As temps go down, keep energy consumption in check

Brrrr, program your thermostat…we’re in for a cold night.

With metro area temps dropping down to the 20’s tonight, there’s no better time for a quick refresher on home energy savings.

The average American spends $2,000 per year on energy bills according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy and while there are many ways to reduce your energy consumption, what works for you will depend on your personal preferences and comfort.

For example, my house has a heating situation — upstairs is toasty, while the main level is freezing! It is a common issue in many homes, but a big problem for someone who thinks a comfortable temperature is 75 degrees or higher.

My solution is to use a mix of the suggestions below — I use some of the strategies to keep my energy bill in check and ignore the ones that would make my life miserable (like keeping my thermostat set at 68 degrees!).

Here are some easy and affordable ways to reduce energy costs in winter (and beyond):

Heating : 45 percent of energy consumption.

1. Get a programmable thermostat…unless you have a heat pump. Experts say this is one of the best ways to reduce energy consumption suggesting you set it to 68 degrees when you’re home and program it to drop to 58 degrees or lower when you’re asleep or away from home. That works if you like sleeping in 58 degree temps (I don’t)  or if you don’t have a heat pump ( I do).

That’s right — programmable thermostats are generally not recommended for heat pumps, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. When a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back its thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently and cancel out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting. It is better to maintain a moderate setting — presumably at 68 degrees.

Heat yourself, not your house. Here in Georgia, it is easy to get comfortable with moderate temperatures. But do you really need to wear tank tops and shorts in your house in January? Wear sweaters, wear shoes, wrap yourself in a comforter while watching TV. It is cheaper to warm yourself than the room.

Let the sunshine in. On sunny days, open curtains and blinds to get solar heat. When the sun goes down, close them to help retain the heat.

Use ceiling fans. Switch your ceiling fans to the clockwise position at a low speed to improve heat circulation in winter. In summer, switch it back to counterclockwise.

Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Open dampers can leave a mighty draft in your home. I had hoped that this was part of my issue, but no,  the damper is closed.

Water Heat: 18 percent of energy consumption

Lower water temps: Lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees.

Go low flow. Install low flow shower heads and faucet aerators to cut water heating by as much as 50 percent.

Monitor your laundry: Wash your clothes in cold water — your clothes will still get clean and you’ll save on water heating. And while you’re at it, to save more energy, make sure you only wash full loads of clothing (the same applies to dishes in the dishwasher). Don’t over dry your clothes. Use the cool down setting to let existing heat finish drying your clothes.

Light/ Computers and other electronics: 6 percent (each) of energy consumption

Change your bulbs: New lighting standards which began last year mean that by 2014 all light bulbs will use 25 to 80 percent less energy. You may know that using these new incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs bulbs will save you energy, but did you know that replacing just 15 will save you about $50 per year?

Stop the phantoms. Phantom loads are all the appliances that suck up energy when plugged in but not in use. But seriously, it’s hard to get in the habit of going around and unplugging appliances — make it easier by plugging electronics into power strips and turning the power strip off and on as needed.

For an overall assessment of your home’s energy use, GA Power customers can always get a free audit or online assessment. Once you know where you’re losing energy, you can fix it or call a professional to do more extensive work for you.

How are you saving on energy costs this winter? Which strategies work best for your particular situation?

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– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

4 comments Add your comment


January 22nd, 2013
12:47 pm

Good stuff! I stopped reading halfway through and immediately emailed our apt.’s Maintenance team to come and lower our water thermostat! Thanks for sharing!


January 22nd, 2013
3:12 pm

As for the “phantom” electricity users, they now how these rubber things that you can stick on the wall and pop the cord in and out of so you can just plug and unplug as you go. Of course, there are something’s that I like having plugged in all time (i.e. coffee pot) or lamp near door.

As for fireplace, you can cut a piece of wood to fit the opening and paint it black to block out even more air or for a more finished/professional look hardware stores now offer whole units that close and open with ease for fireplaces.

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