As the seasons transition from summer to fall, you've likely put together a running home checklist with to-do's like: (1) check the batteries and test the smoke alarms, (2) rake the leaves, and (3) swap the shorts and t-shirts for jeans, long-johns, and jackets. To that end I'd suggest adding one item to your fall checklist: do a home energy check-up. It will save you some serious money down the road and will get you on track toward environmentally sustainable smarter living.
Check your utility bill
Why it matters: Energy utility bills cost the average American household over $2,200 a year. You could get 4 iPads or iPhones for that same amount!
How to do it: Start with a check of your monthly utility bills going back over the last year to make sure the numbers look reasonable. If you're like me, you've likely signed up for "autopay" to pay your bill electronically and therefore may not pay close attention to it. Your utility keeps electronic copies of your monthly bills and give you acces-- usually via a "Your Account" page on their website.
What to Look for: It's best to compare month-to-month bills over a minimum of two years. Look for any unusual bumps or trends in usage patterns (weather-normalized). If you spot any peculiar differences from one year to the next and you didn't plug in any new large appliances (fridge, large TV) or heating/cooling units, or drastically change your usage of existing said appliances and equipment, then you ought to consider calling up a maintenance specialist to check out your big appliances and heating/cooling units. Your utility may even help you defray the costs of having a specialist come out to diagnose and fix your major appliances and/or heating/cooling units -- check out the "incentives" or "rebates" pages on your utility's website. Or you can try Energy Star's incentive search tool.
Cultivate the habit of energy efficiency
Why it matters: Energy efficiency is sometimes tough to explain and often remains 'invisible' because it isn't a physical resource. (It's our job at NRDC to make it visible!) Instead, efficiency lies in the realm of choice and behavior, which when made with clear goals and intentions over time, will lead to smart habits. The sweet reward from efficiency is that you get to keep more money in your pocket and reduce your impact on the environment!
How to do it: There are a lot of fundamental things you can do to begin (Energy Star is an excellent online resource). Here are three "parent-tested" recommendations from me:
- Have a certified maintenance specialist check your heating & cooling equipment. This page gives you an idea of what they'll do for you.
- Buy your next home appliance, lighting or piece office equipment from TopTenUSA or at least make sure it bears the Energy Star logo.
- Go LED. Today's LED bulbs are generally dimmable, have no mercury inside, and include a wide assortment of light output temperatures ("color of the light") like the 'warm glow' that we commonly associate with the incandescent bulb. And they'll last for 20 years or more -- or in today's consumer math -- equates to at least 10 cell phone purchases you'll likely make.
Want to go further with efficiency at home? Check out these resources:
- Energy Star Home Improvement Guide
- Article: 'Deep Energy Retrofits Take Root in Homes'
Cut the Carbon
Why it matters: If you've read this far, you know the reasons:
- Extreme Weather: Impacts of Climate Change
- NRDC Dan Lashof on Switchboard: "What Happens in the Arctic, Doesn't Stay in the Arctic"
How to do it: A lot of options are available, either through your existing utility or a third-party organization, to go "100% renewable" power to support clean and renewable energy.
- Comprehensive search of utility and non-utility vendors: Dept of Energy: Buying Green Power
- Non-utility vendors search tool: Green-e certified Renewable Energy Providers*
Want to go further to promote clean and renewable energy at home and in your community? Check out these opportunities:
- Solar Mosaic: Takes a great new idea -- internet 'crowdfunding' -- to clean energy investment. Note, however, that it is still in development.
- Grid Alternatives: Volunteer to put up solar for economically disadvantaged households or local non-profit organizations.
- Interfaith Power & Light: A great resource for any group of faith wanting to lower their impact on the planet.
- Tell your local city hall and/or planning board that you want more location-efficient opportunities in your community, i.e., more walkable and bikable streets and pathways and more clean transit options.
*Note I am a board member of Green-e and work to make sure that the certification process and companies bearing the Green-e label direct collections toward building only clean and renewable energy projects. I will be attending the annual conference of renewable energy market vendors in Washington, D.C. next week.