Home Energy Use

The average U.S. family can spend $2,000 a year on energy bills, which means reducing your home energy use is the single most effective way to save money and reduce your home’s contribution to climate change. The Energy Information Administration says that the U.S. residential sector accounts for 21 percent of all energy consumption and is responsible for 20 percent of our country’s carbon emissions.

Energy Management

Energy Audits

To improve the efficiency of your home, first carefully evaluate your options. While it may be cost-effective to improve the insulation and air-tightness of your home, repair ductwork, or tune up your system, there are times when new heating and cooling systems are the best option. A qualified home performance contractor can help you evaluate your options.

Homeowners and renters alike can benefit from an energy audit. An audit will evaluate energy bills, insulation, heating and cooling systems, electrical systems and appliances to determine how much energy your home consumes, and where energy is wasted. The auditor will make specific suggestions to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Following through on the recommendations could lead to savings between 5 and 30 percent on your energy bill. Improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t just save money. Better insulation, for example, reduces uncomfortable drafts, and double-pane windows make for a quieter home.

Be sure to ask for potential rebates. Some utilities will offer a discounted price and use a provided contractor for upgrades.

For more information explore Department of Energy – Energy Savers, and check out the interactive video and other useful tips.

Heating and Cooling Systems

Heating is the largest energy expense in most homes, accounting for 35-50 percent of annual energy bills in colder parts of the country. On space heating alone, Americans spend $73 billion each year. Home air conditioning accounts for almost 6 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S. and costs homeowners over $29 billion annually. Together, home heating and cooling is responsible for roughly 441 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

When looking for central air conditioning and heat pumps, look for energy efficiency, performance and cost. According to the Department of Energy, you should consider replacing your system if it is more than 10 years old, as you can save 10 to 40 percent with a newer, more efficient model. For maximum efficiency, look for equipment that has the highest seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). New equipment must be rated at least 13.0, though some equipment will go above and beyond and reach a SEER rating of 20.0.


Warm air leaking into your home in summer and out of your home in winter can waste a lot of energy. You can save 10 percent on energy costs by insulating, sealing, and weatherstripping the cracks around your windows and doors. Electric wall plugs and switches can also let cold air in, but can be sealed with pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the plate. Learn more from the Department of Energy.

Warm air can also be lost if ducts in crawlspaces and attics are not properly insulated. By sealing and insulating the ducts in your heating system, you can improve efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Heating pipes and water heaters are also prime candidates for insulation.

If you still experience high energy bills, older windows could be to blame. Old windows can allow a great deal of energy to be lost through the frames and glazing. Replacement windows often have multiple panes, gas fills, edge spacers, improved frame materials, and low-emission glass, all of which can reduce unwanted heat transfer. For additional guidance, the Efficient Window Collaborative offers tools to analyze energy costs and savings, and
the Department of Energy offers information on energy performance ratings and energy efficient windows.

The Weatherization Assistance Program offers low-income families funds to support home energy-efficiency improvements. Funds are often delivered by local community organizations, agencies, non-profits or government. Learn more about the weatherization program.

Programmable Thermostats

Most thermostats now allow you to control the temperature of your home with ease simply by programming your desired settings. Programmable thermostats start around $20, and you’ll save as much in avoided energy costs in the first year.

Saving money requires programming the thermostat correctly. Best practices are to turn down the thermostat at night and when you’re away from home. If you lower the temperature 7°-10°F while your away at work (6-8 hours) the adjustment can save you about 10 percent on your heating and cooling bill annually. To keep up with seasonal needs, a good rule of thumb is to set the thermostat to 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter.  Learn more about programming your thermostat at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

Today, new energy management technologies allow you to remotely control your home’s heating and cooling, lighting—meaning you can adjust the lights and thermostat and more – all from your smart phone. These tools help you make better decisions about when and how to use energy.

The average U.S. family can spend $2,000 a year on their energy bills.

Water Heating and Energy

Water heating can account for 18 percent of a home’s energy consumption and is the third-largest energy expense in U.S. households.

Consider these efficient water smart strategies to save on your electric bill:

  • Cold H2O cleans: 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water! Cold water loads can save the average household more than $30-$40 annually.
  • Wrap those pipes: Insulating your water pipes prevents heat loss and keeps water warmer all the way to your faucets. Insulate exposed pipes and those in areas subject to temperature changes.
  • Slip a jacket on the tank: Insulating your hot water heater is an easy way to cut your energy bill. A jacket reduces heat loss by 25-45 percent, saving 7-16 percent on your water heating costs. Find a jacket at your nearest hardware store for as little as $10. Learn more at the Department of Energy
  • 120 is the number: The ideal setting for the water heater is 120°F. For every 10°F you lower the setting, you can save 3-5 percent on the energy cost. Save even more by turning the heater off or to its lowest setting when you are heading out on vacation. If you have a gas heater, don’t forget to relight the pilot when you return.

The most common home water heater is the conventional storage water heater. This type of system is not the most efficient as it continually heats a large quantity (20-80 gallons) of water whether it’s needed or not. There are several other choices including demand (tankless) water heaters, heat pumps, solar heaters, and tankless coil and indirect water-heating systems. Choosing the best water-heating system for a home requires an understanding of how each type works and the advantages of one system over another.

Compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs use 25-80 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb.


The United States spends about one-quarter of its electricity on lighting at a cost of more than $37 billion annually. This could be reduced by 50 to 75 percent simply through new energy efficient light bulbs.

Replacing the five light fixtures you use most often at home with energy-saving models can save up to $70 each year, according to ENERGY STAR. ENERGY STAR light fixtures have been assessed for their quality and offer some of the highest levels of efficiency available.


  • Use a quarter of the energy of traditional incandescent lightbulbs.
  • Last at least 10,000 hours – about seven years of regular use.
  • Distribute light more efficiently and evenly than standard fixtures.
  • Include convenient features such as dimming, automatic daylight shut-off, and motion sensors.
  • Carry a two-year warranty — double the industry standard.

Did you know only 10 percent of the electricity used by incandescents is converted into useable light? — the rest is wasted as heat. Two efficient options include compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Both use 25-80 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb, and offer a variety of brightness levels, colors, and dimming and sensing options. These may cost more upfront, but they provide energy savings that make them more cost-effective over their lifetime.

CFLs can last about 4 to 10 times longer than incandescents. CFL bulbs are generally not treated as toxic waste, but they contain trace amounts of mercury and should be disposed of properly to minimize their impact on landfills. EPA offers guidance on how to recycle CFLs as many states do not allow disposal in curbside trash.

The LED boasts a lifetime up to 25,000 hours (up to 25 years) compared to the 10,000-hour lifetime of the CFL. The technology behind this very efficient option is continually improving, and LED bulbs are becoming cost-competitive with CFLs. Moreover, the long life of LEDs means less material heads to the landfill.

When it comes to holiday decorating, LEDs provide significant savings over the years. For example, lighting the tree with incandescent lights will cost around $122 over 10 seasons (including replacement strands), compared to just $33 for a tree adorned with LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if all decorative strands purchased this year were ENERGY STAR rated, Americans would save $560 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 billion pounds annually—that’s equivalent to the emissions from 660,000 vehicles!

Find your own potential lighting savings using this lightbulb efficiency comparison chart.

Learn more about lighting choices from this Energy 101 video and how to save more on lighting from Lumen Coalition.

Home appliances always have two price tags: purchase price and operating cost. Operational costs can be substantial; it is estimated that appliances account for 13 percent of your home’s energy bill.

Appliances and Electronics

Home appliances always have two price tags: purchase price and operating cost. Operational costs can be substantial; it estimated that appliances account for 13 percent of your home’s energy bill. To estimate your costs, try the Department of Energy’s appliance energy calculator.

The best way to know that an appliance is energy efficient is to look for the ENERGY STAR® label or search for internationally recognized labels. This label means that a product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Efficient appliances incorporate advanced technologies and use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than older generation models. The money saved on utility bills can more than make up for the cost of buying the more efficient model.


Studies show that modern dishwashers with energy saving features can outperform all but the most frugal hand washers.

Try these tips to maximize your energy savings:

  • Wash when full: The dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it’s half-full or completely full, so wash more dishes to prevent wasting water and energy. If it takes a day or two to fill up the dishwasher, use the rinse and hold feature, which only uses 1-2 gallons of water to rinse off dried-on food.
  • Use efficient settings: Select the cycle that requires the least amount of energy for the job. Settings such as “pots and pans” or anti-bacterial options run longer and use more hot water and energy. Use the no-heat air-dry feature or open the dishwasher door to let the dishes air dry.
  • Learn more from Smarter House.

Washing Machine and Dryer

Did you know the typical American family does 416 loads of laundry per year? Luckily, today’s efficient washers reduce energy use by about 30 percent and water consumption by over 50 percent compared to standard washers. Whether you have a new efficient model or not, know that how you operate the washer and dryer can lead to big savings or a big energy bill.

Here are some easy tips to ensure efficiency:

  • Wash on cold: Use cold water to wash your clothes. Most machines today offer this option.
  • Select shorter cycles: Time is money, and choosing the shorter wash and drying cycles will use less energy.
  • Wash full loads: A full load takes advantage of the water, detergent and energy used in the process.
  • Air dry: an air-dry setting uses little to no heat. If you do not have this setting, use a drying rack or line dry your clothes to avoid using the dryer.
  • Clean the lint filter: Lint left to collect in the dryer filter it can block air circulation, which is critical to keeping the dryer’s motor cool and efficient.

Refrigerator and Freezer

To yield the best efficiency from your refrigerator and freezer consider these tips:

  • Correct settings: Setting your refrigerator and freezer too cold is a waste of energy. The recommended temperature range for the refrigerator is 36°F to 38°F and 0°F to 5°F for the freezer. To check the internal temperature, place an appliance thermometer inside the appliance and read it after 24 hours.
  • Check door seals: Air tight seals will keep the cool air inside where it belongs. If you can place a piece of thin paper in between the seal and edge of your refrigerator or freezer and pull it out easily, you may need to replace your door seals.

Thinking about purchasing a more efficient model? If your current refrigerator was made before 1993, it uses twice the amount of energy as newer ENERGY STAR refrigerators. Standards have improved, and today’s models use less energy than a 60-watt light bulb run continuously. Learn more from ENERGY STAR.

Other Appliances and Electronic Devices

All the other appliances and electronic devices you use at home continue to draw power even when they are turned off because they are still plugged into the outlet. The small amount of power drawn is called “standby power” and costs American consumers $19 billion a year. Network devices such as wireless networks or cable modems/routers—typically left on 24/7—are some of the biggest culprits of wasted energy. The energy used by these devices amounts to the equivalent of 50 large power plants’ use of electricity or the amount of energy consumed by Oklahoma and Virginia combined!

To cut down on paying for standby power, try these helpful tips:

  • Use smart power strips and outlet timers: This helps you control which appliances and electronic devices stay on or get turned off. Consider grouping similar devices on the power strips that can switch off when not in use. Expect to save $42 annually when using smart power strips.
  • Purchase devices with energy guide labels: Devices with energy guide labels use less standby power. For example, the most efficient TV may have operating costs of $10 a year but less efficient models can cost more than $80 a year to power.

To learn about other appliances and electronic devices, check out this standby power use chart from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. See what ACEEE has to say about home appliances and electronic devices and what Department of Energy recommends about home and office electronics.

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