Americans consume a disproportionate amount of the world's energy—but there are lots of ways to conserve energy usage and make a difference for the environment.
Five Easy Things to Do to Conserve Energy
- Change the filter in your furnace: Keep heating and cooling systems running efficiently.
- Change to fluorescent light bulbs: They use far less energy than incandescent bulbs.
- Combine trips: Plan your errands to reduce transportation time.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater: You'll still have hot water, but it means the heater uses less energy when you are not using hot water.
- Check your car's tire pressure: Poorly inflated tires waste gas and cause more pollution.
Five Decisions That Will Make a Big Difference
- Buy a fuel efficient vehicle: Include the fuel economy rating as part of the decision making process.
- Buy green power: Go solar and get tax credits for your house or your organization.
- Install a programmable thermostat and weather-proof your home: It takes about 10 minutes to install and allows you to save lots of energy costs when you are not home.
- Buy less stuff: Everything we buy creates waste and uses energy both in the manufacturing process and after we use it.
- Stand up for what's right: Advocate for clean energy and the protection of wildlife from climate change.
- Turn off the lights that you are not using.
- Buy compact fluorescent bulbs, which reduce energy use by up to 75 percent. Set a goal of at least replacing the bulbs that are most commonly on in your home.
- If your older children live with you, put them in charge of the electricity bill. They'll make sure all the lights are turned off if they are responsible to for paying for the electricity.
- Do not place lamps near a thermostat. The thermostat senses the heat produced from the lamp which can change how often your furnace or air conditioner will run.
- Consider safer, more efficient Energy Star torchiere lamps over popular halogen torchiere lamps. The halogen lamps can cause fires, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While relatively inexpensive to purchase, halogen lamps are expensive to operate.
- Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.
Heating and Cooling
- Change or clean your furnace and air conditioner filters regularly to keep heating and cooling systems running efficiently.
- Dust can restrict airflow and stress the system. Filters can be washable or disposable. Measure the existing filter to make sure to buy a filter that fits properly. It is best to keep several filters on hand as replacements during the cooling season.
- Instead of disposing of a dirty furnace or air conditioner filter, you could vacuum it once per month and spray it with Endust or a similar product which restores the dust-catching ability of the filters. You can reuse the filter two or three times this way.
- Install a programmable thermostat to regulate your heating and cooling when you are not home.
- Test windows and doors to see if they need new weather-stripping by lighting a candle and moving it around the perimeter of the window or door. If the flame flickers, you need to install new weather-stripping. Don't put the candle near curtains or blinds though.
- Get your furnace and air conditioner inspected every few years.
- Install window film for windows that you don't open often, or that seem drafty.
- Plant deciduous trees outside windows on the south side of your house to provide shade in summer and allow sunlight in winter.
- If you live in a house or apartment with water-heated radiators, put foil-faced insulation board between the radiators and the outside walls, with the foil side facing the room.
- Avoid water beds which use a lot of energy to heat in the winter. If you have a water bed, insulate around it and cover it with many blankets to keep the heat in.
- Install ceiling fans to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems.
- Add attic insulation to increase the efficiency of both your furnace and air conditioner. A good standard is to reach "R30," which a contractor should understand.
- Make sure draperies, furniture or rugs do not block vents. These vents should also be cleaned regularly with a vacuum or a broom.
- Set your water heater to a lower setting or call a service person to adjust it for you.
- Put an appropriate insulation blanket around your water heater.
- Run your dishwasher without the "drying cycle" and just let dishes drip dry.
- Do full loads when you use clothes washers and dishwashers.
- To reduce the amount of dishes to wash, label the bottom of cups and mugs with family member's names.
- Reduce the amount of towels to wash by labeling towels or hooks.
- Choose cold or warm cycles over hot cycles because heating the water for laundry consumes 90 percent of the energy of the laundry process.
- Hang your clothes to dry either on a clothesline or a clothes tree, at least some of the time. In the winter, this is a natural humidifier in a dry room.
- Reduce ironing time by taking clothes out when they are slightly damp and hanging them up, or right away when the clothes are dry. If you get to the dryer too late, you can put a damp towel inside and run the dryer for a few minutes to get the same effect.
- Empty the lint trap after each use of the dryer.
- Dry light and heavy clothing separately for maximum efficiency.
- To make room for drying clothes, buy an expandable shower curtain rod and put it in the shower. Hang clothes on hangers.
- Install a dryer vent hood where your dryer discharges to the outside to reduce the amount of heat escaping from this hole.
- Buy rechargeable batteries and a recharger.
- Only purchase toys that don't require batteries.
Refrigerators and Freezers
- Keep condenser coils clean on the back of your refrigerator. Gently wipe and vacuum them once a year. Many fridges have a removable panel around the coils. Keep the back of the fridge at least four inches from the wall.
- Make sure the fridge door gasket seals tight. Test it by putting a piece of paper in a closed door. Pull on the paper and if it comes out too easily, you need to replace your gasket. Test at several places along the door. Another way to test: put a flashlight in your fridge and see if the light leaks out when you close the door.
- Check the temperature of your fridge and freezer by putting a thermometer in a glass of water. Put the glass of water in the center shelf in the center of the fridge. It should read 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer should read 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you have a large freezer, keep it in the basement or as cool a room as possible.
- The fuller the freezer, the more energy efficient it is.
- Let hot food cool down a bit before you put it in the fridge.
- Install your fridge away from direct sun or your rangetop or oven.
- Try not to use a second refrigerator.
- Make sure your fridge is absolutely level to ensure the door gets closed every time you open it.
- Use a microwave rather than an oven, range or toaster oven whenever possible.
- Choose small appliances over big ones, such as a toaster oven, electric teapot, rice cooker, electric frypan or a crockpot.
- Cover pans when cooking to keep heat in.
- Turn off the burner or oven before the food is completely cooked.
- Use a pressure cooker whenever possible.
- Make more food than you need for one meal and then heat the leftovers in a microwave.
- Bake with glass or ceramic pans which allow you to set the temperature in the oven by 25 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the recipe calls for.
- Thaw food on metal such as in a stainless steel pan.
- Keep the grease plates under your range burners clean to ensure the most heat is being reflected up.
- Use the appropriate size burner on the range—small for small pots, large for large pots.
- Don't worry so much about preheating for most recipes, except fragile pastries or cakes.
Large Purchasing Decisions
- Contact your utility company to see if they have a "check meter" which you plug into an appliance and get the exact voltage. This will help you decide whether it is worthwhile to replace an appliance.
- When shopping for home appliances and electronics, look for the "Energy Star" label. For more information, go to www.energystar.gov.
- Choose an energy-efficient front-loading washing machine.
- If buying a new dryer, find one with a moisture sensor that turns off when the clothes are dry.
- Avoid automatic ice makers which use substantial energy.
- Side-by-side refrigerator freezers use more energy than a typical model.
- When buying a new stove, the induction cook tops are the most energy-efficient. These look like a ceramic cooking surface, like a countertop.
- If available, buy "green power" that comes from non-polluting sources of electricity such as solar cells and windmills. For more information on green power availability, visit www.green-e.org.
- Replace very old windows with more energy-efficient ones.
- Choose a natural gas furnace over an oil furnace, which produces more carbon dioxide.
- Since dark colors absorb heat, choose a light-color roof shingle if you have a choice.
- You can apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local home improvement store. They have both waterproofing and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal. Most manufacturers offer a five-year warranty.
- Put on an air conditioner cover during the winter to reduce drafts.
- Wear slippers and light sweaters so you can lower the temperature a few degrees.
- Cover your legs and/or torso with a lap quilt or blanket when sitting still at home.
- Set the air-conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees or higher for the most energy-efficient operation.
- Install shaded window film to block extra sunlight and reduce air conditioning costs. Some states have tax incentives for you to do this. Some films are permanent so you might not install them if you want to get sun in your home during the winter.
- Use your microwave or outdoor grill instead of a range or oven to reduce the amount of heat you produce indoors.
- Use fans to move the air inside your home. This gives the sensation that it is 5 degrees cooler than the actual temperature.
- Shade windows on the sunny side of your home. Keep drapes closed or add room-darkening shades to block out the heat from the sun.
- Keep the outside portion of a central air conditioner clear from dried mud, debris and grass clippings. Check after an intense rain. Mud can splatter onto the unit and block the air after it dries.
- Plant trees or shrubs to shade air-conditioning units but do not block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.
- On hot summer days, avoid opening doors and windows in your home during the afternoon. This allows cool air to escape and hot air to enter the home. Choose activities that are either indoors or outdoors and restrict activities that require many door openings to the mornings.
- Shift energy-intensive tasks such as laundry and dishwashing to off-peak energy-demand hours to increase electricity reliability during heat waves.
- Save jobs that produce moisture—such as mopping, laundry and dishwashing—for early morning or nighttime hours. The humidity from these activities can make homes uncomfortable.
- Make sure the attic is properly ventilated to relieve excess summer heat.
- Install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof to reflect heat. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing.
- Turn off or even unplug your televisions when not in use. Televisions draw power constantly for the instant-on functionality.
- Compost kitchen wastes rather than use your garbage disposal.
- Recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, cardboard and newspapers. Using recycled materials in manufacturing consumes less energy than using virgin materials.
On the Road
- Carpool or take mass transportation whenever possible. This can also reduce your commute if it gives you access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, available in some communities.
- Combine errands to reduce trips.
- Try to live close to your work or school.
- Avoid peak time travel.
- Research whether your employer can offer a subsidized mass transit program. Many municipalities have grants for employers.
- Some communities have car-share programs. With these programs, you pay an annual fee and then have access to a vehicle without incurring the costs of owning a vehicle. Most programs are in urban areas.
- If you need to rent a vehicle, rent the smallest one available. Sometimes you can even rent a hybrid vehicle.
- Support industries that recycle tires by buying items made from tires. You can find doormats, roofing, playground material, and asphalt.
Your Driving Style
- Learn how to properly start your vehicle. Fuel-injected vehicles do not need to have the gas pedal pumped.
- Avoid quick acceleration or sudden braking unless your life is in danger. Avoid tailgating because it requires more braking and accelerating.
- Use cruise control when highway driving.
- Improve your fuel efficiency by going the speed limit. For example, your efficiency improves about 15 percent by driving at 55 miles per hour rather than 65 miles per hour.
- Avoid idling. It uses more gas then stopping and re-starting your vehicle. Avoid drive-thrus. Instead park and go inside.
- Put items inside the vehicle rather than on roof racks to reduce drag. If possible, remove roof racks when you are not using them.
- Avoid rough roads where possible. Smooth road surfaces can reduce fuel consumption.
- Refer to the owner's manual to determine optimum gear shift points for manual transmissions. They are usually listed in miles per hour.
- When you use overdrive gearing, your car's engine speed goes down. This saves gas and reduces engine wear.
- Avoid riding your brake (i.e. having one foot on your brake and one on the gas pedal).
General Vehicle Maintenance
- Remove any extra weight in the vehicle, such as items you don't need to use that are stored in the trunk.
- Give your vehicle a regular tune-up. Keeping your vehicle in top condition means it will run efficiently and get more miles to the gallon.
- Regularly check your vehicle’s tire pressure – poorly inflated tires waste gas and cause more pollution.
- One way to tell if your vehicle needs servicing is to keep track of your gas mileage. It should match what is listed in the manual. It will vary from season to season, but it should be close.
- Change your fuel filter at least once a year. A fuel filter can get plugged with debris. This slows the process of gas getting to your engine.
- A dirty air filter can cause an engine to consume more fuel. Rural vehicles traveling on dusty roads will need air filter changes more often. You can also purchase washable air filters to reduce waste.
- Re-refined oil performs as well as motor oil from original sources, and you should ensure that it is used whenever the oil is changed.
- Use the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil for your vehicle.
- If you change your own oil, put it in a clear container with a screw-on lid and bring it to a hazardous waste center.
- Purchase oil with the Energy Conserving II label which contains additives that help fuel efficiency.
- Invest in a filter that can be used for many oil changes. This varies from vehicle to vehicle.
- Check your driver's manual to see if you need high octane gasoline. If not, buy lower octane gas.
- If it's available in your area, purchase ethanol or "gasohol" instead of gasoline.
- Don't top up your tank when filling because it causes air pollution and spills.
Pump Your Tires to Save Gas and Wildlife
When your tires are pumped to their recommended inflation rate, you save gas. This helps wildlife because the more gas we conserve as a country, the less likely we will drill in wildlife-rich places, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, American motorists may waste $2 billion annually because their tires are not properly inflated. If your tires are pumped to even four or five pounds per square inch lower than recommended levels, it increases your gas usage by 10 percent.
Find out your recommended tire pressure in your owner's manual or on the sticker that's found on most cars near the driver's seat (visible when you open your car door). Many gas station air pumps automatically tell your air pressure as part of the pumping process. You can also get a tire gauge for a few dollars to check the pressure at home.
- Emissions from a cold engine are much higher than from a engine that is warmed up enough for the catalytic converter to be working at high efficiency. However, in a well-tuned vehicle, you should not have to idle your vehicle to warm it up.
- Instead, you should start out slowly, not revving your engine, accelerate and slow down gently. Idling increases engine wear and emissions.
- Bring sand or non-clumping kitty litter in your trunk to get out of icy situations, but remove these heavy items in other seasons to avoid useless weight in the vehicle.
- Use antifreeze that contains propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. The latter is very toxic to pets and wildlife. The sweet taste of the antifreeze attracts animals.
- If you live in a cold climate, get a vehicle with a block heater. This will help your engine reach peak efficiency faster.
- If you drive a truck for a living and need to keep warm in the winter, you can avoid idling by getting a small auxiliary heater.
- If at all possible, turn off your air conditioner and drive with your windows open a bit instead.
- Cars older than 1995 often have systems which contain chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which threaten the ozone layer. It's even more important to have air conditioning systems maintained in these vehicles.
- Park in the shade to reduce the need for air conditioning.
- Remove snow tires in summer to improve fuel efficiency.
Purchasing a Vehicle
- Buy the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs. This will reduce your gas consumption, cut carbon dioxide pollution, and save you money at the gas pump.
- Purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle. You can get tax benefits for purchasing these vehicles.
- Purchase a lighter colored vehicle to reduce air conditioner use.
The Most Fuel-Efficient Vehicles
Each year, the U.S. Department of Energy makes a report of the fuel economy of the cars for that year. Visit their site to learn the fuel economy of your car or find the most efficient cars you can purchase.