Saving money by cutting your energy usage doesn't have to be a huge life change. Here are a few simple things you can do right now that'll go a long way:
Change those light bulbs!: We know you hear this all over, but - if you haven't done it - you simply have to. You're throwing money away if you aren't. CFL bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional ones.Change two 60-watt light bulbs in your home and you'll be saving $60 and putting 166 less lbs of CO2 into the air over the life of those bulbs.
Close shades and blinds: Think about how much more your air conditioner must run to cool your home when you allow direct sunlight in through your windows. Even when you have your A/C on full blast, if you go stand in a window with the summer sun beaming in on you, your are going to sweat. Imagine the money and energy you'll save by simply blocking that sunlight out with your window blinds. Also, you can keep your house cool during the day, even without A/C, if you close your curtains or blinds before leaving the house.
Don't run appliances during the day: Running appliances during the middle of the day is more financially straining and creates unnecessary heat in your home. Delay chores until off-peak hours or until you have a full dishwasher or load of laundry. Also, turning off lights, computers and other appliances when not in use can save up to 5% on your utility bill.
Unplug your TV: It's probably not news to any of you at this point that all plugged-in electronics constantly suck energy even when they're "turned off," but recently, the triple threat of flat screen TVs, cable boxes, and DVR devices have officially overtaken refrigerators as the biggest energy drain in American homes. And while the fridge at least has an excuse for being plugged in all the time, the TV really does not. Plug all those devices into a power strip and turn the whole thing off when you're not watching. If you can't commit to a regular unplugging regimen, at the very least make sure the set is unplugged when you go on vacation for a week. (While you're at it, unplug computer printers, coffee makers and extra phone chargers when you're going to be gone for a few days. Don't forget to do the same at the office-just because you're not paying the bill doesn't mean you should waste the power.)
Turn off your home computer: 75% of the energy used by home computers is used when the owner thinks the computer is turned off. "Sleep" does not equal off.
Air-dry beach towels: Using a towel for 2 minutes to pat swimming pool water off your 8-year-old's body does not necessarily make it dirty. Think about whether a beach towel needs to be washed before you automatically dump it in the laundry, and if you do wash it, air dry the towel whenever possible. Beach towels are much thicker than regular towels and require a lot more energy to dry. Why not toss them over the porch railing to air out in the sun instead?
Take shorter showers: Studies show that the average teenager spends a whopping 45 minutes in the shower. 45 minutes! Encourage your kids to cut down on their American Idol practice time, and remind your husband that men who shave in the shower are wasting water, too, to the tune of several gallons. Bottom line: If you're not actively sudsing or rinsing, turn the water off.
Wash it in cold: Using only the cold-water cycle on your washer will save the average household around $64 and reduce its carbon emissions by 100 lbs. each year. How? Because 90% of the energy a washing machine uses is to heat water. If you use cold water to wash your clothes, you will all-but-eliminate the energy demand from your washing machine and still get the same work out of it! And while you're at it, wash only full loads.
Don't dry dishes in the dishwasher: Know the "dry" cycle on your dishwasher? You don't need it! Dishes dry just fine on their own. Some dishwashers have a energy-saving air dry cycle, but you can also just turn off the dishwasher before the dry cycle and open the door to let the dishes dry on the racks.
Air dry your clothes: This is more drastic, but - if you don't need to use your clothing dryer to get something dry immediately - try going without on a few loads or at least a few pieces of clothing. The average household with a normal dryer will put close to 1 metric ton of C02 into the air each year with its use. That's the equivalent to 110 gallons of gas, and a cost of well over $100. (Not to mention the cost in damage to your clothes from all the excessive heat.) Getting a simple drying rack for your home or laundry room can save you money and help you do greener laundry.
Analyze your power bill: PG&E online has a great service that'll show you a breakdown of your power bill and where you spend most of your money. At my house, we have a toddler, so we do a TON of laundry. And it shows on our power bill -- a huge amount of money spent on gas for the dryer. So, we now do bigger but fewer loads to save. Also, we saw a huge spike in our power bill when we got our plasma TV, so we try to be careful about usage on that.
BIGGER CHANGES TO BE GREENER AND SAVE MORE:
Switch to individual room air conditioners or ceiling fans: Priced in the $100-and-up range, window units also come in the energy efficient variety, so look for an Energy Star symbol. Install the unit in a shady place to improve functionality. The northern and southern sides of your home are preferred to the eastern and western sides, as direct sunlight will warm the air conditioner and make it less efficient. Routine maintenance and cleaning is also a must; it will extend the life of your investment for years. For optimum energy efficiency, make sure you're using the right size air conditioner. (Find out here.)
When buying appliances, go for the energy efficient variety: Look for that Energy Star symbol on everything you buy. Every year refrigerators are getting more energy efficient, and it's almost hard NOT to buy one with an Energy Star rating these days. Many gas and electric companies offer rebates of up to $200 or more towards energy-efficient upgrades such as water heaters, insulation, roofing, and windows.
Ditch old non-efficient appliances once you upgrade: The downside is that many people, upon upgrading to a better refrigerator, just move the old one to the garage and keep using it. There are lots of programs to help recycle your old fridge, even some by your power company that'll give you money for it.
Get your water heater checked. Schedule an appointment with your plumber (or ask him to stick around the next time he comes to fix something else) and have him check the settings on your water heater. Although many water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, most homes only need 120 degrees for appliances to function properly. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that lowering your water temperature by ten degrees will save you 3 to 5% in energy costs (not to mention lower your risk of scalding).
Check your insulation: All that cool air you're creating inside by running the A/C should stay inside with you, right? Insulation is one of the best and least expensive ways of lowering your bills during the summer and winter. Many older homes are in need of additional insulation anyway, so this may be an eventual must-do. Consult your local hardware store for the type of insulation that's right for your home and climate. Also, check doors and windows, since they can be big leak points, and use weatherstripping as a quick and cheap way to make them more energy-efficient.
Related article: 7 easy ways to save energy this summer (without sacrificing the A/C)