Many of the goals outlined by President Obama last night in his State of the Union speech will take time, and the cooperation of Congress, to meet. But work on his challenge to Americans to save energy at home can begin right away by taking such simple steps as plugging a leak, changing a lightbulb, setting your thermostat to match your schedule and washing only full loads of laundry and dishes.
Promoting an "all-of-the-above plan" that includes wind, solar, natural gas and oil, Obama urged Americans to conserve energy. "I'm also issuing a new goal for America: Let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years," he said in his speech. That may not be as hard as it sounds and here's the good part—it'll save you money too.
Plug the leaks
According to EnergySavers.gov, improving your home's insulation and sealing air leaks are two of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to reduce your energy consumption. Plug the leaks before installing the insulation. You should consider new insulation if you're already paying high energy bills or if:
- You have an older home. Homes built before 1950 use about 60 percent more energy per square foot than those built in 2000 or later.
- You are uncomfortably cold in the winter or hot in the summer.
- You install new siding or roofing.
One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door, which is relatively easy.
Set your thermostat
Programmable thermostats can cut about $180 a year from your energy bill by automatically reducing your heating or cooling when you need it least. In our tests of programmable thermostats, we recommend 10 of the 30 in our labs, which range in price from $70 to $300. The three that were tops in our tests include the Venstar ColorTouch Series T5800, $170, the ecobee EB-STAT-02, $300, and the Honeywell Prestige HD YTHX9321R, $250.
Replace your lightbulbs
Replacing 15 incandescent lightbulbs with energy-saving bulbs can save you $50 a year and more than $600 in energy costs over the life of the bulbs, according to the Department of Energy. By next year, most screw-in lightbulbs have to use at least 27 percent less energy, according to the energy act passed in 2007. Standard incandescents do not meet this requirement and are being phased out starting with the 100-watt bulb in January 2012 and the 75-watt bulb this year.
In Consumer Reports tests of scores of LEDs and CFLs, we found 22 to recommend in varieties that fit most fixtures. Some of the best scored 98 or 99 out of 100 on our tests including replacements for 60-watt and 75-watt incandescents and a floodlight for outdoor use.
Buy Energy Star appliances
Appliances and electronics account for 20 percent of your energy bill so it's smart to look for Energy Star models when replacing old ones, especially if they are 10 years old or older. Products that earn the Energy Star use 10 to 15 percent less energy and water than standard models and replacing your old refrigerator, washing machine and other appliances with Energy Star models can save you $900 over the lifetime of the products, says the DOE.
Remember when you buy an appliance, there's the initial cost and then the cost of running it over a period of many years. That's why when Consumer Reports tests refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioners, we measure energy and water efficiency along with other performance factors.
Reduce your hot water use
After heating, water heating is the second largest energy expense in the home, typically accounting for about 20 percent of your utility bill. There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater, or buy a new, more efficient model. EnergySavers suggests the following:
- Install aerating, low-flow faucets and showerheads.
- Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water.
- Set the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees F to get comfortable hot water for most uses.
- Insulate your storage tank by following the manufacturer's recommendations.
- Insulate the first 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.
For more energy-saving tips from Consumer Reports, read Test your energy IQ.
—Mary H.J. Farrell