Your home is your refuge from the outside world. It's a place of comfort and shelter, and it is probably one of the biggest users of electricity and other energy resources in your daily life. In the United States alone, approximately 30 percent of electricity used is residential.
Practically every room in your home has electrical appliances, from the kitchen toaster to the washer/dryer in the basement. Televisions, computers, radio alarm clocks, video game systems, lighting and even the convenient vacuum cleaner all plug in and run up those kilowatt-hours. Heating or cooling your house uses more energy. Some appliances, like the refrigerator, run 24/7, while other items, like curling irons and sewing machines, are only used occasionally. Some appliances, even if in the off-position, still draw electricity if they are left plugged in. The dials on your home's electricity and gas (where used) meters are constantly spinning.
According to Clean Energy USA, the biggest energy gluttons in our homes are: refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers and washer/dryers. Although many new refrigerator models run more efficiently than those from a few decades ago, it's a constant on and draw of power. Items such as toasters, electric coffee pots, curling irons and hair dryers all have heating elements that use more power per hour that they are run. Instant-on televisions, computer monitors (at rest) and cellphone chargers draw minor trickle charges just by being left plugged in.
In the 21st century, most of us are accustomed to the convenience of washing machines and electric lights, and while we don't want to do without them, we need to find ways to reduce our energy consumption for both our pocketbooks and our world.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that you reduce the energy consumption in your home by: purchasing energy-efficient appliances and electronics; using energy-efficient bulbs and incorporating more daylight into your home using energy-efficient windows and skylights; purchasing energy-efficient electric space heating and cooling systems; incorporating passive solar design concepts into your home, which include using energy-efficient windows; properly insulating and air-sealing your home; selecting an energy-efficient heating system that doesn't use electricity; and selecting an energy-efficient water heater that doesn't use electricity.
To start reducing your household energy consumption, replace your appliances as soon as possible with energy-efficient units. While the initial cost of a certified energy-efficient unit is higher, the reduced energy costs will add up over time and actually save you money. Look for Energy Star-rated appliances, which have been tested in independent laboratories for energy efficiency. Read the energy guides for estimates on the cost to run the unit.
Unplug appliances when not in use, such as toasters, electric teakettles, game systems, etc. If your local utility company charges different peak and off-hour rates, schedule the use of appliances such as dishwashers and washer/dryers for the off hours. Choose air-dry in your dishwasher instead of letting the heating element do the work. Use a power strip with an on/off switch and a circuit breaker for electronics, and turn the strip off when the electronics are not in use to prevent phantom loads. Consider line-drying your clothing instead of running wet clothes through the gas or electric dryer. Install a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the heat when you are sleeping or away from home and raise it when the family is home and active.
Conduct a home energy audit, and look for problem areas such as drafts, moisture and unnecessary plug-ins. You can do this yourself or hire a professional for a more thorough search. Replace your older appliances with energy-efficient models, as the older versions may not be designed with conservation in mind. Use natural gas-powered appliances like stoves, furnaces, dryers and water heaters over electric whenever possible. Use the correct size pots and pans on your gas or electric stovetop so you don't waste energy when cooking. Choose an appliance that uses less energy to do the same task, such as an electric teakettle to boil a cup of water instead of the microwave. Even if you are planning to supplement your home with solar or wind power, reducing the energy expenditure will save you money by allowing you to buy a smaller alternative power unit.