Until recently, I lived my life as a care-free resident of dormitory housing. No separate cable or waste removal bills to pay, and definitely no utility bills. Now I’m on a mission to not only reduce my carbon footprint, but also to try to save a little coin each month by reducing my energy bill. I turned to my utility bill to see what exactly I could be doing to lessen my impact on the earth, and my wallet.
The US Energy Information Administration keeps tabs on energy use across the country. One of the categories the EIA tracks is energy consumption in residential homes through air heating/cooling, water heating, appliances and lighting. It came as a wild surprise to me that these five categories of consumption are not evenly divided, in fact just home heating alone accounts for 42% of all energy usage in home across the country. Air conditioning usage accounts for another 7%.
Therefore, home heating and cooling commands nearly 50% of total energy consumption residentially. Now I knew where to target my efforts in reducing my utility bill – heat and air conditioning. Especially now that we are getting into the colder months, there is a prime opportunity to consciously monitor your household thermostat habits and reduce both your emissions but also the economic impact.
Sometimes just being conscious of what you have the thermostat set to isn’t quite enough to fully realize your energy-saving potential. One such product that has come onto the market to aid in this effort of sustainability is the Nest Learning Thermostat. This is a “smart” thermostat that can be purchased and installed to an existing heating and cooling system and in as little as a week, “learn” your heating and cooling habits and help you maintain them on its own. From Nest’s website:
“It learns what temperature you like and builds a schedule around yours. Since 2011, the Nest Thermostat has saved over 8 billion kWh of energy in millions of homes worldwide. And independent studies showed that it saved people an average of 10-12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills…”
The thermostat is able to set the desired temperature based on previous patterns, and also knows where you’re away from the house so it can set the temperature to a more sustainable setting. Additionally, while you’re out, you can easily adjust the temperature from your smartphone. Nest boasts an average 4.5-star rating (across more than 16 thousand reviews) on Amazon.
Reducing your Energy Bill
If you aren’t ready to drop the coin on an investment like a smart thermostat, there are additional ways you can modify your current temperature control habits and reduce your energy bill.
Reducing Your Energy Bill in the Winter
Since it’s more apt for the winter months, the first thing you might be concerned with is heating. A general rule of thumb is that a few degrees plus or minus 68 Fahrenheit is considered comfortable by most if you are wearing an appropriate amount of layers/clothing. When you’re out for the day, set you thermostat a few degrees lower than you would be comfortable with if you were home. And at night you can set it a few degrees cooler as well. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the ideal temperature for sleep is a cool 65 degrees.
If you are going to be gone longer periods of time, on vacation perhaps, you can set the thermostat even lower. However, it is important to keep in mind that you will want to keep your pipes from possibly freezing, so you will likely not want to turn your heat all the way off. It is not recommended you leave your thermostat set lower than 55 degrees. If you have a ceiling fan you can turn reverse it to clockwise on a low speed to push warmer air down which helps save on heating costs.
Reducing Your Energy Bill in the Summer
In the summer months, most people are comfortable a few degrees plus or minus 75 Fahrenheit. Again, you can use the same technique of setting the temperature a little differently when you’re away from your home or asleep, this time raising the temperature a few degrees. Just like it’s important in the winter to leave your heat on at least just a little while you’re gone for extended lengths, your air conditioning has the same rule.
Even though it may be tempting to turn your system completely off if you’re away (either for a day or for a week) it is usually unwise to do so. If your air conditioning unit is undersized for the area, if you are frequently turning it off and turning it back on to cool your entire home, the unit can struggle to keep up, in the end costing you much more and possibly causing damage to the unit. It is best to adjust the temperature versus turning it all the way off. If you have a ceiling fan keep it in the counter clockwise position on a higher speed in the summer to cool a room.
Additional Ways to Reduce Your Energy Bill
Apart from your thermostat settings themselves, you can be sure you’re getting the most from your heating and cooling appliances by reducing drafts with weather stripping, keeping doors and windows shut, ensuring your fireplace flue is closed when it’s not in use, and making sure ventilation fans are off when not in use. Also be sure to check and replace furnace filters when it’s time and service your units periodically!
Some local utility companies will even do a free or low cost energy audit to help you figure out where you could improve the energy efficiency of your home. Energy.gov even provides advice on how to conduct your own energy audit. A free full in-depth guide for tips on saving money and energy in your home from energy.gov can be downloaded here.
Whether you invest in a smart thermostat or use these techniques to reduce your energy bill these methods will still keep you comfortable while also keeping your wallet happy and reduce your carbon footprint!
– Sarah Ferguson, blog contributor
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