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60 ways to save energy (and money)


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2001

Here are 60 of energy expert Jim Dulley's top tips for saving energy around the house during the summer. References to his column direct readers to earlier columns and Update Bulletins that can be viewed or ordered at his Web site,

Here are 60 of energy expert Jim Dulley's top tips for saving energy around the house during the summer. References to his column direct readers to earlier columns and Update Bulletins that can be viewed or ordered at his Web site,

(1) Use a radio instead of a TV for background noise. A radio uses much less electricity and creates less heat.

(2) Move your large house plants outdoors in the summer. Indoor plants give off a lot of moisture that can make your air conditioner run longer to keep you comfortable.

(3) Install a programmable thermostat to change the setting of your air conditioner throughout the day. You can direct it to raise the temperature inside the house during the day while no one is home, then cool the house down at the time family members return. You save 3 to 5 percent on your energy bill for each degree you set the air conditioner above 78.

(4) If you have window air conditioners, don't turn them on the coldest setting when you switch them on. The room will cool no faster, and you'll probably forget to reset it until the room gets too cold. Use 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.

(5) Inspect and, if necessary, oil fans and motors on the condensing unit and the inside evaporative unit of your air conditioner. Column 694

(6) Check the condition of the outside condensing unit at the beginning of the cooling season. Accumulated dirt, leaves and other debris increase electric consumption as they decrease the unit's efficiency. Turn off the electric power, remove the cover and clean it out.

(7) Keep high grass, shrubbery, leaves or other obstructions from blocking air circulation around the outside of the air-conditioning system. Shading the outside part of the system with shrubbery is a good idea as long as the air is still allowed to circulate freely around the unit. This can result in savings of 2 to 3 percent of your cooling costs.

(8) Plug gaps around pipes, ducts, fans and vents that penetrate walls, ceilings and floors from cooled to uncooled spaces. This can lead to savings of 1 to 3 percent. Column 410, Column 904

(9) If your home has zoned or individual room controls, close off heating or cooling to rooms and areas that don't need it. Column 505, Column 665

(10) Use insulating shutters or draperies and keep them closed during summer days for a saving of 8 to 15 percent. Column 843

(11) Use exterior shading devices such as awnings, roofs or trees to shade your home and windows from the sun. Savings: up to 8 percent. Column 465, Column 693, Column 736

(12) Close window blinds and shades in the afternoon. If you have Venetian blinds, angle the slats inward from bottom to top. This is more effective at keeping the hot air between the window and the blinds.

(13) Staple reflective foil underneath the roof rafters to block radiant heat from the hot roof. Column 509

(14) Switch your pool filter and sweeper operations to off-peak hours. Peak hours are between noon and 6 p.m. If your budget allows, replace pool pumps and motors with updated, more efficient equipment. Savings depend on your use.

(15) Lower the pool water temperature and decrease the number of months you heat your pool, or switch to a solar pool heater. Pool covers save energy and money. Seventy percent of pool heat loss is by evaporation. Use a solar swimming pool heater to reduce your pool heating costs. Column 690

(16) Set your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees, or 140 degrees if you have an old dishwasher without a built-in heater. You can save 7 to 11 percent of your water-heating costs.

(17) Check the energy label and select the most energy-efficient model when buying a new refrigerator, washer or other appliance. You will see savings of 5 to 25 percent of operating costs.

(18) Keep the overhead door closed on an attached garage to minimize hot-air leakage into your house.

(19) You can cut your heating costs up to 25 percent simply by installing proper ceiling insulation to at least R-30 standards. Insulate walls, floors and heating ducts, too. This insulation will not only keep heat from escaping but will also make your home more comfortable.

(20) By caulking and weatherstripping, you can cut your heating or cooling bills up to 10 percent. Weatherstrip doors and windows, and caulk air leaks around windows, door frames, pipes and ducts and anywhere air leaks in or out. Do not caulk around water heater and furnace exhaust pipes.

(21) Unplug or get rid of an extra refrigerator if you use it mainly for cold drinks or ice cubes. This can lower your electric bills by as much as $140 per year. Column 660

(22) Arrange items in your refrigerator so you can find them quickly. Open the refrigerator and freezer doors only as often as necessary.

(23) Regularly defrost manual-defrost refrigerators and freezers when ice builds up to a thickness of 1/4 inch.

(24) Don't keep the refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37 F to 40 F for the fresh-food compartment and 5 F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0 F.

(25) To check refrigerator temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.

(26) Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.

(27) Move your refrigerator out from the wall a little to allow for freer air flow. Vacuum the condenser coils twice a year, more often if you have a dog or cat with long hair. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods of time with clean coils.

(28) Put lids on containers with liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture, which makes the compressor work harder.

(29) Wait until you have a full load when washing clothes. Use the coolest water possible, especially for the rinse cycle. (Note that some laundry detergents do not perform optimally in cold water.) Always wash full loads. Column 866

(30) Check the condition of the dryer vent duct to make sure that there are clamps on each end and that there are no holes. A leak of hot, humid air is the last thing that you want in your house in the summer.

(31) Inspect the outdoor dryer vent several times a year to make sure that it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material, not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages. Column 488

(32) Always wash full loads in a dishwasher and use the shortest cycle that will get your dishes clean. Use the air-dry cycle or energy-saver settings. If your dishwasher is not equipped with those features, turn off the dishwasher before the drying cycle, open the door and let the dishes dry naturally. Column 538

(33) Don't preheat your oven, and use the smaller of the two ovens if you have a dual unit. Cook complete meals of several dishes simultaneously in the oven. Cook on range-top burners when practical instead of in the oven.

(34) If you cook with electricity, turn the stovetop burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The heating element will stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity.

(35) Keep range-top burners and reflectors clean. They will reflect the heat better, and you will save energy. Use a covered kettle or pan to boil water; it's faster and it uses less energy. Match the size of the pan to the heating element.

(36) If you are buying a gas oven or range, look for one with an automatic, electric ignition system. An electric ignition saves gas and is cooler because a pilot light is not burning continuously.

(37) Use small electric pans or toaster ovens for small meals rather than your large oven or stove. A toaster oven uses a third to half as much energy as a full-sized oven.

(38) If you have a microwave oven, use it for reheating and cooking small quantities of food. Use a pressure cooker for fast cooking too.

(39) In gas appliances, look for blue flames; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed. Consult the manufacturer or your local utility.

(40) Seal off electric receptacles and switch boxes with foam gaskets or fiberglass insulation. Savings: 1 to 3 percent of cooling costs.

(41) Install timers, photo cells or occupancy sensors to reduce the amount of time your lights are on. Savings: 7 to 10 percent of lighting costs. Column 479

(42) Install fluorescent tube fixtures (two or four tubes) or energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in lamps and fixtures throughout your home. Fluorescent lights use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. Although fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps are initially more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they pay for themselves by saving energy over their lifetime. Column 727

(43) Turn off the lights in any room you are not using or whenever they are not needed for more than one minute. This applies to incandescent and fluorescent lighting.

(44) Use task lighting. Instead of brightly lighting an entire room, focus the light where you need it. For example, use fluorescent under-cabinet lighting to illuminate kitchen sinks and the counter tops under cabinets.

(45) Use three-way lamps and bulbs. They allow you to keep lighting levels low when bright light is not needed and are more efficient than dimmer switches.

(46) Take advantage of daylight by using light-colored, loose-weave curtains on your windows to allow daylight to penetrate the room while preserving privacy. Also, decorate with lighter colors that reflect daylight. Installing a skylight tube is an efficient method to use natural daylighting. Column 542

(47) Use outdoor lights with an electric eye or a timer so they will turn off automatically during the day. Column 833

(48) Replace old windows with new high performance windows. Look for the Energy Star and Energy Guide labels. Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label; it means the window's performance is certified. Remember, the lower the U-value, the better the insulation. In warm climates, where summertime heat gain is the main concern, look for windows with double glazing and spectrally selective coatings that reduce heat gain. Column 445, Column 577, Column 719, Column 754, Column 755, Column 902

(49) Make sure all windows are tightly closed and locked when the air-conditioning is on. The lock holds the weatherstripping tightly together.

(50) Use blinds, shades, sunscreens or awnings on windows facing south and/or west to block sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Exterior shading is more effective than interior shading. Column 460, Column 973

(51) Buy a new, energy-efficient water heater. While it may cost more initially than a standard water heater, the energy savings will continue during the lifetime of the appliance. Column 431, Column 495, Column 749

(52) Wrap your water heater with a water heater blanket, especially if it is in an unheated area of your home. The blanket could save you up to 10 percent on water-heating costs.

(53) Drain a quart of water from your hot water tank every three months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater. The type of water tank you have determines the steps to take, so follow the manufacturer's advice.

(54) If you heat with electricity and live in a sunny climate, consider installing a solar water heater. The solar units are environmentally friendly and can now be installed on your roof to blend with the architecture of your house. Column 688, Column 795, Column 832

(55) Install flow restrictors or energy-saving shower heads and faucets in your home. You will reduce hot water use and cut water costs by 10 to 16 percent without affecting comfort. Column 721

(56) Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans wisely. In just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job. Column 427, Column 429

(57) Fix defective plumbing or dripping faucets, especially hot water faucets. A single dripping hot water faucet can waste 212 gallons of water a month. That not only increases water bills but also increases the gas or electric bill for heating the water.

(58) Place lamps or TV sets away from your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

(59) Set the rotation on your ceiling paddle fan to force the air downward in the summer. Use medium or high speed in the summer to create a breeze. Fans make you feel cooler by evaporating moisture from your skin even though they do not lower the temperature.

(60) Even if you do not plan to open your windows in the summer, leave the screens in. The screening blocks some of the sun's heat and deflects the full force of hot summer air.

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