According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average electrical consumption for a residential customer was 914 kilowatt-hours per month in 2018. The American Geosciences Institute reports that in the U.S., over 7 billion barrels of petroleum products are consumed every day. Since 1950, the overall primary energy consumption in the U.S. has grown substantially from roughly 35 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) to just over 100 quadrillion Btu in 2018, according to the EIA. These figures may seem unsurprising, considering how rapidly the U.S. has developed over the past few decades. However, both the production and use of energy has been shown to have negative impacts on our environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that natural gas, coal, and nuclear power all contribute to the generation of electricity in the U.S., and nearly every step in the electricity system can have adverse environmental effects. The burning of fuel can increase greenhouse gas emissions, discharges into water systems and supplies can cause pollution, and animals and ecosystems can be negatively impacted. It isn’t always easy to find methods to curb the negative impacts of energy consumption on the environment. Both individuals and organizations can make a positive difference by finding ways to save energy at home and at the office. These measures not only help to reduce potentially damaging contributions to the environment but also can save money and resources.
Install Solar Panels
Solar panels harvest energy emitted by the sun. They’re a much greener, more cost-efficient alternative to fossil-fuel-burning power plants. According to Live Science, solar panels allow photons to knock free electrons from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Installation costs and energy savings vary by state, as well as by size. SolarReviews reports that for the average home, after tax credits, it costs just over $11,000 to install a 4-kW system and just under $41,500 for a 20-kW system. According to Energy Sage, solar panels can help save consumers $10-30,000 per year on their energy costs. Beyond the substantial cost savings of going solar, the environmental benefits are immense. Beyond the purchase and installation of a particular solar system, any energy use from that system is effectively free. The more home or an organization is able to use energy collected by solar panels, the less it has to rely on electricity from fossil fuels.
Drink from a Reusable Water Bottle
According to a 2018 Earth Day fact sheet, Americans buy around 50 billion water bottles a year, which comes out to over 13 bottles a month for every person in the country. Each individual who uses a reusable water bottle, such as a Nalgene brand bottle, could save more than 150 plastic bottles a year.
It’s important to consider just how excessive bottle use is negatively impacting the environment. In an exclusive story, the Guardian reports that by 2021, yearly water bottle consumption is expected to surpass half a trillion, far more than recycling plants can process, endangering oceans and other environments. In addition, the production of plastic bottles requires significant energy and often uses sources that impact the environment.
A single person can make a positive, significant impact on the environment and reduce plastic bottle use to zero by opting for a reusable water bottle. Every time people refill reusable bottles instead of purchasing plastic ones, they save money and save energy.
Install Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
In 2010, 68% of light bulbs installed in U.S. homes were traditional incandescent bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). That percentage dropped to just 6% in 2016, with 44% of light bulbs in American homes being more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
The U.S. Department of Energy notes how using Energy Star-qualified light bulbs can help save $45 each year on energy costs. Similarly, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can last 10 times longer while using only one-fourth of the energy, helping consumers save more over time. LED lights also have a significantly longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs, helping to save money. Simply put, energy-efficient bulbs save money.
Use a Programmable Thermostat
How much it costs to heat a particular home or office can depend on what type of energy it uses, as well as location. Apartment List notes that the average cost of a gas heater is around $40 a month, whereas an electric heater costs around $160 a month. It’s important to keep in mind just how much energy—and money—can be lost by heating an unoccupied home or office. The DOE reports that as much as 10% of home heating and cooling costs can be saved by turning the dial down 7 to 10 degrees during a standard eight-hour workday. This can be accomplished by using a programmable thermostat, which allows users to heat or cool their dwellings on a schedule. Considering that the EIA attributes more than half of household energy costs to heating and air conditioning, reducing that use is another way to save energy and money.
Install Energy-Efficient Windows
Those trying to conserve energy with a programmable thermostat may find their efforts thwarted if they aren’t using energy-efficient windows. According to the DOE, heat gain and loss through windows count for nearly one-third of overall heating and cooling use. Homeowners may assume that when their windows are closed, no heat is escaping; but leaks around the windows themselves may allow air to escape.NerdWallet reports that replacement windows can cost $500 a piece, or more if new frames are needed, and it may be several decades until the financial costs are recouped. Installing more efficient windows, nonetheless, is an effective way to save energy over time, even if economic savings may not initially appear.
Use Energy-Efficient Appliances
Appliances are a significant source of energy use in a home or an office. Wholesale Solar notes that the daily energy use of a dishwasher is between 1,200 and 1,500 watts and that an oven is 1,200 watts.
Homeowners and business owners can help reduce energy use by using appliances that carry the Energy Star logo, which is more energy-efficient and can help to save consumers money over time, even though they may cost more than other appliances, according to Solar Estimate. Finding ways to reduce the energy use of appliances, such as unplugging a microwave when not in use, can also help to reduce energy, NOPEC writes.
Wash and Rinse Clothes in Cold Water
According to Cold Water Saves, a website by the American Cleaning Institute for Better Living and the Sustainability Consortium, roughly 90% of a washing machine’s energy use is dedicated to heating water. Over time, opting to wash and rinse in cold water can save a substantial amount of energy and money.
Cold Water Saves notes that the annual cost of washing and rinsing clothes in a hot/warm cycle is $265, while the cost for the same amount of laundry washed in a cold/cold cycle is $16. Hanging clothes to dry rather than using a gas or an electric dryer can also save energy.
Ensure Your Furnace Is Clean
An easy way to save money and reduce energy consumption is to clean and replace furnace filters, which block dust and debris from a furnace’s blower fan. Citing data from the DOE, U.S. Home Filter states that replacing dirty filters can lead to a 15% reduction in your furnace’s energy consumption, with potential savings of 7.5% on your heating and cooling costs each month.
Cleaning and replacing filters in other appliances in your home can also help to save energy. The DOE reports that replacing a dirty filter with a clean filter can reduce an air conditioner’s energy use by up to 15%.
Ensure Home and Office Are Properly Insulated
According to Energy Star, the EPA estimates that homeowners can save 15% on their heating and cooling costs through air sealing methods and adding insulation in areas like attics and crawl spaces. The savings can be substantial, depending on a home’s or an office’s size. Insulation can be performed by a professional or using a do-it-yourself guide, such as this one from the DIY Network. Individuals should always practice caution and ensure that they’re following necessary protocols before attempting to insulate.
Add Aerators to Faucets
An aerator helps to limit the amount of water being dispensed from a faucet. The EPA reports that replacing old faucets and aerators with those that bear the WaterSense label can help to reduce water use and save the average family 700 gallons of water—45 showers’ worth—a year.This helps to reduce not only water consumption but also water heating costs. The EPA notes that households with these aerators can save the energy equivalent of running a hairdryer almost 20 minutes each day.
Turn Off or Unplug Appliances and Electronics When Not in Use
It may not seem that smartphones or laptops are consuming much electricity when plugged in but not in use. However, unplugging these items can help to cut down on overall energy costs. Citing a study of Northern California by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York Times reports that nearly 25% of residential energy use stems from devices in idle mode. While it can be impractical to unplug every appliance after each use, unplugging appliances such as toasters, coffee makers, and cable boxes can help to reduce energy use.
Invest in Properly Placed Landscaping
Saving energy doesn’t always take place in a home or an office. The DOE reports that properly designed landscaping, such as planting a tree or a shrub to deliver shade, can reduce heating and cooling costs.
The DOE provides landscaping tips including planting trees with crowns lower to the ground, using bushes and shrubs to shade a patio or an outdoor area and watering your landscaping in the morning to avoid higher evaporation rates later in the day.
Whether one opts to re-landscape their home or chooses to purchase more energy-efficient lightbulbs, there are dozens of ways to protect the environment. These twelve tips show that making simple and easy adjustments to one’s home can conserve valuable energy resources while generating long-term savings.
The Conversation, “5 charts show how your household drives up global greenhouse gas emissions”
Earth Day, “MONEY IN A BOTTLE”
Environmental Protection Agency, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle”
The Nature Conservancy, “Calculate Your Carbon Footprint”