Smart choices for big savings on energy costs

By Donna De Palma

Looking for ways to save money on energy costs?  First let’s look at your home’s heating and cooling.  As much as half of the energy we use in our homes goes to heating and cooling.  Smart choices about heating, ventilation and air conditioning mean big savings.


-About 30% of your total home energy costs is spent on heating your home.  Follow this tip: get your heating system inspected before heating season begins. Heat loss from a poorly-maintained system adds up fast.  Clean or replace your furnace filter often.  Your furnace uses a lot less energy when filters are replaced regularly.  Make sure that registers and air return ducts aren’t blocked by furniture or carpets. Ceiling fans, when set on a low setting, help push warm air down from ceilings to more evenly heat your home.


-Try not to overheat your home to avoid overworking your furnace.  If your furnace needs replacing, look for one that’s at least 90% energy efficient.  A key to energy efficiency is a programmable thermostat.  When programmed correctly, your home’s thermostat will automatically raise the heat before you get out of bed in the morning, then turn it down when you go to bed at night.  The optimum temperature range is 68 degrees while you’re at home and 65 degrees when your away.  If you install a programmable thermostat before winter sets in, you can look forward to a 20% savings on heating costs the first year. Follow a simple rule of thumb: for every degree you turn down your heat, expect to save 1% to 3% on energy costs.


-The cumulative effect of small leaks in your home has the same effect as leaving a window open all year long. To save money, you can use inexpensive expanding foam or caulk available at a hardware store to seal cracks in areas where cold or warm air escapes like windows and door frames and around holes in walls where pipes enter and exit your home.


-More than 50% of the energy we use for winter heating escapes from our homes because of uninsulated walls, floors, ceilings and attics.  Check your insulation.  Insulation, judged by R-value, has one rule of thumb: the higher the R-value, the better the insulation.  Consider adding insulation in your attic.  It’s a cost-effective way to reduce heat loss.


-Window treatments can prevent heat from escaping too.  Drapery with an insulating liner cuts heat loss by half. Installing storm windows can also cut your heat loss by half.  Look for double or triple-pane windows.


-When cooling your home with central air, clean leaves and debris from your outdoor unit.  Anything that’s too close to a compressor will block airflow.  Make sure your central air conditioning system is the right size for the area you want to cool.  Clean your filter regularly.  Your air conditioner works harder if filters are dirty.


-Set your cooling thermostat to 78 degrees during the day and even higher when you’re away.  Install an attic fan.   An attic fan reduces hot air trapped in your attic and prevents it from sinking into rooms below.


-Operate appliances like your dishwasher, dryer and oven in the mornings and evenings because they can add heat to your home and that makes your central air work harder.


-Homes with light or white roofs require up to 40% less energy for cooling than those with black roofs. Studies show you could save at least $120 per year in cooling costs if you install a light-colored roof.


-Your water heater accounts for about 14% of your average utility bill.  Set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees to cut bills without sacrificing comfort.  Keep your hot water hot by making sure pipes in unheated areas are insulated.  Put an insulating blanket around your water heater to hold heat in.


-Maintain your water heater by draining the tank once a year.  Turn the incoming water on and off—for about 20 seconds each— to clear.  This flushes minerals and sediment from inside the tank to make your water heater run more efficiently.


-Many state and local governments and utility companies offer financial incentives for homeowners to upgrade their appliances to newer, more energy efficient models. Incentives usually take the form of rebate checks for homeowners who can provide proof of purchase.


Energy Star®, the partnership between the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy, identifies energy-efficient products and rates them.  Make sure your major appliances are Energy Star® and check their rating.  A frig with freezer uses more energy than any other appliance in your home.  Upgrade your refrigerator to an Energy Star® model, then set the refrigerator’s thermostat between 38 to 42 degrees and your freezer between 0 to 5 degrees.  Condenser coils remove heat from inside your refrigerator.  They need to be at least two inches from the wall. Clean them twice a year.


-When selecting lighting, LED bulbs are cooler and use less energy than halogen or incandescent bulbs.  A 40-watt LED bulb uses only six watts of power, which is 85% less energy than a standard light bulb.  LED bulbs can be more expensive to buy but are well worth the investment. Depending on usage, a single bulb can last up to 20 years and costs only 72 cents a year to operate.


-Install dimmer switches and three-way bulbs wherever possible.  They’ll use less energy and you’ll have a choice of task lighting in different areas of your home.  Take advantage of the reflective nature of walls and light colors.  Position lamps in corners so light bounces off two walls instead of one.  Place furniture near windows to use natural light, whenever possible.


-For outdoor lighting, try high-pressure sodium bulbs.  They’re more efficient and last longer.


-To conserve water, equip your kitchen with an easy-to-install aerator to minimize wasted water and boost water pressure. An aerator allows you to direct water flow where needed for washing and rinsing food or dishes.


-Toilets account for nearly 30% of an average household’s water consumption and even more if they’re leaky. High Efficiency Toilets (HETs) can help you reduce the amount of water you use.  HETs combine high efficiency with high performance.  An HET uses 20% less water than a standard 1.6 gallon-per-flush toilet while maintaining full flushing power.


-The average American family does almost 400 loads of laundry every year. Energy Star® washers and dryers help cut energy use by up to half, and water use by over 30%.


-Think solar.  Global Solar portable solar panels are an innovative way of taking free energy from the sun and convert it directly into electrical power that can be used to power electronics or charge batteries. These panels eliminate the need to use outlet power that’s often generated by burning fossil fuels.


Kill-A-Watt power meters can help you understand which appliances and electronics use the most energy around your home. This meter is designed to empower you by providing information you need to make decisions about energy use.

Remember, knowledge is power when making smart choices for energy use in your home.  The more you know, the more you can save.




Consumers Energy


US News Money


Green Made Easy: Eco-Friendly, Efficient Remodeling Tips

by Donna De Palma


Consider the environment when remodeling your home this season.  It’s good for the planet and can save on both energy and water bills:


-Try a sustainable product such as a low-flow faucet with aerator and restrictor as a good first step in your kitchen.  Water usage is reduced from 2.5 gallons per minute down to 1.5 in low-flow faucets.

-The reduced flow will be almost undetectable.  Aerators force air into the water stream to maintain pressure and rinsing efficiency.

-Great design while preserving the planet can be achieved in the bath too.  Water-efficient showerheads optimize water flow without compromising performance.  A water-efficient showerhead’s 1.5 gallon per minute flow rate uses 30% less water.  Eco-performance tub and bath faucets reduce water usage by 32% on average.

-Replace a standard 1.6 gallon per flush toilet with a high-efficiency model to reduce water usage by 20%.  If you’re replacing a pre-1994 model with a high-efficiency model, you can reduce water usage by 60% or more.

-To cut down on your home’s carbon footprint and reduce energy costs, select Energy Star® appliances.  Induction or gas top stoves are 85% more energy efficient than electric.

-When selecting lighting, install LED lights.  LED lights keep your rooms cool and require less electricity.

-Insulate your home with wool, cotton, soy-based, even denim insulation.  These eco-friendly materials hold in heat or cooling efficiently and because they’re non-toxic, they’re much easier to install.

-For heating, geothermal and solar are rated highest as eco-friendly options.  Geothermal systems use earth heat— typically between 45 and 75 degrees—as a base for home heating.  The system works using buried coils that contain liquid—typically, a mix of water and antifreeze.  The liquid is warmed to the same temperature as the earth and then runs through to your house where a compressor extricates the heat.  No fossil fuels are required for this type of home heating.

-Passive solar heating systems align building features using the building’s orientation to the sun to reduce heating needs.  The three categories of passive solar heating: direct gain, indirect gain and isolated gain convert sunlight to thermal energy to keep a home warm and comfortable.

-When remodeling, select local materials when possible to lower your environmental impact.  Rochester, New York has plentiful hardwoods—oak, chestnut and maple— that can be locally-harvested.  Consider reclaiming hardwoods and choose recycled tiles, whenever possible.

-Wood is a beautiful and clean building material with excellent wear-resistance properties.   Not only is it hypo-allergenic but often free of chemicals.  When finished properly, it’s easy to clean and maintain.

-When considering which countertop is best for you, try Corian.  It’s 100%  recyclable.  Corian is seamless and was invented in Buffalo, New York.

-Quartz is another great option for countertops because it can be recycled and has the look of marble—with the same pattern and polish— though easier to maintain.

-When choosing cabinets, look for manufacturers who use sustainable construction practices and materials that are sourced in Rochester, New York or its surrounding counties.

-If you’re painting walls, select paint with low or no VOC’s—Volatile Organic Compounds—especially if you’re chemically-sensitive.  VOC’s have high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature so large numbers of molecules evaporate and enter the indoor air you breathe.

-For flooring, consider engineered floors made of thin veneers sandwiched on top of one another—or even luxury vinyl—that can have the look of wood or tile.  Both are worry-free options.

-Recycled ceramic or porcelain tiles are also good flooring choices. Try natural cork for an unexpectedly luxurious feel.  Cork comes in a wide variety of colors and its soft finish is easy on your feet.

-To save time and money while being eco-friendly, repurpose and recycle items you already own. Vintage parts make great hardware for cabinets.  Reclaimed corbels under a kitchen countertop can make a space your own.

-Stay warm this winter and conserve on heat with a heated floor.  If it’s a new build, a hydroponic system will allow your domestic water to run through a heat pump so it does double-duty.   In radiant floor heating, channels or tubes under the floor are warmed by warm water.  Some radiant floors are warmed by electricity, and others, by air movement.

-Hydroponic systems are most popular but require the system be hooked up to a water heater or boiler.  Electric radiant floors are much simpler to install and maintain.  They work through cables beneath the floor, or through mats that conduct electricity.

-The advantage of an electric radiant floor is that it comes with its own thermostat so temperature isn’t dependent on the thermostat that controls the rest of your house.   And they’re energy-efficient—an electric radiant floor in an average bathroom uses the same amount of energy as three 100-watt light bulbs.

-When a heated floor is turned off it still generates heat especially when the floor is made of a dense material like concrete.  Ceramic tile in a bath or mud room is a good choice for an electric radiant floor because it’s a great conductor of heat.  Most radiant heat systems can also be installed under hardwoods.

-Maximize outdoor space with a deck, patio or rock garden.  A simple berm planted with native plants and flowers creates an area of interest.  Laying stone or brick is more than a DIY project for most homeowners.  Consult an outdoor or gardening specialist.  Select trees and shrubs that provide shade.  Providing shade for an outdoor space is key to enjoyment on hot, sunny days.

-Railroad ties define sections of a yard or hold back erosion on a hill or alongside a driveway.  Conserve on watering with flowering plants that retain moisture like lilies and deep root plants and trees.

-Try a terrace.  When you build layers into a hill you can retain moisture and prevent water run-off.  Place large stones around trees to trap moisture.  By creating condensation, you’ll have a natural drip irrigation system.


Going green doesn’t necessarily require complex or expensive products or hard-to-find features. Instead, it can be the right solution for reducing energy costs and optimizing comfort for you and your family.



Home/Eco-Home — Is Electric Radiant Floor Heating Good for the Environment?

Houzz — Eco-friendly Cool: Insulate with Wool, Cork, Old Denim and More

Moen — Eco-friendly Bathroom Faucets, Eco-friendly Kitchen Faucets, Eco-performance Showerheads, Eco-performance Aerators

The Permaculture Research Institute — Water Retention Landscape Techniques for Farm and Garden

Mother Earth News — Best Options for High-Efficiency Toilets