10 Ways to Improve Your Home and Help the Environment

The U.S. Federal Government reports that the average American family uses about 75% more energy than families in the developed countries of Europe. Our energy use costs us roughly $1,300 a year on home utility bills per family. In this day and age, with global warming a looming threat and non-renewable energy sources growing scarcer and more costly, we should ask ourselves if we can afford this rate of energy consumption. This is an amazing amount of waste considering that there are many simple ways that we can reduce our energy use and help the environment at the same time.
In this article, we’ve listed 10 simple steps you can take to help reduce your personal energy use, help the environment, and save money in the process. Even if you make use of just a couple of these tips, you’ll be helping to make big changes in your pocketbook, the amount of energy you consume in your home, and your impact on the environment.

  1. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. The California Energy Commission reports that lighting can make up to 25 percent of the average home’s electricity consumption. That’s why you can make a big difference if you switch your incandescent light bulbs to ultra-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Studies report that by replacing 25 percent of the lights of your home with compact fluorescents, you can save as much as 50 percent of the money that you’d normally spend on lighting. Additionally, compact fluorescent bulbs can last up to seven years each! With the average cost of a fluorescent bulb being around $11.00, this means that you can potentially save around $20.00 for each bulb over three years if you switch to fluorescents. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration).
  2. Switch to a low-flow showerhead. Another change you should make is switching to a low-flow showerhead. What does reducing your water use have to do with reducing energy consumption? According to a report by the California Efficiency Partnership, about 73% of the water you use in your shower is hot water, and hot water requires energy to create. The report shows that the use of low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators may reduce water heating costs by up to 50%. Not to mention the fact that you’ll notice significant savings on your water bill when using a low-flow showerhead. And by saving water, you’ll be protecting precious freshwater resources. With a basic low-flow showerhead, the average family can save about 8,000 gallons of water a year. A higher-end model can mean even more savings.
  3. Compost your yard and garden waste. The Environmental Defense Fund claims that 18% of the waste that the average family in the U.S. produces comes from the yard and garden. Moreover, other studies report that most of the garbage delivered to the landfill during the summer and fall comes from gardens and yards. By composting garden and yard debris back into our gardens, we can greatly reduce the amount of energy spent hauling this material to the dump. Additionally, we can put the compost to good use in our garden, making our plants more resistant to diseases and pests, and therefore reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
  4. Use landscaping wisely. Properly landscaping your home with shade trees and windbreaks can help you save money on heating and cooling. Deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) placed on the southern and western exposures of your home will shade and cool your home during the hot summer months. In the winter, when the trees lose their leaves, they will allow the sun to heat your home. Also, if you use plants native to your area, you’ll end up using less water, and your plants will be more resistant to pests and diseases. With natives, you’ll spend less time maintaining your garden as well. Of course, we all know that growing trees and plants have other environmental benefits, including reducing air pollution and creating wildlife habitat.
  5. Purchase a more efficient refrigerator. Your refrigerator is one of the most energy-consuming devices in your home, so think about buying a modern, ultra-efficient refrigerator. Modern refrigerators can be up to twice as efficient as ones made ten years ago, so retiring your older model will help you save money and energy in the long run. It’s also a good idea to use the energy-saving settings on your refrigerator. Most refrigerators show these recommended settings on the temperature gauge. If your fridge doesn’t list these settings, 38 degrees F and 5 degrees F for the freezer are good settings.
  6. Insulate your home. The average family in the U.S. spends 50%-70% of their energy on heating and cooling, and many homes let energy escape due to improper insulation (Source: U.S. DOE). This means that properly insulating your home can make for big energy savings in the summer and the winter! Insulation keeps your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  7. Seal your home. Sealing cracks and spaces in your doors, windows, and walls can be a big project, but it is one of the best ways to save energy and reduce your heating bills. You can tackle this project a little at a time. For example, you can start by weather-stripping your doors, windows, and attic door. Caulking holes where pipes and wires pass into your home is also an easy way to reduce the amount of cold air that enters your home during the winter.
  8. Use your washer and dryer more efficiently. Washing and drying clothes is a necessary chore, but if we rethink the way we wash, we can see big energy savings. For example, switching to a front-loading washing machine is a good start as they are typically more efficient than standard top-loading machines. Also, if you hang your clothes out in the sun to dry and only use a clothes dryer on cloudy and rainy days, you can greatly cut down on your electricity bill. The sun is a wonderful free source of energy that will dry your clothes quickly and efficiently. When you do use your dryer, make sure you dry full loads and don’t overload your dryer.
  9. Cook your meals more efficiently. By changing the way you cook your meals, you can save considerable amounts of energy. For example, using a pressure cooker can often cut your cooking time in half. Additionally, if you’re making small meals, try using smaller appliances such as toaster ovens to heat your food instead of your main oven.
  10. Disconnect appliances when not in use. Another simple thing you can do to save energy in your home is to disconnect certain electrical appliances that you don’t use frequently. Many home appliances use a small amount of energy even when they’re turned off! If you unplug your T.V., VCR, and computer when you’re at work during the day, you’ll probably notice the change in your electricity bill. Over a few months, the savings will add up. The U.S. government’s Energy Star program recommends plugging several of these appliances into a power strip that you can turn off at night or when you’re not at home. This makes it easier to disconnect several appliances at once.