1. Switch It Off
Turn Things Off When You're Done: A desktop computer running 24/7 can burn through $150 worth of electricity over five years, which is three times more than if it is put to sleep when unused. Make "switch it off when done" a smart household habit for all lights and devices, from computers to game consoles and TVs.
Seldom-used appliances: Unplug appliances like an extra refrigerator in the basement or garage that contains just a few items. You may save around $600 on your utility bill over five years.
Try a Power Strip: Move electrical gear to a power strip so that you can easily switch off multiple devices at once when you're not using them, such as when asleep or away from home: Some "smart" power strips cut power to other devices automatically when a primary device is shut off, or when no one is in the room. As much as 23 percent of the electricity consumed in U.S. homes vanishes as "standby" or "always-on vampire power" feeding perpetually plugged-in electronics and appliances even when we're not actively using them. Many strips include "hot sockets" for devices like cell phone chargers to charge while other devices are turned off. Even when you think these products are off, their total "standby" consumption can be equivalent to that of a 75 or 100 watt light bulb running continuously.
Set Computers to Sleep: Enable the "sleep mode" feature on your computer, allowing it to use much lower power during periods of inactivity. In Windows, just search for "Power settings" in the start menu. Mac users, look for energy-saving settings under system preferences in the Apple menu.
Hibernate: Configure your computer to "hibernate" automatically after 30 minutes or so of inactivity. The "hibernate mode" turns the computer off in a way that doesn't require you to reload everything when you switch it back on. Allowing your computer to hibernate saves energy and is more time-efficient than shutting down and restarting your computer from scratch. This can reduce computer and monitor energy consumption by two-thirds. A typical computer and monitor system left on 24/7 can waste $40 a year in electricity.
Screensavers: Slideshows and other so-called "screensavers" represent another hidden predator: not only don't they "save" any energy, they actually increase your computer's energy consumption by making it work harder. Instead, configure the monitor settings to turn off after 10 to 15 minutes of inactivity.
Buyer's Tips: Desktop computers and monitors have access to a virtually endless energy supply through an electrical outlet and are therefore often not optimized for energy efficiency. But laptops/notebooks and tablets are designed to maximize their battery life, using only a fraction of the electricity of their desktop counterparts, so consider buying them instead. An iPad or Kindle Fire tablet will use roughly 35 times less energy annually than a decent desktop with 20-inch monitor, and 5 to 10 times less than a laptop.
Smart Labels: Always buy desktops, laptops, printers, and scanners (and all-in-one devices) with the ENERGY STAR® logo. If you want a computer, tablet, or printer with fewer toxic materials that can be easily disassembled for recycling, check EPEAT's list of registered products.
3. Take Control of Temperature
Set Your Thermostat: In winter, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you're away for the day). During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees or more.
Use Sunlight Wisely: During the heating season, leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows. Close shades and blinds during the summer or when the air conditioner is in use or will be in use later in the day.
Set the Thermostat on Your Water Heater: Put your water heater thermostat between 120 and 130 degrees. Higher setpoints will increase your utility bill and could result in water that scalds your fingers.
4. See the Light
Turn It Off: Don't forget to flick the switch when you leave a room. Remember this at the office, too. Turn out or dim the lights in unused conference rooms, and when you step out for lunch. Work by daylight when possible. A typical commercial building uses more energy for lighting than anything else.
LED Bulbs: A new LED (light-emitting diode) light bulb costs as little as $5 at Home Depot or WalMart. Thanks to its efficiency and long life, it will save more than $100 over its lifetime. LEDs are the way to go as they work great and use up to 85 percent less energy to deliver the same amount to light. Today's LED light bulbs come in virtually any shape, light level or flavor you can imagine. They reach full brightness instantly, dim, and direct the light exactly where you want it. And check to see whether your local utility offers a rebate, sometimes as high as $5 per bulb, to bring the cost of the bulb down to just a few bucks. For help in figuring out which light bulbs to buy, see NRDC's guide.
5. Use Appliances Efficiently
Refrigerators: Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly. You can check this by making sure that a dollar bill closed in between the door gaskets is difficult to pull out. If it slides easily between the gaskets, replace them.
Ovens: Don't preheat or "peek" inside the oven more than necessary, as it lets out all the heat, which can then increase the cooking time. Check the seal on the oven door, and use a microwave oven for cooking or reheating small items.
Dishwashers: You don't need to pre-wash dishes to get them clean. Simply scrape off the food and put the dish right into the dishwasher. Wash only full loads in your dishwasher, using short cycles for all but the dirtiest dishes. This saves water and the energy used to pump and heat it. Air-drying, if you have the time, can also reduce energy use.
Washing Machines: In your clothes washer, set the appropriate water level for the size of the load; wash in cold water when practical, and always rinse in cold. Wash your clothes in cold water and save up to 50 cents a load. Today's washers and detergents do a good job cleaning clothes in cold water and there is no reason to use hot water except for the dirtiest of loads. Select the highest spin speed available when washing clothes. High spin speeds on front-load washers remove a lot more moisture, reducing the time and energy needed to dry clothing. Next time you replace your clothes washer, buy a front-loading model as they save a lot of water and energy compared to older top-loading designs.
Dryers: Clothes dryers are one of the largest energy users in our homes and represent 2 percent of our nation's entire electricity consumption. While major appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, and even clothes washers have undergone significant energy efficiency improvements during the past 20 years, unfortunately the amount of energy wasted by clothes dryers in the United States has received little attention. A typical electric clothes dryer often consumes as much energy annually as a new refrigerator, clothes washer and dishwasher combined. To help reduce your energy bill:
6. Try TV Tricks
Your TV will last about a decade, so buy an efficient one. Every TV carries a yellow EnergyGuide label displaying its annual electricity cost to operate and how it compares to similar-sized models. An ENERGY STAR logo means it uses less energy than similar models and will save you lots of money over its lifetime. For the very top models, see ENERGY STAR Most Efficient and the list at Top Ten USA.
7. Game Your Game Consoles
Make sure new (and old) game consoles have their auto power-down feature enabled. Otherwise, your Xbox or Play Station continuously draw 60 to 150 watts of power, depending on the model, when a player forgets to turn it off. That's more than a new refrigerator's worth of electricity every year!
8. Use an Electricity Monitor Meter
Measure Your Use: An electricity monitor meter, such as a Kill-a-Watt Meter, measures how much energy each gadget in your home uses, when on and when ostensibly turned off. It only costs about $20 but can provide many "ah ha!" moments. For example, the meter shows a "turned off" DVR set-top box from the cable or satellite company draws around 20 watts even though you're not watching or recording a show. When shopping for new service, make sure the set top box offered by a provider meets ENERGY STAR Version 4.1 because these models use around 30 percent less energy.