With energy costs and our collective concern for protecting the planet on the rise, many are looking for ways to conserve resources and cut costs.
While energy-efficient alternatives have seemed out of reach thanks to up-front costs and lack of accessibility, federal and state tax credits and incentives are making it much more accessible for people to purchase energy-efficient home products.
We’ve compiled a list of energy-efficient swaps and helpful tips that reach a range of budgets and lifestyles. Regardless of where you stand financially, there are simple ways to curate a loving, thoughtful home for you, your wallet, and our planet!
Changes and Swaps For an Energy-Efficient House —
A well-designed landscape is not only pleasing to the eye, but it can also reduce your overall heating and cooling costs. Just by adding energy-efficient landscaping to a non-shaded yard, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) found that it can save up to 25% of energy compared to other homes.
Before you dive into any big landscaping decisions, figure out the general climate zone you live in. This can help determine the best energy-saving strategies for your home. (Check out this climate zone map provided by the DOE).
Plant drought-tolerant gardens
The beauty of drought-tolerant plants is that they (as the name suggests) can survive droughts — aka they require way less water to survive. These plants also tend to be disease and pest-resistant, and attract essential pollinators.
Consider incorporating these drought-resistant plants into xeriscaping, a landscaping alternative that can help reduce outdoor water usage by up to 50%. Gardener’s Path has a great guide to help you choose the best drought-tolerant plants for your lawn.
Strategically plant trees outside your home
Depending on where you live, a strategically-placed tree can help conserve energy inside your home and induce a natural cooling effect around your property.
The DOE recommends planting tall shade trees as the best way to protect your home from solar heat and from those cold blasts in winter. In the south, evergreen trees can shield your home all year long, while typically, in Northern regions, deciduous trees are best to use.
A good rule of thumb is to lean more on native plants and trees. This will help reduce the amount of water used to maintain them.
Water your lawn early in the morning
Water usage varies depending on the type of lawn you have. However, generally speaking, setting your sprinkler systems to water your lawn in the morning (preferably before 10 a.m.) when temperatures are cooler) allows the water to soak into the soil before it can evaporate.
Alternatively, if you can only water in the evening, Scotts suggests trying between 4 and 6 p.m.
Transition to solar
Rather than powering your outdoor areas with your home’s electricity, opt for solar lights to brighten up your landscape at night. From pathway lighting to string and holiday lights, you can harness free energy from our generous sun to power up your lawn without draining energy!
Opt for electric lawnmowers
While you’ll more than likely find gas-powered lawn mowers being marketed to consumers, there’s a growing number of electric options offering people an alternative to sprucing up their lawns. In fact, states like California are banning sales of new gas-powered lawn mowers to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Remember, though, where your power comes from will impact just how clean and efficient your electric mower is (we’ll talk more about that in the next section).
According to Green Building Alliance (GBA), 90% of roofs in the U.S. are poorly designed and built with dark, non-reflective materials that absorb rather than reflect heat.
Traditional rooftop temperatures can get 90 to 100 degrees hotter than the natural outdoor temperature — which typically transfers over into your attic and, ultimately, your home — according to GBA.
While good insulation helps shield your home from absorbing all that heat, having a darker heat-absorbing roof makes it easier for heat to transfer over into the attic. However, there are ways to help reduce excess heat transfer so that your air conditioners don’t have to work harder than they should.
Install a “cool roof”
Swap your dark, heat-absorbing roof with a “cool roof” — roofing material designed and constructed to reflect more heat than it absorbs.
The DOE provides a good overview of cool roofs, but generally, opting for metal roofing is by far one of the most energy-efficient options for residential homes. They can last more than 50 years, not to mention they require minimal maintenance.
If you prefer the look of traditional roof shingles, keep an eye out for Energy Star-certified roof shingles. In addition to federal tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient home products, some states also offer grants, incentives, or credits.
Consider installing alternative energy solutions
Alternative residential energy solutions like solar are sustainable, renewable, and efficient. Though understandably not an option for everyone, the cost of installing solar panels to produce your home’s electricity has decreased annually, according to the DOE.
The financial returns and lower monthly utility bills that solar offers make this option attractive to many. However, there are multiple factors and considerations when deciding to make the switch.
When it comes to reducing energy usage and water consumption, though, the DOE reports that solar gives homeowners a great return in the long run.
Contact your electricity company
At least 50% of customers in the U.S. — according to the DOE — have the option to purchase renewable electricity directly from their power supplier, and everyone has the option of purchasing renewable energy certificates. This kind of power is often referred to as green or clean power.
Yep, that draft you might feel can impact your energy bill. The EPA estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs (or an average of 11% on total energy costs) by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and basements.
Being mindful of your insulation can offer so many cost and environmental benefits.
Make sure your windows, doors, and roof are properly insulated.
Hiring a licensed contractor to check on your insulation or doing it yourself is an excellent first step in ensuring that your home is properly sealed.
Doing so prevents the air conditioning and heating units from overworking and keeps any harsh external conditions from seeping into your house.
Upgrade to double pane windows, if you can.
This tip comes with a caveat: it’s expensive. (The average cost as of 2022 is $505 to $1,075 — per window)
According to HomeAdvisor, double-pane windows can reduce energy usage by up to 24% during winter and up to 18% in the summertime. Keep in mind that to see energy-saving results, you must replace all old and faulty windows in your home — not just one.
Level up your curtain-game
If double-pane windows are outside your budget, try a nice insulated set of curtains. The DOE suggests opaque and tightly woven fabric with a light-colored awning that can reflect more sunlight.
The best energy-efficient curtains are designed to retain heat in the winter, keep cool air inside during the summer, and reduce outside noise and light.
Not only can curtains reduce heat loss by up to 30%, but shall we state the obvious: they also come in stylish colors and patterns! Win, win, win!
When switching to energy-efficient lighting, you can actually light your home using the same amount of light, for less money.
In the U.S., lighting accounts for about 15% of an average home's electricity use, with the average household saving about $225 in energy costs per year just by using LED lighting, according to the DOE.
Switch to LED light bulbs
Instead of the more traditional halogen and fluorescent light bulbs, switch to LED lighting. The DOE reports that residential LEDs — especially Energy Star-certified ones — use at least 75% less energy, and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. This swap, as previously mentioned, can save the average household about $225 in energy costs per year.
You can learn more about LED light bulbs and how you can incorporate them into your holiday lighting, recessed downlights, and more by visiting the DOE website.
Install timers and motion-detected lights in low-traffic areas
Automate your light usage by installing timers or motion-detected lights around your house. Adding motion detectors in “low-traffic” areas is a relatively effortless energy-conserving solution that could cut your overall light usage.
Similarly, installing timers in outdoor and living spaces, as well as on your home appliances, can result in significant savings on your electric, heating, and cooling bills throughout the year.
Laundry Room Ideas:
Consumer Reports found that most Americans over-wash their clothes (ahem, an estimated 300 loads of laundry per year…that’s almost a load for every day of the year).
With about 90% of the energy used while doing our laundry going towards heating, the general consensus is: Our planet might actually detest laundry day as much as we do!
The good news is, over the past two decades, increasingly tough federal regulations have required manufacturers to make washers that use less energy and water. Not to mention, there are other, more sustainable and energy-efficient alternatives to keeping our clothes nice and clean.
Wash your clothes in cold water
According to the Sierra Club, as much as 90% of the energy consumed by our washing machines goes towards heating the water. “The simplest and easiest thing to do with no sacrifice at all is to always use cold water wash,” says Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
If you need to use hot water, the NRDC says that even turning the dial down to warm can cut the energy use in half.
Properly set your machine
Next time you’re about to throw a load of laundry into a machine, take a brief moment to ensure you select the proper load size (so that the machine doesn’t use too much water). “How you use your device really dictates what your environmental impact is,” says Horowitz.
As for your dryer, the Sierra Club recommends using the machine’s presets (like Normal or Standard) as they engage the machine’s sensors to automatically shut off once the clothes are dry. By comparison, manually selecting a drying time often leads to more energy consumption.
Air dry your clothes
The most energy-efficient solution to drying your clothes? Air drying. Not only do studies show the effects of high heat usage on our clothing, but it produces a considerable amount of heat (and energy).
Air drying your clothes doesn’t have to be daunting or complicated, though. If you can hang dry your clothes outside, the sun’s UV rays naturally kill bacteria and viruses, says Carol DerSarkissian, M.D.
However, indoor drying racks can easily be folded down and discreetly stored if you don't have space for a clothesline. You can even drape your clothes over a towel rack or shower rod.
Okay, hear us out. Studies have found that unless someone in your household has a contagious illness, there’s no evidence that skipping washes is bad for health or hygiene.
Obviously, undergarments, socks, and gym clothes should be washed regularly. For other clothing items, try limiting the amount of synthetic material (such as polyester and nylon). These fibers tend to trap odors and require more attention than their natural fiber counterparts (cotton, silk, and wool).
Most garments that are worn — but not dirty — could simply be aired out overnight. If we’re still not convincing you to ditch over-washing your clothes, test out using a lint brush or a fabric steamer to freshen and sanitize clothes before wearing them again.
From the food we consume to the appliances we use, our kitchen space is home to a whole host of energy-saving opportunities.
When it comes to home electricity use, our kitchens typically use the most, according to the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association. This is due to a collection of heavily used energy-draining appliances like stoves and refrigerators.
Even if we can’t afford to buy new energy-efficient appliances, there are other ways to be mindful of our energy consumption.
Reduce your meat consumption
‘Eating local’ is a recommendation we often hear – even from prominent sources, like the United Nations. While it’s important to support our local businesses, Our World in Data suggests that we focus more on what we eat, rather than where we eat.
Pulling data from the largest meta-analysis of global food systems to date, Our World in Data found that agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions — with beef at the top of the list.
Overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher energy footprint than plant-based, and even just slightly adjusting our diets can be a way we can reduce our energy consumption in and outside of our homes.
Look for Energy Star-certified appliances
When it's time to upgrade your appliances, keep an eye out for a bright blue and white Energy Star label. Products containing this certification had to meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the EPA and the DOE.
Consumer Reports shared that you can reduce your carbon footprint by 8,200 pounds over five years — the equivalent of driving 9,300 miles in your car — just by making the switch over to Energy Star-certified products.
Plus, upgrading to an Energy Star-rated appliance allows you to take advantage of rebates, tax credits, or sales tax exemptions for energy-efficient products that your state and local utilities may offer.
Organize your refrigerator
We’ve all been there: “Where’d the ketchup bottle go?” or “Where’d I put the butter this time?” We don’t realize it, but our lack of refrigerator organization could negatively impact our energy usage.
Simply taking time to incorporate an organizational system can help reduce the open-door time needed to find food — further lowering energy consumption.
Run your dishwasher or washing machine early in the morning or late at night
Most energy companies charge higher rates for energy usage during peak hours. Check in with your energy company and ask about its peak hours. Simply waiting to run your dishwasher (and washing machine and dryer, too) at another time can save you money and conserve energy.
Generally, though, running the dishwasher early in the morning or late at night is the best time.
Switch to a tankless water heater
The average household spends $400-$600 annually heating its water, according to the DOE. That makes heating water the second largest expense in your home (behind air conditioning and heating), accounting for 14-18% of your utility bills.
Tankless water heaters, also known as on-demand water heaters, have become a more energy-efficient alternative to traditional ones. Unlike traditional water heaters — which continuously maintain water temperature — tankless heaters are built to provide you with hot water only when needed.
While many of the ideas shared in previous sections could easily be incorporated into creating a comfortable, energy-efficient space, there are some that could help us recharge our batteries while keeping our bills and planet in mind.
Use an advanced power strip
Electronics still draw electricity when we’re not using them, adding up to about $200 in yearly energy costs for an average home, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
A simple solution: advanced power strips. Plug your devices into an advanced power strip and flip the switch off before leaving the house. Power strips work well in other areas like your TV room or office where technology is often used.
Opt for fans instead of lowering your AC
A fan-tastic way to rely less on your thermostat is through the use of fans. Instead of lowering the AC at night, run your fan in a counter-clockwise direction during the summertime and opt for Energy Star-certified fans (60% more energy efficient than conventional units).
Turn your fan off
Yeah, you read that right: turn your fan off. Fans are meant to cool people, not rooms. As your fan circulates air in the room, you feel the breeze across your skin, which gives that cool, refreshing feeling. However, the temperature of the room hasn’t changed.
Running any kind of fan in an empty room, unfortunately, wastes energy. Remember to turn your fan off if no one is in the room.
Our trips to the bathroom almost always revolve around water consumption. We inevitably consume a lot of energy in this part of the house, however, there are ways to reduce it.
We’ve heard time and time again that taking shorter, cold showers helps, but we’ve found other ways you can enjoy your bathroom — without feeling rushed.
Switch to low-flow plumbing fixtures
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a low-flow faucet can save a home 700 gallons of water, and upgrading a toilet can save $140, annually. Switching to low-flow plumbing fixtures (like toilets, faucets, and shower heads) can be a simple cost and energy-efficient swap.
For homes where upgrades are a little more difficult, simply putting a plastic bottle filled with water in the toilet tank can reduce the amount of water used per flush.
Switch to a bidet
When toilet paper was in short supply in 2020, investing in a bidet suddenly became a good idea (though many have been enjoying the benefits of this device for ages).
According to Business Insider, investing in a bidet seat or attachment can lower your spending on toilet paper by 75% or more while also reducing the demand for toilet paper — which requires a lot of energy and natural resources to produce.
Look for tree-free toilet paper
Can’t quite let go of toilet paper yet? Totally cool! Try looking for tree-free options like bamboo offerings from Who Gives a Crap or read through the NRDC’s “Issue with Tissue 2.0” report, which includes a new sustainability ranking for commonly used toilet paper brands in the U.S.
A version of this article was originally published in The Home Edition of the Goodnewspaper.
Get your own Goodnewspaper by becoming a good news subscriber today.