Staying Home? Good. Keep Your Energy Use Healthy, Too.

As the world works to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states, and cities are urging us to stay home whenever possible to avoid transmission of the disease. That’s leading to many changes in our lives, including how much time we spend in our homes and in our energy use. 

If you are sheltering in place, your computer, lights, and heating and cooling equipment are no doubt in use for longer periods of time than usual. You may be spending time on your devices more than usual in order to work remotely or to seek out employment opportunities and the latest news. Or you might be using online platforms to educate and entertain children; to check in with loved ones; or even connect with health care professionals.

iStock/Morsa Images

U.S. households are dealing with significant concerns right now, including health, financial, and our emotional wellbeing during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. Skyrocketing utility bills from new energy demands in our homes don’t have to be among them.

Here are some tips to help—without having to leave the house. Bonus: Not only will they help keep energy bills low, they also help reduce climate-warming carbon emissions because when we use less energy, we also avoid the need to use polluting fossil fuels to power our lives.

Work

Your home computer may be getting more of a workout than normal, but make sure you’re not wasting energy when it’s not in use. Whenever practical, use a laptop rather than a desktop and monitor as the laptop may use four times less energy to operate. Also be sure to set computers and monitors to go into sleep or hibernate mode automatically after 10 or 15 minutes of inactivity to use less energy. The sleep state uses a small amount of power, while hibernate uses none and from an energy use perspective, is just as good as turning it off—and you’re still able to quickly return to your place when you come back. Restarting a computer from off mode takes longer, as the computer needs to completely reboot and you have to reopen programs and files to return to what you were working on. 

If you’re buying a new laptop, monitor, printer, or modem/router to make working at home easier, look for models with the blue ENERGY STAR logo. Products that have earned the ENERGY STAR label are certified to save energy. For instance, ENERGY STAR monitors are around 7 percent more efficient, and computers are a whopping 25 percent more efficient than conventional models, thanks to the use of more efficient components.

Entertainment

Did you know that video game consoles use a lot of excess energy and are very inefficient for streaming movies or TV shows? Streaming through a console like an Xbox or PlayStation eats up to 20 times more energy than using a smart TV or small add-on devices like Apple TV, Google Chromecast, or a Roku box. Use game consoles for gaming but another device for TV shows or movies to keep your energy use in check. And speaking of game consoles, make sure the automatic “power down” feature is enabled. Otherwise your console will continue to use high levels of power 24/7 when left on, even though no game or movie play is occurring.

Regarding TVs, check your television’s energy to make sure it’s not hogging power as you binge-watch favorite shows. Enable your TV’s automatic brightness control, or ABC, sensor, which will adjust the picture brightness to the level of light in the room. Since most TV viewing occurs at night when a less-bright display is needed, this can make a big difference in energy consumption. Avoid settings like “vivid,” which use a lot more energy to produce an overly bright picture. And of course, also make sure to actively turn off the TV when it’s not being watched.

Comfort

In many parts of the country, spring temperatures are just around the corner—which means we may be using our heating systems less and may have a little time before cranking up the air conditioning. It’s a great time to do some basic maintenance on your heating and cooling systems—following some easy to-dos will keep them running efficiently, save money, lower emissions, and extend the life of the equipment. First, make sure your furnace and air conditioner filters are clean, so your equipment isn’t working harder than it needs to. Some filters can be cleaned and reused; others must be replaced entirely.

If you have a programmable thermostat that you were using to lower your home’s temperature while everyone was away at work and school, you likely have overridden that setting for everyone’s comfort now. But you can still save energy by setting it lower for the time when everyone is asleep and under the covers.

Did you know you can use a ceiling fan year-round? In the cooler months, set it in reverse (clockwise direction), which pulls up cool air from the floor and circulates warm air near the ceiling down to the floor. Once it gets warmer outside, switch the fan’s direction to counterclockwise to pull the cooler air from the ground and blow it back down, creating a breeze to help you feel cool and comfortable. Especially in the “shoulder season” before it gets too hot, using a ceiling fan instead of an air conditioner can make a major difference in your energy bill. A fan can help a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler—and uses just 10 percent of the energy consumed by an air conditioner.

It may sound like common sense, but putting curtains and blinds to work is an easy way to save energy. In cold weather, closing them helps prevent around 10 percent of a room’s heat loss. If curtains are hung close to the windows, they can help prevent as much as 25 percent of that heat loss. As the weather warms, open a window to let in the fresh air and sunshine. Not only is fresh air a mood booster, an open window and a fan can help create a breeze, which makes a room feel more comfortable regardless of its temperature. It’s also cheaper than relying on your air conditioner.

Because you’re likely eating more meals at home than usual, you’re probably using appliances like your dishwasher more often. The good news is that using a dishwasher actually saves water. Dishwashers use as little as 3 to 5 gallons per load to wash your dishes, while hand-washing the same load could consume up to 27 gallons. Also simply scrape the food off your dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. With today’s modern dishwashers, there is no need to pre-wash them. Running the dishwasher only when it’s full can save you around $40 per year.

As you spend more time in your house, take a look at your lights. Are you still using incandescent bulbs? If so, you can save a lot of money and energy by switching to LEDs. They reach full brightness instantly and use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs while lasting up to 25 times longer. Most are dimmable too. You can buy them at just about any grocery or hardware store, so pick some up when you go out for other essentials, or bundle them with your next online purchase.

Have a tube of caulk gathering dust in your basement or garage? Now’s a great time to put it to use. If you add up all the gaps around the windows and doors in an average U.S. house, you’d have the equivalent of a 3-foot by 3-foot hole in the wall. The Department of Energy has a list of potential cracks or gaps—including door and window frames, electrical outlets, fireplace dampers, wall or window-mounted air conditioners, and mail slots. Caulking these areas means your home will be less drafty and your heated or cooled air will stay inside, keeping you more comfortable.

Our friends at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy also have useful tips in their blog. For an even more in-depth look at how to make your home more energy efficient and comfortable, check out the Smarter House website. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home!

About the Authors

Lauren Urbanek

Senior Energy Policy Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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