Put Your Home on an Energy Diet

Does you need to lose some home energy weight this spring?

Bathing suit season is just around the corner, which might have you stepping up your Pilates routine to lose a few pounds before hitting the beach. Your house likely needs to lose some weight, too. Putting your home on a strict energy diet can help you cut carbon emissions, lowering your home energy bills and leaving your footprint on the planet a little lighter. Follow these tips to get started:

Start with a detox

A good weight loss program starts with a detox to eliminate toxins. The same concept works at home, too.  

“Simple one-time changes — like switching out your light bulbs, installing a low-flow showerhead or putting a displacement bag in your toilet tank — add up to big savings because they conserve resources like energy and water every time they're used,” explains Elizabeth Rogers, author of Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet.  

Consider this: Taking a few minutes to lower the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees can result in a savings of up to 5 percent on energy bills. The one-time adjustment also helps boost efficiency by slowing mineral buildup and preventing corrosion in the water heater and pipes.  

Shift your habits

Your penchants for Thin Mints and washing clothes in hot water are contributing to weight gain and carbon emissions. Rethinking some ingrained habits can keep your weight and energy use in check. Start by switching your washing machine setting from hot to cold. According to the Carbon Conscious Consumer Web site, a national climate campaign sponsored by the Center for a New American Dream, the average household can cut carbon emissions by 72 pounds in a single month and energy costs by $60 or more a year by washing clothes in cold water.  

Embrace automation

Setting the timer on the treadmill and scheduling morning runs helps keep your workouts on track. The same logic applies to saving energy: Putting exterior lights on timers ensures you won’t leave them on overnight, and installing a programmable thermostat means the heat or air conditioning isn’t running while you’re at work. When it comes to saving energy, automation has a huge impact.  

“Compared to a standard thermostat, a programmable model can save $250 per year by [reducing energy use] up to 15 percent during the summer and up to 25 percent during the winter,” Rogers notes. “That’s the equivalent of saving two full weeks of heating and three weeks of air conditioning a year, just from programming the thermostat.” 

Prices start at $50 for a simple unit with a timer. It’s an easy DIY project that can be done in a few hours.  

Power through it

Too much screen time has been linked to weight gain. The same electronics that keep us on the couch — televisions, video game consoles and computers — also contribute to skyrocketing energy use. Appliances and home electronics are responsible for 20 percent of annual energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  

Saving energy is as simple as flipping the power switch. In a single year, turning off your computer when not in use will save one ton of CO2 emissions. “When you detach a cell phone or similar device from its charger, unplug the charger, too.” reminds Chris Kielich, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy. The same goes for toasters, coffee makers and other small appliances. 

Keep it off

You can’t expect to maintain a girlish figure without working at it. The same goes for cutting your home’s energy use. It takes regular maintenance to sustain a lower carbon footprint.  

Replace furnace filters on a regular basis. Some models are good for one month, while others will last for up to 90 days; check the packaging for replacement recommendations.  

Other items on your regular to-do list should include caulking cracks in windows and doors; having the furnace and air-conditioning serviced; and cleaning the refrigerator coils every six months, which can improve airflow and cut energy bills by up to 6 percent. 

"Like we do with our bodies, a simple maintenance program is the right way to go with our homes,” Rogers says. 

Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008). Visit her online at www.jodihelmer.com.

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