Tips for conserving electricity and cutting your energy costs
In This Section
Follow these energy-saving tips to help fight air pollution, global warming and your skyrocketing utility bill.
By making energy-efficient choices you can save energy and money without giving up the comforts of home -- whether you rent an apartment, own a home, or live with your parents!
Easy Energy-Saving Habits (Free!)
Don't forget the basics. This simple stuff will save energy -- and money -- right now.
1. Switch It Off
- Turn Things Off When You're Done: A desktop computer running 24/7 can burn through $150 worth of electricity over five years, which is three times more than if it is put to sleep when unused. Make "switch it off when done" a smart household habit for all lights and devices, from computers to game consoles and TVs.
- Seldom-used appliances: Unplug appliances like an extra refrigerator in the basement or garage that contains just a few items. You may save around $600 on your utility bill over five years.
- Try a Power Strip: Move electrical gear to a power strip so that you can easily switch off multiple devices at once when you're not using them, such as when asleep or away from home: Some "smart" power strips cut power to other devices automatically when a primary device is shut off, or when no one is in the room. As much as 23 percent of the electricity consumed in U.S. homes vanishes as "standby" or "always-on vampire power" feeding perpetually plugged-in electronics and appliances even when we're not actively using them. Many strips include "hot sockets" for devices like cell phone chargers to charge while other devices are turned off. Even when you think these products are off, their total "standby" consumption can be equivalent to that of a 75 or 100 watt light bulb running continuously.
- Set Computers to Sleep: Enable the "sleep mode" feature on your computer, allowing it to use much lower power during periods of inactivity. In Windows, just search for "Power settings" in the start menu. Mac users, look for energy-saving settings under system preferences in the Apple menu.
- Hibernate: Configure your computer to "hibernate" automatically after 30 minutes or so of inactivity. The "hibernate mode" turns the computer off in a way that doesn't require you to reload everything when you switch it back on. Allowing your computer to hibernate saves energy and is more time-efficient than shutting down and restarting your computer from scratch. This can reduce computer and monitor energy consumption by two-thirds. A typical computer and monitor system left on 24/7 can waste $40 a year in electricity.
- Screensavers: Slideshows and other so-called "screensavers" represent another hidden predator: not only don't they "save" any energy, they actually increase your computer's energy consumption by making it work harder. Instead, configure the monitor settings to turn off after 10 to 15 minutes of inactivity.
- Buyer's Tips: Desktop computers and monitors have access to a virtually endless energy supply through an electrical outlet and are therefore often not optimized for energy efficiency. But laptops/notebooks and tablets are designed to maximize their battery life, using only a fraction of the electricity of their desktop counterparts, so consider buying them instead. An iPad or Kindle Fire tablet will use roughly 35 times less energy annually than a decent desktop with 20-inch monitor, and 5 to 10 times less than a laptop.
- Smart Labels: Always buy desktops, laptops, printers, and scanners (and all-in-one devices) with the ENERGY STAR® logo. If you want a computer, tablet, or printer with fewer toxic materials that can be easily disassembled for recycling, check EPEAT's list of registered products .
3. Take Control of Temperature
- Set Your Thermostat: In winter, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you're away for the day). During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees or more.
- Use Sunlight Wisely: During the heating season, leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows. Close shades and blinds during the summer or when the air conditioner is in use or will be in use later in the day.
- Set the Thermostat on Your Water Heater: Put your water heater thermostat between 120 and 130 degrees. Higher setpoints will increase your utility bill and could result in water that scalds your fingers.
4. See the Light
- Turn It Off: Don't forget to flick the switch when you leave a room. Remember this at the office, too. Turn out or dim the lights in unused conference rooms, and when you step out for lunch. Work by daylight when possible. A typical commercial building uses more energy for lighting than anything else.
- LED Bulbs: A new LED (light-emitting diode) light bulb costs as little as $5 at Home Depot or WalMart. Thanks to its efficiency and long life, it will save more than $100 over its lifetime. LEDs are the way to go as they work great and use up to 85 percent less energy to deliver the same amount to light. Today's LED light bulbs come in virtually any shape, light level or flavor you can imagine. They reach full brightness instantly, dim, and direct the light exactly where you want it. And check to see whether your local utility offers a rebate, sometimes as high as $5 per bulb, to bring the cost of the bulb down to just a few bucks. For help in figuring out which light bulbs to buy, see NRDC's guide .
5. Use Appliances Efficiently
- Refrigerators: Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly. You can check this by making sure that a dollar bill closed in between the door gaskets is difficult to pull out. If it slides easily between the gaskets, replace them.
- Ovens: Don't preheat or "peek" inside the oven more than necessary, as it lets out all the heat, which can then increase the cooking time. Check the seal on the oven door, and use a microwave oven for cooking or reheating small items.
- Dishwashers: You don't need to pre-wash dishes to get them clean. Simply scrape off the food and put the dish right into the dishwasher. Wash only full loads in your dishwasher, using short cycles for all but the dirtiest dishes. This saves water and the energy used to pump and heat it. Air-drying, if you have the time, can also reduce energy use.
- Washing Machines: In your clothes washer, set the appropriate water level for the size of the
load; wash in cold water when practical, and always rinse in cold. Wash your clothes in cold water and save up to 50 cents a load. Today's washers and detergents do a good job cleaning clothes in cold water and there is no reason to use hot water except for the dirtiest of loads. Select the highest spin speed available when washing clothes. High spin speeds on front-load washers remove a lot more moisture, reducing the time and energy needed to dry clothing. Next time you replace your clothes washer, buy a front-loading model as they save a lot of water and energy compared to older top-loading designs.
- Dryers: Clothes dryers are one of the largest energy users in our homes and represent 2 percent of our nation's entire electricity consumption. While major appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, and even clothes washers have undergone significant energy efficiency improvements during the past 20 years, unfortunately the amount of energy wasted by clothes dryers in the United States has received little attention. A typical electric clothes dryer often consumes as much energy annually as a new refrigerator, clothes washer and dishwasher combined. To help reduce your energy bill:
- Clean the lint filter in the dryer after each use.
- Dry heavy and light fabrics separately and don't add wet items to a load that's already partly dry. If available, use the moisture sensor setting (often called Normal). But a clothesline is the most energy-efficient clothes dryer of all!
- When shopping for a new washer or dryer look for one with the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR-labeled models will use up to 20 percent less energy and save consumers lots of money over the dryer's typical 15-year lifetime.
6. Try TV Tricks
Your TV will last about a decade, so buy an efficient one. Every TV carries a yellow EnergyGuide label displaying its annual electricity cost to operate and how it compares to similar-sized models. An ENERGY STAR logo means it uses less energy than similar models and will save you lots of money over its lifetime. For the very top models, see ENERGY STAR Most Efficient and the list at Top Ten USA .
- Settings: Although today's flat-panel high-definition TVs use around 60 percent less energy than earlier models, some consume 20 more watts of power continuously after they're "turned off" because the Quick Start feature was selected. Consider disabling this option that powers up the TV's internet connection a few seconds faster, but causes you to pay a premium on your energy bill. Also, if the TV has an automatic brightness control (ABC) sensor, go into the menu and make sure it's enabled because the TV will automatically adjust the picture brightness to the level of light in the room. Since most TV viewing occurs at night, this can make a big difference.
- Ultra High Definition TV (UHD): The latest TVs offer even greater screen resolution and are commonly marketed as 4K TV. Like many first-to-market products, several models were rushed to store shelves without being optimized for energy saving. So only buy models that meet ENERGY STAR Version 7 or your model might use up to twice as much energy as more efficient 4K TVs -- costing you at least $600 over its lifetime.
- Choose Internet-Ready TV for Streaming Video: If you want to stream videos and use apps like Netflix or YouTube on your new TV, purchase an "Internet ready" model. If your TV is older or isn't a "Smart TV," consider buying a small add-on device like Apple TV or a Roku Box that use very low amounts of power. Avoid streaming video through game consoles like PlayStation® or Xbox because they can use up to 30 times more energy to play the same movie.
- Sound Bars Make Sense: With TVs now so thin, there often isn't enough space to include a large speaker, which has led to the development of "sound bars" -- external speakers you place near your TV to provide high-quality audio to match your TV's great picture. The good news is ENERGY STAR-labeled sound bars are up to 78 percent more efficient than conventional models.
- Cable Boxes: The pay-TV industry -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV, and many others -- has renewed an effort to cut the energy consumption of the set top boxes that allow you to access pay TV (cable). Despite recent industry efforts to bring down energy use, these devices continue to draw near full levels of power even when you think you've turned them "off." Ask your service provider for a box that meets the latest version of ENERGY STAR, Version 4.1, and unplug the set-top box in rooms where the TV is seldom used, such as a guest room or vacation house.
7. Game Your Game Consoles
Make sure new (and old) game consoles have their auto power-down feature enabled. Otherwise, your Xbox or Play Station continuously draw 60 to 150 watts of power, depending on the model, when a player forgets to turn it off. That's more than a new refrigerator's worth of electricity every year!
- Power Down: If enabled, "power-down" automatically puts them to sleep where they draw just a trickle of power. Go into the console's settings menu and set it to turn off automatically after one hour or less of inactivity. If your family has the newest Xbox One, disable the "Instant On" option and select the "Energy Saving" option because at more than 12 watts around-the-clock, "Instant On" doubles the annual energy use of the console for little benefit. If you have the PlayStation 4, you can keep its "connected standby" option because it's not as wasteful.
- Streaming Movies: The game console consumes 10 to 20 times more energy to stream a movie than an Internet-ready TV or a small media player such as Roku or Apple TV, which use 4 or fewer watts to do the same thing.
8. Use an Electricity Monitor Meter
- Measure Your Use: An electricity monitor meter, such as a Kill-a-Watt Meter, measures how much energy each gadget in your home uses, when on and when ostensibly turned off. It only costs about $20 but can provide many "ah ha!" moments. For example, the meter shows a "turned off" DVR set-top box from the cable or satellite company draws around 20 watts even though you're not watching or recording a show. When shopping for new service, make sure the set top box offered by a provider meets ENERGY STAR Version 4.1 because these models use around 30 percent less energy.
9. Try the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor
- Choose your house's symptoms and let the Home Doctor solve your energy ills. Whether you're starting a major home-improvement project or just looking for simple ways to save energy, this site is sure to help.