Quick Tips for Energy Savings in your Home

There are many ways that each of us can help make our homes and our lives more sustainable. The following tips are ones that require little investment, and mostly require us to pay attention to the impact of the choices we make.

Tip 1: Be “Green” and Clean.
Detergents, fabric softeners and bleaches can be toxic to your family and to the environment. Some surfactants and fragrances in laundry detergents contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that can’t always be removed by wastewater treatment plants and end up harming local wildlife. Chlorine bleach is not only poisonous for humans, but can create dangerous byproducts, such as dioxin, when flushed down the drain. Get your clothes clean without all of the pollution by switching to eco-friendlier cleaners, ideally in non-plastic containers. The companies Ecover, Sun & Earth, Seventh Generation and OxyPrime make less-toxic alternatives to traditional laundry detergents. Try non-chlorine bleach such as OxyBoost or Ecover’s hydrogen peroxide-based option. There are  solid bars and powdered soaps for dishwashing and clothes washing that can be purchased in bulk. Or, go the greenest and least expensive route by returning to the path of our forefathers – and mothers! Use lemon juice instead of bleach. A bit of vinegar in a bucket of water makes a great floor cleaner. And baking soda is can be used to make a cleaning paste with a little water, then scrub with a brush.

$ Factor: The eco-friendlier detergents and bleaches cost no more than standard products. Few things are as inexpensive as vinegar and baking soda! To purchase dishwashing bars, or powdered dishwasher soap visit either 1) The Ecology Center Store on San Pablo in Berkeley or take your refillable container to 2) Fillgood.co on San Pablo in Albany. They will deliver for refill orders of $40 or more.

Tip 2:  A little warmer, a little cooler.
About 47% of the average household’s annual energy bills stem from heating and cooling. Every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer will reduce air conditioning bills by about 2%. Lowering the temperature by one degree in winter will save you 3% on heating bills. Regular maintenance and a tune up every two or three years will keep your heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system operating efficiently, saving energy and money. A programmable thermostat—excellent for a family that spends a good part of the day at work or school—will shave 10% off your bill.

$ Factor: Adjusting your thermostat is free, easy and can yield big savings, depending on your preferred comfort level. A programmable thermostat varies greatly in cost depending on the brand and features. The average manual thermostat costs $25-$60, digital programmable thermostats average $90-$150, and electronic smart thermostats cost $200-$300 and produces an annual savings of at least $100.

Tip 3:  Give your clothes the cold shoulder.
Almost 90% of the energy used to wash clothes is used to heat the water, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Save money and energy. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water, instead of hot, using a detergent formulated for cold-water use.

$ Factor: Turning the dial from hot to warm will cut your energy use by 50 percent per load, and save you up to $63 a year, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

Tip 4:  Line dry—like grandma used to do.
Dry your clothes on a laundry line rather than throwing them in the dryer. Clothes dyers are the third-largest energy users in the home, behind the refrigerator and washing machine, costing more than $100 a year to operate, according to Project Laundry List. If a PUD prohibits clothes lines, you can still air dry in your shower or bath tub.

$ Factor: Drying your clothes on the line can save you as much as $10 a month, said Brad Stroh, co-founder of Bills.com. Laundry lines vary in cost, from about $5 for a simple rope line to $500 or more for deluxe models.

Tip 5:  Stop the junk mail.
Each year, 100 million trees are cut down and turned into junk mail, with Americans receiving a total of 400 million tons of it every year. Earthworks Group, an environmental consulting firm, said cutting out junk mail is one of the most effective things people can do to reduce pollution. There are several ways to stop the flow of junk to your house.

$ Factor: For a $15 one-time fee, Green Dimes will send you a junk-mail opt-out kit that will remove your name from mailing lists for junk mail and catalogs. They then monitor the lists to make sure your names stay off of them, potentially reducing your junk mail by 90%. Green Dimes also plants 10 trees for each kit sold. Or, you can try www.optoutprescreen.com Think long and hard before signing up for “free offers” that capture your home address.

Tip 6:  A Better Bulb.
LEDs use up to 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer. They’re more expensive than traditional light bulbs, but it only takes about 3 months to make up for the higher sticker price in energy savings.

$ Factor: You will save $230 over the life of the bulb for each 60-watt light bulb you replace with a 12-watt LED. You’ll also save at least 543 kWh of electricity and reduce your CO2 emissions by 833 pounds.

Tip 7:  Kill the vampires!
Many appliances use electricity even when they’re turned off. It’s called a phantom load, or vampire electricity, and as much as 75% of the electricity used by home electronics and small appliances is used while they’re turned off. The Ohio Consumers Council estimates that it costs consumers $40 to $100 a year.

$ Factor: The simple solution is to unplug small appliances and electronics when you aren’t using them. Or, plug them into a power strip and turn the power strip off when you aren’t using those items. Power strips cost $10 to $20 each, and can save you up to $100 a year, depending on how many electronics you have. Simply unplugging one television, computer monitor and fax machine when you aren’t using it will save you about $6 a month.

Tip 8:  Rot is a good thing!
Composting is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to reduce the amount of garbage your household produces. Through composting, yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings and food wastes such as vegetable scraps can be turned into a nutrient-rich soil amendment that reduces the need for commercial chemical fertilizers in home gardens.

$ Factor: Compost bins vary in cost, from a few dollars for a simple, homemade bin up to several hundred dollars for a ready-made system. Composting at home can make a significant dent in household waste. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, estimates that about 25 percent of the 245 million tons of garbage going into U.S. landfills come from yard clippings and food. Use the green buckets distributed by the City, and use a BioBag to line them; then ideally feed the contents to worms in a worm composter. They produce amazingly rich compost, which can also be diluted as “tea” for organic fertilizer. No worms? then toss the bag and all into the city’s big green compost bin.

Tip 9:  Run full dishwasher loads.
You’ll save up to 20 gallons of water per load, or 7,300 gallons a year. That’s as much water as the average person drinks in a lifetime.

$ Factor: You can save even more money by running your dishwasher during off-peak hours, usually from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Many utility companies offer off-peak energy rates. And don’t pre-rinse if your dishwasher can handle it.

Tip 10: Don’t preheat.
Don’t bother if you are broiling, roasting or baking a dish that will cook for an hour or more. Don’t preheat for more than 10 minutes for breads and cakes. And when roasting meats or baking casseroles, turn off the oven 10 minutes to 15 minutes before cooking time runs out; food will continue to cook without using the extra electricity.

$ Factor: By reducing the time your oven is on by one hour per year, you’ll save an average of 2 kWh of energy. If 30% of U.S. households did this, 60 million kWh of energy could be saved.

Tip 11:  Watch that pot.
Use the right-size pot on your burners.

$ Factor: You could save about $36 annually for an electric range or $18 for gas.

Tip 12:  Filter your water.
Buy a water filter for your kitchen faucet and put to good use yet another way to do away with those plastic water bottles that are clogging landfills, polluting the oceans and burning up energy in recycling plants. About 1.5 million tons of plastic are used on the bottling of 89 billion liters of drinking water each year. EBMUD water is really quite good, but it does smell of chlorine.

$ Factor: You can buy a water filter for as little as $29, or about a month’s worth of bottled water.

Tip 13:  Don’t run while you brush.
Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. You’ll conserve up to five gallons of water per day — which could add up to 1.5 billion gallons that could be saved across the country each day—more than enough for all of New York City. And speaking of brushing…every plastic toothbrush you’ve EVER used is still on the planet, along with the tube of toothpaste. Consider switching to bamboo brushes, and tooth tablets you can buy in bulk, also available at Fillgood.co

$ Factor: You could save time and money on water, up to 1,825 gallons of water per person each year. This much water would fill your bathtub more than 35 times. A family of four could save almost 7,500 gallons a year.

Tip 14:  No hint of lint.
Clean your dryer lint screen with every use and don’t overload the dryer. Check the dryer vent as well.

$ Factor: You’ll save up to 5% on your electricity bill—which could mean an energy-equivalent savings of 350 million gallons of gasoline per year if everyone did this. Also, run your dryer during off-peak hours. Check with PG&E  to see if they offer discounted rates during off-peak hours and verify when those hours are. Better yet, use a clothesline.

Tip 15: From warm to cold.
Set warm wash and cold rinse cycles and save 90% of the energy used when using hot water only. And run your washer during off-peak hours.

$ Factor: Together, all U.S. households could save the energy equivalent of 100 thousand barrels of oil a day by switching from hot-hot to warm-cold cycles.


Tip 100: Become a Bag Lady (or Gentleman)!

Always have a reusable carry bag with you for your groceries, or anything else you purchase that must be transported. Canvas sacks are everywhere these days. There’s no excuse to ever be asked the question: Paper or plastic? NEITHER! Bring your own! Most plastic bags are used once, and for an average of 30 minutes. If you do use plastic bags for your vegetables or fruit, at least reuse them. Better still, bring your own fabric eco-bags that last a very long time. For items like lettuce, buy Bio-bags that are compostable. The Ecology Store has a selection of fabric eco-bags of various sizes.


“It takes about 3 gallons of oil per person, per day to sustain our lifestyles. More than one quart of that goes toward the plastics that we use every day, from shopping bags and food wrappers to water bottles and disposable pens and lighters. Most of that plastic is unrecoverable, and ends up in landfills and waterways.”

[Source: US Energy Information Administration, Department of Energy, March 2015] (the stats are probably worse now!)


written by Arlene Baxter originally as founder of the BAR Green Council, in November 2008 and updated through 2019. Arlene is a Green Realtor, who is co-founder and Chair of the Bridge Association of REALTORS Climate Action Committee. She also consulted on the development of the Green Designation for NAR, and served on the two-year Green Task Force for the California Assoc. of REALTORS.

GreenBungalows.info  Eastbay.Bungalows@gmail.com  510.717.1799

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