How to save money and help the earth too.
You've heard the doom-mongers, right? Fossil fuels, global warming, climate change. It's all the other buggers who are spewing carbon and pumping oil, but here's how I put an extra $50 a month in my pocket.
Screw the earth, I just want to save money.
According to the US Department of Energy, a typical US household spends about $1300 a year on heating and utility bills. You can save half that at next to no cost. That puts an extra fifty bucks a month straight into your pocket. Each item might save only a little bit; barely worth noticing, perhaps. But add them up and you save enough to make a real difference to your monthly spending money.
Trivia from the web:
the typical U.S. family spends close to $1,300 a year on their home's utility bills? Unfortunately, a large portion of that energy is wasted.
Multiply your savings by millions of people in your country and we could make a difference to the global environment. Every journey, as they say, starts with a single step, so start today: save yourself some money.
Free ways to save $50 a month (and cause less damage to the earth)
Thermostats: Turn down the heating thermostat; reduce the water thermostat (in cold climates). In hot climates, set the aircon to the highest temperature you can bear.
You can live comfortably in winter with the room thermostat set to 68-70°F (19-20°C). I have no idea what setting you use at the moment, but go and turn it down by 1°. Right now. In a week's time, move it down by another 1°. Keep going until you are down to 70°. You may need to put on some warmer clothing, at least initially. Is that a problem?
Trivia from the web:
Once common myth is that when you reduce the thermostat for only a few hours it will take more heat to bring your home back up to the desired temperature. This is not so. You will save money and fuel because your heating system will not have to keep your home so warm. You will use less energy overall, even when you warm up your house from a cooler temperature.
In summer, use the same process on the aircon system to get used to a room temperature of about 80°F / 25°C.
C-Dawg says: Rather than more aircon, take off some clothing. Is that a problem?
RPGeek says: once you're naked, you can't take off any more clothing.
Enough already! -- Ed
If the house is unoccupied for the evening turn the thermostat to 60°F or so (in winter) or 85° in summer, or switch the heating off, and program it to switch on again an hour or two before you return, instead of running the heating/cooling all day in an empty house.
If the house is unoccupied for a few days, then turn the heating completely off (or if there is a danger of freezing, to around 40°F / 5°C), and program it to switch on 12 hours before you return. The same with aircon in summer.
Having a party indoors? then turn the thermostat down by half a degree per person. Each person throws out about 150 watts just standing still, so six people is the same as a 1 kW electric heater. More if they are dancing.
On sunny days, open curtains to let the sun's heat enter the room. Open doors to let the heat circulate. Sunlight is free. Feels good too.
Trivia from the web:
Opening curtains during the day will save lighting energy. Direct sunlight is 100 times brighter than the light from a strong reading lamp.
If you keep the heating on overnight, try switching the thermostat down from 70 to 55 or 60 degrees (10-15°C), and then turning it back up in the morning. Or even better use a programmable thermostat to do it for you.
You can play the same trick with hot water: instead of scalding yourself each time you run the hot tap, turn the temperature on the tank down to to about 140°F (60°C). It's pretty silly, after all, to spend energy heating the water to 180°F, and then be forced to mix it with lots of cold water to make the temperature bearable. And, just in case you hadn't realised, the hotter the temperature of the water in the storage tank, the more energy it loses, and the more it costs to maintain that temperature.
althorrat says: Another thing: Turn off the electric water heater when you're not using it. Frankly, I didn't know until recently that there were people who don't do this. Water heaters use up more electricity than almost anything else in your average household.
lj says: It's strongly recommended to keep hot water at 60 degrees Celsius (140°F) or above, to prevent the growth of harmful (even deadly) bacteria like legionella.
Trivia from the web:
Don’t leave an electric immersion heater switched on all the time – fit a timer switch for maximum control. This should pay for itself very quickly as electricity is an expensive way of heating water. Heating water electrically is generally much cheaper on an off-peak tariff.
It's simple: run it cooler: it costs less.
You need justification for this, apart from saving money and helping the planet? House plants prefer lower temperatures.
You want more justification? You'll burn more energy keeping warm, raising your metabolism and helping work off the fat.
You need even more than that? You'll feel more energetic, and won't want to just lay about, wasting time in front of the TV.
Trivia from the web:
"For each degree you lower your thermostat, you reduce heating costs 3 to 5 percent. By setting your thermostat back 10 degrees at night (8-10 hours), you'll save 10 to 20 percent in heating costs."
In most cases, the heating system is either on, or off. The thermostat is a simple on-off switch. So if you need to get the house up to 70° in a hurry, setting the thermostat to 80° or 90° will not get it hotter any quicker than setting it to 70°. The same with aircon. If you walk in and the house is at 90°, then turning the aircon on and setting it to 60° will not get the place down to 80° any quicker than simply setting the dial to 80°
Switch off: Computers, lights, heating, hot water. TV, VCR, DVD.
When these things are not being used, switch them off. They are consuming electricity all the time. I know there is a big debate about whether it is better to leave a modern, energy-efficient computer on 24/7, or switch it off. The argument runs that the power surges produced during power-up do more to damage sensitive components than leaving the machine on all the time. Thus, runs the argument, the extra power consumed over the lifetime of a low-energy machine is probably less than the cost of a new machine.
Maybe so, but modern power supplies reduce the power surges with fancy circuitry, and the energy savings can be huge. Even a modern laptop consumes 20 watts or so, even when sleeping: especially if you take inefficient power adaptors into account. Over 10 nights that represents 2 kWh, and over 360 nights, it is about 72 kWh: about $10. Perhaps that doesn't sound much, but most machines consume far more than that. An older desktop machine might eat up 100 or 150 watts, even when sleeping and that adds to over $10 a month if left on 24/7.
isogolem says: if you look at most newer computers they consume more energy, even when in a resting state, just from sitting there being ready (sleep mode)
VCRs and DVDs in stand-by mode will use similar amounts of power, and switching them off will yield similar savings. Older machines use up to 60 percent of the full power even in stand-by mode, though newer machines have reduced that to 25 or 10 percent. It's still money, so if you don't use it often, try to switch it off.
Lights are the big one, though. How often do you leave all the lights burning in your house? Leaving 5 bulbs, each at 100 watts burning unnecessarily for four hours a day, wastes 2kWh, or 700kWh per year. $100 of pure waste. If you leave them on during the day, you could be wasting $500 a year just to keep the lights on when no-one is home.
Trivia from the web:
Americans buy 2.2 million light bulbs every day. We flick a light switch dozens of times a day without thinking, but it's time to give it some thought. According to the World Resources Institute, lighting accounts for about 20 percent of all the electricity used in the United States (5 percent residential, 15 percent commercial), and 10 percent of all the emissions of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. So it's important to conserve energy by lighting right.
So switch off lights when you leave a room. If there's a good reason to leave lights burning for more than an hour or two--like security, or just to make sure you can see--then buy those mini-fluorescent bulbs. They consume only a quarter or less fuel for the same level of illumination. They may cost four or five times as much, but they last ten times as long, so the total cost of buying and running them is far less than the conventional filament type bulbs.
Trivia from the web:
Fluorescent lights use so much power to start up, isn't it best to keep them on all day?" No, it's a myth! Start-up electricity use is equivalent to a few seconds of normal running. Switch off the lights you don't need and the savings start immediately.
Use low-temperature cycles on washers and dishwashers: Most modern fabrics are designed for washing on a cool cycle. Detergents have also got more effective on a cool cycle. So if, by force of habit, you automatically set the machine for a hot wash, or a boil wash, try using the 40°C (100°F) setting. If it doesn't get things clean, go back to the hot setting, but most times, the clothes will be just as clean and smell just as fresh, and as an added bonus, elasticated underwear should last longer before the elastic rots and goes all saggy.
A 40°C wash uses only a quarter of the energy of a hot wash. That's a saving of about 1 kWh per wash. if you only do two washes a week, that's about $1 per month
C-Dawg says: if you still use an iron, try to do all the ironing in one go: An iron takes a lot of power to heat up, so switching it on for one shirt, waiting for it warm up, then ironing the shirt, then allowing it to cool down on each of five days, takes much more energy than doing five shirts in one session. More hassle too, if you ask me
Always aim to use a full load in washing machines and dishwashers: The machine uses the same amount of water and power whether the wash load is a single set of underwear or a full load of sheets and towels.
Trivia from the web:
ECI estimated that for the stock of washing machines in the UK in 1997, the average energy consumption per cycle for new washing machines was 1.24kWh. A washing machine that was new in 1997 would now be 8 years old, and so could be regarded as a typical "old" washing machine in 2004. For reference, a modern A-rated washing machine will consume 0.56 kWh in a 40 °C wash cycle, A 60°C cycle will consume around 0.94 kWh.
Dry and air clothes naturally wherever possible: Tumble dryers use vast amounts of electricity: up to 4 kWh per cycle, so using it twice a week every week adds to $5 a month or more. If you have an outside space, clothes will dry quickly in the wind, and probably smell fresher too.
Keep the freezer full, and the door shut and the seals tight: When you open a full upright-style freezer, there's not much air to escape, so not much warm air to cool down once the door is shut. With an empty freezer, however, all the cold air can drain out in a few seconds, meaning the machinery has to work extra-hard to cool all the fresh air down again after the door is closed. Keep the freezer as full as you can, using scrunched up newspaper, if necessary to prevent cold air escaping every time you open the door. And try not to open the door too often.
Don't boil too much water for tea or coffee: If you are making a cup of tea, use the right amount of water in the kettle. Boiling a litre of water for one cup of tea is a waste of money and time. It may be quicker and cheaper to put cold water in the cup and zap it in the microwave.
yclept says: I find it better to boil a kettle and put it in a large thermos. Keeps hot enough to make coffee or tea for hours, and hot enough to refresh a cup for longer than that.
Defrost naturally, use the microwave for heating: If you need something defrosted, the cheapest way is to leave it to defrost naturally. Small things will defrost in the fridge overnight, and save energy by keeping the fridge cool. Larger things will need to be left out of the fridge for a few hours to defrost completely. But if you need it done in a hurry, use the microwave. If cooking, then the microwave is the most energy-efficient method for heating and cooking things.
yclept says: Cold water is a better way to defrost than the microwave. Cold, running water is the fastest. The water can be retained for other uses as well.
Trivia from the web:
Microwaves save energy by reducing cooking times. In fact, you can save up to 50 percent on your cooking energy costs by using a microwave oven instead of a regular oven, especially for small quantities of food.
When you use the hob, try to use a pan of just the right size, so that you don't have to boil four litres of water to cook a few peas. And try to match the pan to the size of burner so the heat doesn't go up the sides too much.
Cook with fresh ingredients: This is not really an energy-saving thing, but it is environmentally-friendly. Try using fresh ingredients bought from a market rather than processed, prepared foods. First it tastes better, second, fresh food tends to provide more nutrients and vitamins instead of fat sugar and salt, and third, there's a lot less packaging. Oh, and it's cheaper too. If you can compost the trimmings from the fresh vegetables, that's even better for the environment.
danielmonger says: eating fresh foods can, indeed, save energy. Those that follow a herbivorous diet don't require large ice-boxes because most of what they buy (aside from the hummus, the lovely hummus) doesn't need to be kept cold. My Polish grandmother is the greatest environmentalist I know and yet she does not know it. She rises with the sun and sleeps at its setting- rarely turning on the lights. She washes her laundry by hand- she even has a crank wringer- and then dries them in the sun. She sweeps and mops insteed of vacuuming. Her entertainment takes the form of celebrity-trash mags and the radio. She walks to where she needs to go, she has never driven a car (perhaps this explains her good health?). She makes food from raw ingredients (yet again- health). She uses a toaster oven often instead of the stove. She spells her name differently every time she writes it but she is truly brilliant.
Babcias Rule, OK:
Clean radiators: radiators are designed to transfer heat to the surrounding air. Layers of dust and dirt act like blankets, insulating the radiator from the surrounding air, and driving up costs.
Bleed radiators: sometimes air gets trapped inside a radiator. That reduces the efficiency of the rad and drives up costs. It takes just a minute or so to bleed a radiator. Spend 10 minutes twice a year to bleed all the radiators in your house or flat.
Trivia from the web:
If manufacturer's instructions for bleeding radiators are not available, open the air bleed valve to allow air to escape. See illustration on website. Close the valve when water begins to flow from it. Start with the radiator located at the highest level in the house and repeat on all the radiators, ending with the one at the lowest level. You may need to add water to the system after bleeding.
Use a shower, but not for too long: A quick shower uses a lot less water than a bath, but if you are going to luxuriate for more than a few minutes, it may be better to run the bath, light your candles and take a good book into the bathroom, than to stand under the shower for 30 minutes. In terms of heating water, government figures show that the shower consumes about 37 percent of hot water (and hence energy), while the washing machine consumes 26 percent. The dishwasher, manual washing up and bath, each take about 10 percent of the water consumed in American households.
Put a brick in it: When the toilet is flushed, it drains away a lot of water. Sometimes too much water. A lot of water companies recommend that users put a brick in the cistern, to reduce the volume of water that flushes away each time. Wrap the brick in plastic to stop it crumbling and fouling the supply, though.
J. Alfred says: Instead of a brick in the toilet, put a large, empty plastic container like a milk jug or soda bottle (2 liters) in a full tank so that it fills up with a specific volume, cap it, and then flush away. Also,you can bend the bar in the tank on which the air bladder rides down to decrease the need for so much water.
DejaMorgana says: You have to tinker with it some before you find the ideal flush point. Some people may actually be able to find dual-flush toilets (one lever for half a tank, one for a full tank) but I know I've never found them in the US. American toilets are without a doubt the biggest water-wasting system I've ever seen. It's just shocking.
I couldn't agree more
Trivia from the web:
Do not use toilets as a trash can. Each time you flush trash down the toilet you waste up to seven gallons of water.
Drive differently: If you have a stick shift car, then try to keep the car in the highest gear the engine can manage and stay in top gear as long as you can. This can improve fuel consumption dramatically. With an automatic or a stick shift, accelerating slowly, and lifting off the gas as soon as you can see there will be a need to slow down (such as a stop light, or junction) can help even more. Try to avoid the accelerate-brake-accelerate cycle, and anticipate more, so that you can use the gas pedal less.
if you have passengers, this way of driving is also the way to make them feel safer and happier in your car. Spread the love, baby
Other ways to improve fuel consumption are to inflate tyres to the correct pressure. Most people drive on under-inflated tyres and this adds to fuel consumption. Also, clear the car of unnecessary weight, like large amounts of luggage. Heavy cars use more fuel.
Trivia from the web:
The driving technique of the person behind the wheel is the most important single factor in determining the fuel economy of a particular car. A fuel economy conscious driver can achieve 30 to 50% better mileage than most other drivers (see the page for tips)
Even better, of course, is to use the car less, or share as many journeys as possible, and use a bicycle, or walk for shorter journeys.
Cheap ways to save money and save the world
All the above ideas were completely free. There was no investment needed to save money. At my house, we have implemented most of them, and there really is no problem with doing these things and living a normal city-bound life. That means we have more money in our bank accounts, we consume less energy than a lot of other households, and there is no noticeable impact on our lifestyle. It feels good.
To enhance that good feeling even more, here are some ideas that have a small cost to them: usually in the $1- $100 range. These will help save even more energy and even more money.
Trivia from the web
Typically, 44% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. What's more, heating and cooling systems in the United States together emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, adding to global warming. They also generate about 24% of the nation's sulfur dioxide and 12% of the nitrogen oxides, the chief ingredients in acid rain.
Use more insulation: Insulation is the energy equivalent of locking doors and windows against thieves. You would be crazy not to put insulation everywhere you can. I sometimes wonder if people would use better insulation if the heat escaping from their house took the form of dollar bills. Just imagine, looking at a rattling window and seeing a dollar bill escape from it, flying away in the wind two or three times a day. Because that is exactly what is happening.
You can insulate walls; you can insulate roof spaces; you can use double-glazed or triple-glazed windows, you can put a blanket around your hot water tank; you can put foam insulation around your hot water pipes. If you have a waterbed, keep the bedclothes on it, to help reduce energy losses—and bills. On the same note, keep a cover over your swimming pool. That helps keep the warmth in, and keeps leaves and bugs out.
Maybe you think that there’s no point insulating the waterbed (or the hot pipes, or the water tank) because any heat that escapes helps to heat the house. It does help, but the hotter you have to heat something, the more it costs, so even though the heat then escapes into the rest of the house, it still costs more overall.
Standards for roof-space insulation are increasing every year. When I first bought a house, 4 inches was a lot. Nowadays the government will give grants to increase the thickness to 11 inches or more. You can save another $15/month by upgrading the insulation in the roof space. You can save $25 a month by increasing the insulation in the walls.
Insulation is not just to keep a house warm in winter, but also helps to keep a house cool in summer. That's the thing with insulation, you win both ways.
Trivia from the web
Loft insulation saves about 25% of your heat loss or £100 per year on your fuel bills. Cavity wall insulation saves about 35% of your heat loss or £100 to £200 per year on your fuels bills.
Plant trees to give shade: In hot climates, the sun beating directly onto the south- or west-facing wall can increase the temperature in the house. However, where the wall is shaded by trees or shrubs, there are two benefits, Three if you think how attractive trees are. First, the leaves provide shade, reducing dramatically the amount of energy falling onto the external wall. Second, the trees transpire, and this leads to evaporation and local cooling of the air around the plant. US Department of Energy research shows that the air is about 5°F (3°C) cooler in areas close to trees, than in areas with no vegetation.
Trivia from the web
Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling. Computer models from DOE predict that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.
Shading and evaporative cooling from trees can reduce the air temperature around your home. Studies conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found summer daytime air temperatures to be 3° to 6°F cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas. The energy-conserving landscape strategies you should use for your home depend on the type of climate in which you live.
Replace conventional filament bulbs with mini-fluorescents: Mini fluorescent bulbs have improved enormously in the ten years or so since they were first introduced. Nowadays the units are almost indistinguishable from conventional bulbs in terms of shape and appearance, and the colour is much better than the early models. Also the price has fallen quickly and they still last 10 to 15 times as long as conventional bulbs and consume a quarter of the power for any given level of illumination. The first target for replacement is any bulb that is left on continuously for more than about an hour per day.
These bulbs do have drawbacks: you can't use them with dimming switches, and the light is initially dim, only reaching full brightness after ten minutes or so. Some people say they flicker more than conventional bulbs.
isogolem says "you can't use them with dimming switches" -> generally true, but they also make special ones that work on dimmers.
Maylith says: you can use a dimmer with mini-fluorescent bulbs, but it takes a special ballast to make it work properly.
Maylith says FWIW, I've got a regular dimmer with mini-fluorescents, right now. It hums nastily, and I don't use the dim option, but it works. Sorta....
Stop draughts: Back in the cold winters of the northern hemisphere, leaks around windows, doors and down chimneys contribute to discomfort, by creating rivers of cold air running through houses and across floors. On a windy day, use a smoking taper to identify leaks in windows and door frames where the cold air is coming in, and then buy draught-proofing gadgets to plug the gaps.
Chimneys are a particular source of draughts, so either use the flap installed in the chimney, or buy a balloon that is designed to fit a short way up the chimney and then inflated to block the torrent of cold air flowing down from the roof line. Remember, however, to remove the balloon before lighting a fire.
Fit a timer to the bathroom/kitchen extractor fan: The fans in the kitchen, bathroom and toilet all take warm air from inside the house and pump it outside (into the cold). This means cold air has to come into the house to compensate, so while it is good to use the fan to remove stale air, over-humid air or undesirable smells, it is not good to leave it running indefinitely, as that wastes heat. Fitting a timer--or replacing an old fan with one that has an integrated timer--will save money quite quickly.
Fit a programmable thermostat to the central heating system: Instead of manually switching the heating off, or adjusting the thermosts every few hours, why not fit sophisticated modern controls to the heating system, so that you can program it to switch on later at weekends, and can use just one or two buttons to select a new setting when you go out in the evening, or during the day. These things are surprisingly easy to fit, and not especially expensive. Even top-of the range controllers cost only $100 or so. These can pay for themselves in saved energy in a year or less. And you get the added convenience of high-tech control systems.
Replace filters; de-scale hot water systems: This is simply good practice. Blocked filters make pumps work harder, while scale on heaters reduces heat transfer and increases cost. The cost savings are not huge, but regular maintenance like this helps improve the life of your heating system and reduces cost in the longer run.
Fix leaking taps/faucets: Whether you have a metered water supply or pay a fixed cost, fixing leaky taps/faucets is one of the most cost-effective repairs you can make, especially if it is a hot water faucet. Leaking taps can waste a lot of clean water. If that water is heated, then the waste of energy is simply huge in comparison to the cost of fixing the problem. If you do it yourself, the washers are just a few pence each, though a tradesman will charge more. You might even consider changing the taps/faucets for new models that have ceramic discs, so that a quarter turn takes the flow from zero to full. These are less prone to leaking and come in a range of attractive designs.
Stop using disposable batteries: get rechargables or clockwork motors: Ordinary alkaline batteries (Energizer or equivalent) are one of the most expensive ways to buy energy. Smaller batteries have even higher costs in terms of price per unit of energy. Those AA batteries are horrendously expensive for the amount of charge they store. if you regularly use any appliance that needs these batteries, consider seriously buying the new Ni-MH rechargables in appropriate sizes. These are much better than the older Ni-Cd batteries. They store more charge and have less of a memory effect, so they will last longer, even if you recharge them when they are only half discharged.
One kilowatt-hour (kWh), or 1000watt-hours of electricity from the mains costs around $0.12. One AA battery contains around 3000mAh (if you are lucky), at about 1.5 Volts. That’s 5 watt-hours. It costs about $1. Mains power costs one eighth the price for over 200 times as much energy.
Clockwork motors are even better for the environment. You can get radios and torches powered by a hand crank that winds up an clockwork motor. This motor then drives an electric generator that powers the appliance. These things, originally designed by Trevor Baylis for use in the developing world, are now quite commonly available in the west, and cost only a little more than their battery-powered equivalents.
More expensive ways to save the world
While spending $50 to save $500 and saving $50 for free both feel good, there are more things you can do to save money, but these can cost upwards of $100, so will need careful thought before tightwads will put them into practice. Dedicated tree-hugging idealists, of course, will jump at the chance to save even more energy.
Use energy-efficient appliances: When buying a new appliance, such as fridge or washing machine, look for the energy rating. In Europe get something rated A for energy efficiency; in the US get something that bears the energy star. Elsewhere, find out the local energy-saving standard, and buy one that is high on the energy-saving scale. In particular, televisions and CRT monitors for computer screens waste a lot of energy, so TFT-LCD screens are good options here. Their prices are also coming down as more people choose them over conventional CRT screens.
Zerotime notes that the initial price differential between CRTs and TFT screens outweighs the cost-savings you can achieve over a three-year life of the screen. Especially if you switch the CRT monitor off when it is not being used. He's right.
Use low-e (or K ) glass: Glass is a wonderful architectural material because it lets light in and brings a sense of space to a home, but it is also the main area of heat loss. A special process allows glass makers to put a thin, transparent layer of metal on the surface of a glass sheet, which traps infra-red inside, making the glass a much more effective thermal insulator. This is the best greenhouse glass you can get, and in cold climates it will certainly save on heating bills, as it minimises heat loss through the glass. Double glazing is good; triple glazing even better, but triple-glazed, low-e glass is almost as good as a solid insulated wall at keeping the heat in. Just don't use it in a hot climate, or you will suffer.
Install a heat pump: Heat pumps are essentially refrigerators in reverse. They use the low-temperature natural heat energy of a large mass of earth or water and concentrate it to raise the temperature of a small volume of air, which can then be used to heat a house. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you can install a large heat exchanger in the earth, or in a body of water near your home, then you can cut heating bills in half with one of these pumps. The result is that you cool the large volume down by three or four degrees, and in exchange, you increase the temperature of the house by 20 degrees or more. And the only cost is running a pump that transfers a working fluid between the two reservoirs.
Install solar heating: Solar heating can be the fancy amorphous silicon electrical generators (expensive) or it can be a simple water heating system in which a black hose pipe runs through some glass, which is used in stead of a gas-powered boiler. Solar heating can be a good investment in sunny climates, but in cooler climates it is often more trouble than it is worth.
x1cygnus says: silicon solar panels cost a huge amount of energy to make (the equivalent of ten years time of use, and if used with lead batteries the net sum is loss of energy). Overall, the energy balance is not good.
A family house, detached in a cool climate, with electricity charged at about GBP 0.07 per kWh
Sources; further information