California/Arizona Energy Council
Providing Renewable Energy Solutions and Awareness to Homeowners

CAEC is not a government agency. This corporation was created to provide energy saving information to homeowners and help promote energy efficient improvements.

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CAEC Energy Education Center

Save Energy and Money Today!

Tips to Save Energy Today

Easy low-cost and no-cost ways to save energy.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to keep your house comfortably warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer.

  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs with the ENERGY STAR® label.

  • Air dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.

  • Turn off your computer and monitor when not in use.

  • Plug home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips; turn the power strips off when the equipment is not in use (TVs and DVDs in standby mode still use several watts of power).

  • Lower the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120°F.

  • Take short showers instead of baths.

  • Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.

  • Drive sensibly. Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gasoline.

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR label on home appliances and products. ENERGY STAR products meet strict efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Did you know that the typical U.S. family spends about $1,900 a year on home utility bills? Unfortunately, a large portion of that energy is wasted. And each year, electricity generated by fossil fuels for a single home puts more carbon dioxide into the air than two average cars. And as for the road, transportation accounts for 67% of all U.S. oil consumption. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to save energy and money at home and in your car. Start making small changes today (see sidebar). To cut your energy use up to 25%, see the Long-Term Savings Tips throughout this booklet.

The key to achieving these savings in your home is a whole-house energy efficiency plan. To take a whole-house approach, view your home as an energy system with interdependent parts. For example, your heating system is not just a furnace=97it's a heat-delivery system that starts at the furnace and delivers heat throughout your home using a network of ducts. Even a top-of-the-line, energy-efficient furnace will waste a lot of fuel if the ducts, walls, attic, windows, and doors are not properly sealed and insulated. Taking a whole-house approach to saving energy ensures that dollars you invest to save energy are spent wisely.

Energy-efficient improvements not only make your home more comfortable, they can yield long-term financial rewards. Reduced utility bills more than make up for the higher price of energy-efficient appliances and improvements over their lifetimes. In addition, your home could bring in a higher price when you sell.

Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home cool in summer and reduce your energy bills. A well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce your energy bills. Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses for energy. Research shows that summer daytime air temperatures can be 3° to 6° cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas.

A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home's perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.

Illustration of a house with trees shading it.
Buildings and Trees=97Natural Partners
Deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides will help keep your house cool in the summer and allow sun to shine in the windows in the winter.


Programmable Thermostats

Illustration shows a thermostat in winter set at 62 degrees at 11pm at night.
Hot Winter Tip
Using a programmable thermostat, you can automatically turn down your heat at night or when you are not at home.


Illustration shows a thermostat in summer set at 78 degrees at 11pm at night.
Cool Summer Tip
In the summer, you can save money by automatically turning your air-conditioning up at night or when you are at work.

You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours. You can do this automatically by installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat.

Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air-conditioning according to a preset schedule. As a result, the equipment doesn't operate as much when you are asleep or when the house, or a part of it, is not occupied. Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.

Air Conditioners

Buying a bigger room air-conditioning unit won't necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that's too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit.

Sizing is equally important for central air-conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don't use the system's central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.

Cooling Tips

  • Whole-house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic.

  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.

  • Avoid setting your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.

  • Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.

  • Avoid placing lamps or TV sets near your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

Long-Term Savings Tips

  • If your air conditioner is old, consider purchasing a new, energy-efficient model. You could save up to 50% on your utility bill for cooling. Look for the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels.

  • Consider installing a whole-house fan or evaporative cooler if appropriate for your climate. Check out www.energysavers.gov for more information on efficient cooling.

Natural Gas and Oil Heating Systems

Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are highly recommended in homes with fuel-burning appliances, such as natural gas furnaces, stoves, ovens, and water heaters, and fuel-burning space heaters. An alarm signals homeowners if CO reaches potentially dangerous levels.

If you plan to buy a new heating system, ask your local utility or state energy office for information about the latest technologies available to consumers. They can advise you about more efficient systems on the market today. For example, many newer models incorporate designs for burners and heat exchangers that result in higher efficiencies during operation and reduce heat loss when the equipment is off. Consider a sealed combustion furnace; they are both safer and more efficient. Check the shopping guide for additional information on how to understand heating system ratings.

Long-Term Savings Tip

  • Install a new energy-efficient furnace to save money over the long term. Look for the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels.

Use the Sun - Passive Solar Heating and Cooling

Using passive solar design techniques to heat and cool your home can be both environmentally friendly and cost effective. Passive solar heating techniques include placing larger, insulated windows on south-facing walls and locating thermal mass, such as a concrete slab floor or a heat-absorbing wall, close to the windows. In many cases, your heating costs could be more than 50% lower than the cost of heating the same house that does not include passive solar design.

Passive solar design can also help reduce your cooling costs. Passive solar cooling techniques include carefully designed overhangs, windows with reflective coatings, and reflective coatings on exterior walls and the roof.

A passive solar house requires careful design and site orientation, which depend on the local climate. So, if you are considering passive solar design for new construction or a major remodeling, you should consult an architect familiar with passive solar techniques.

Solar Tips

  • Keep all south-facing glass clean.

  • Make sure that objects do not block the sunlight shining on concrete slab floors or heat-absorbing walls.

A Little Known Savings - Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are the most efficient form of electric heating in moderate climates, providing three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume in electricity. There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source, and ground source. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. Heat pumps do double duty as a central air conditioner. They can also cool your home by collecting the heat inside your house and effectively pumping it outside. A heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating by as much as 30% to 40%.

Heat Pump Tips

  • Do not set back the heat pump's thermostat manually if it causes the electric resistance heating to come on. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive.

  • Clean or change filters once a month or as needed, and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions.

Long-Term Savings Tip

  • If you use electricity to heat your home and live in a moderate climate, consider installing an energy- efficient heat pump system.

Air Ducts - A Hidden Loss

One of the most important systems in your home, though it's hidden beneath your feet and over your head, may be wasting a lot of your energy dollars. Your home's duct system, a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, carries the air from your home's furnace and central air conditioner to each room. Ducts are made of sheet metal, fiberglass, or other materials.

Unfortunately, many duct systems are poorly insulated or not insulated properly. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts that are in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost effective. If you are buying a new duct system, consider one that comes with insulation already installed.

Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawl space. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out of unsealed joints and lost. In addition, unconditioned air can be drawn into return ducts through unsealed joints. In the summer, hot attic air can be drawn in, increasing the load on the air conditioner. In the winter, your furnace will have to work longer to keep your house comfortable. Either way, your energy losses cost you money.

Although minor duct repairs are easy to make, ducts in unconditioned spaces should be sealed and insulated by qualified professionals using appropriate sealing materials. Here are a few simple tips to help with minor duct repairs.

Duct Tips

  • Check your ducts for air leaks. First, look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.

  • If you use tape to seal your ducts, avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive duct tape, which tends to fail quickly. Researchers recommend other products to seal ducts: mastic, butyl tape, foil tape, or other heat- approved tapes. Look for tape with the Underwriters Laboratories logo.

  • Remember that insulating ducts in the basement will make the basement colder. If both the ducts and the basement walls are uninsulated, consider insulating both. Water pipes and drains in unconditioned spaces could freeze and burst in the space if the heat ducts are fully insulated, because there would be no heat source to prevent the space from freezing in cold weather. However, using an electric heating tape wrap on the pipes can prevent this. Check with a professional contractor.

Image of ducts in an insulated attic. Hot air travels through the ducts into the room below. Some hot air is shown leaking out through the ducts into the attic.
Ducts — Out-of-Sight, Out-of-Mind
The unsealed ducts in your attic and crawlspaces lose air, and uninsulated ducts lose heat, wasting energy and money.

  • If your basement has been converted to a living area, hire a professional to install both supply and return registers in the basement rooms.

  • Be sure a well-sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture buildup.

  • When doing ductwork, be sure to get professional help. Changes and repairs to a duct system should always be performed by a qualified professional.

  • Ducts that don't work properly can create serious, life-threatening carbon monoxide (CO) problems in the home. Install a CO monitor to alert you to harmful CO levels if you have a fuel-burning furnace, stove or other appliance, or an attached garage.

Long-Term Savings Tip

  • You can lose up to 60% of your heated air before it reaches the register if your ducts aren't insulated and travel through unheated spaces such as the attic or crawlspace. Get a qualified professional to help you insulate and repair ducts.

Tips: Heating and Cooling

HEATING AND COOLING YOUR HOME USES MORE ENERGY AND DRAINS MORE ENERGY DOLLARS THAN ANY OTHER SYSTEM IN YOUR HOME! 

Graphic of a pie chart: natural gas 53%; electricity 30%, other 9%, fuel oil 7%, no heating system 1%.
Household Heating Systems
Although several different types of fuels are available to heat our homes, more than half of us use natural gas.

Typically, 43% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. What's more, heating and cooling systems in the United States together emit 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, adding to global climate change. They also generate about 12% of the nation's sulfur dioxide and 4% of the nitrogen oxides, the chief ingredients in acid rain.

No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase your comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. But remember, an energy-efficient furnace alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole-house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy use for heating and cooling, and reduce environmental emissions, from 20% to 50%.

Heating and Cooling Tips

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer.

  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.

  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.

  • Bleed trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.

  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.

  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.

  • During the heating season, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

  • During the cooling season, keep the window coverings closed during the day to prevent solar gain.

Long-Term Savings Tips

  • Select energy-efficient products when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage. For furnaces, look for high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. The national minimum is 78% AFUE, but there are ENERGY STAR models on the market that exceed 90% AFUE.

  • For air conditioners, look for a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The current minimum is 13 SEER for central air conditioners. ENERGY STAR models are 14 SEER or more.