS
This is one of the simplest energy-saving tips. A clogged air duct won't let heat in or out.
CHANGE FURNACE FILTERS
Furnace filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly during the cold season. A dirty filter blocks the flow of heat, which in turn can boost utility bills.
BUY A REUSABLE FURNACE FILTER
Although they cost more, reusable filters last longer and give more bang for the buck. Wash off the filter at the beginning of each heating season, put it back in place, and you're good to go.
GET THE FURNACE INSPECTED
Regular tune-ups to keep the furnace clean and properly adjusted help it run efficiently and prolong its lifespan. Some utility companies and furnace manufacturers offer annual inspections at no charge.
INSULATE THE ATTIC
Heat could be escaping from the uppermost floor of the house. At least six inches of insulating material between the heated and unheated areas of the home will keep you warmer and your bills lower. Although the price of insulating an attic can be high, the investment should pay off in a few seasons.
USE HIGHER-DENSITY INSULATION
Insulation such as rigid foam boards for exterior walls or cathedral ceilings may be a worthwhile energy-saving investment.
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RUN FANS IN REVERSE
Flipping a switch on a ceiling fan turns the usual counterclockwise rotation, which produces a cool breeze, to a clockwise rotation that pushes warm air back into circulation.
Patch up problem spots (windows, doors, and anything that lets in air from the inside, like dryer vents) with caulk and weather stripping to save up to 30 percent on heating bills, according to the Energy Department. Cover single-pane windows with plastic.
REMOVE OR COVER AIR CONDITIONERS
Remove window air conditioners or tightly cover the front of the units. Leaving them in place or without protection is an open invitation to a cold air invasion.
SHUT THE FIREPLACE
Make sure the flue is closed. If you have a glass screen, close that, as well. Open fireplaces allow heat to escape.
DON'T BLOCK VENTS
Objects placed in front or on top of a vent get in the way of hot air. Take this opportunity to rearrange the furniture.
LET IN THE SUN
Open the shades even on chilly days to let natural sunlight warm the rooms in your home.
LOWER THE WATER HEATER SETTING
The water heater can account for up to 25 percent of your utility bill. Set the temperature to 120 degrees, which is still plenty warm, to save money all year.
Pipes protected from the cold and wind are much less likely to freeze. Frozen pipes often crack, and that's a very costly repair.
DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR BILL
The billing department at the utility company can make mistakes. Question any strange numbers and make sure the meter matches up with the usage posted on the bill.
LET THE LAUNDRY PILE UP
The washers uses the same amount of energy regardless how much you stuff in. It's more energy-efficient to do big loads than small loads.
DON'T STUFF THE DRYER
The energy-saving advice for drying is opposite of that for washing. The less clothing inside the appliance, the less juice it uses.
Air-dry washables on a clothesline or drying rack set in a warm room or outdoors, weather permitting.
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ADD LESS DETERGENT
You don't need as much laundry soap as you think for the typical load. If an item is really filthy, soak it in the sink first. Using less detergent puts less strain on your washer and your wallet.
SPIN IT AGAIN
If clothes are still soaked, run another spin cycle to cut the time needed in the dryer.
DRY WITH A TOWEL
A clean, dry towel added to a wet load absorbs moisture and could decrease drying time by 25 percent.
PICK PERMANENT PRESS
This is the dryer setting that uses the least amount of energy. It's intended for thinner or more delicate fabrics but might be adequate for small loads.
DRY LIGHTWEIGHT CLOTHES FIRST
This tactic helps build up the heat in the dryer for heavier fabrics.
CLEAN THE LINT FILTER
Do this after every load. Too much built-up fuzz slows down the dryer.
GET HOT FAST
Start stovetop cooking at high heat, then lower the flame or electric setting to finish the job.
COVER BOILING POTS
Water in a covered pot heats faster and uses less energy.
JUST COVER THE TOP
Use only enough water to reach the top of vegetables or other foods being cooked.
COOK WITH CLEAN PANS
Lots of black stuff on the outside surface of pots and pans blocks heat from reaching the food inside, so cooking time is longer. Scour and scrub after each use.
USE THE APPROPRIATE BURNER
Put small pans on small burners and bigger pans on big burners to save energy.
KEEP THE OVEN CLOSED
Every time you open the door, about 30 degrees of heat wafts out.
USE THE TOASTER AND MICROWAVE
Cooking or heating up food with a toaster oven or microwave saves more energy than warming on the stove or in the oven.
SET THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
Keep the fresh food section of the refrigerator set between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer section at 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
COVER FOOD AND LIQUID
Always cover items stored in the refrigerator. Failing to do so releases moisture and causes the compressor to work overtime.
LEAVE ROOM IN THE FRIDGE
The refrigerator and freezer operate most efficiently when not crammed with food. Also be sure there's enough clearance behind the appliance to let air circulate.
DON'T PRE-WASH DISHES
It's hard to resist the urge to rinse off the last bits of spaghetti before loading the dishwasher, but trust the machine. The no-rinse strategy can save up to 55,000 gallons of water over the course of a dishwasher's lifetime.
GO COLD FOR QUICK RINSES
Using hot water on dishes even for a short time causes the water heater to work harder and use more energy.
LOOK AT THE CLOCK
Running appliances at off-peak times can shave dollars off monthly energy bills, depending on the local utility. Avoid the after-dinner rush to the dishwasher and let it run late at night or midday.
PLAY TETRIS IN THE DISHWASHER
Cram as many dishes as possible onto the racks. The energy used is the same regardless of the size of the load.
There might be a setting for no-heat drying on your dishwasher. If not, just open the door and let the air take over, or move the dishes to a drying rack.
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POWER OFF AT BEDTIME
Remember to turn off electricity-eating devices at night, especially electronics such as computer monitors that leech energy in sleep mode.
Many electronics and appliances continue to draw electricity even when powered off. Unplug these energy "vampires" when not in use.
USE POWER STRIPS
It's easy to forget to turn off electronics when leaving the house, never mind unplug them. Plug items like TVs into a power strip so you can shut off several devices at once.
USE ENERGY-EFFICIENT LIGHT BULBS
Kiss incandescent bulbs goodbye and welcome their energy-efficient replacements: compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs. CFL bulbs use about a third of the energy consumed by a halogen incandescent. LEDs use about a quarter -- and last up to 25 times longer.
TAKE QUICK, WARM SHOWERS
Long, hot showers use more water and more energy. Save on both by jumping in and out quickly.
WASH HAIR EVERY OTHER DAY
Cut down on shower time and hot water usage by washing hair less frequently -- unless it gets greasy quickly, that is.
TURN OFF THE WATER WHILE SHAVING
Believe it or not, you can shave your legs without the shower running. Just think of all the water and energy you'll be saving.
FILL A SINK TO WASH
Whether washing dishes or hand-laundering delicates, fill the sink with water to lather up instead of running the tap.