They say it's not easy being green — but maybe it's not that hard. By taking a few simple steps around your home, you could slash your energy costs and also help the planet at the same time. Consider these tips for conserving energy on the home front.
1. Focus on your fridge. Don't place the refrigerator too close to a heat source, such as direct sunlight or a stove or dishwasher. Also make sure your refrigerator and freezer aren't colder than they need to be. Recommended temperatures are 37 to 40 degrees for the fresh food compartment and 5 degrees for the freezer section.
2. Use your dishwasher with care. When shopping, compare models carefully, noting how much energy and water they require. Once you bring a dishwasher home, run it only when the load is full.
3. Choose cold water for brief tasks. When running the faucet in your kitchen or bathroom sink for small periods of time, move the faucet lever into the cold position. Setting it in the hot position uses extra energy to heat the water, even if that hot water never makes its way to the sink.
4. Ceiling fans can be big energy savers. The most power-hungry fan costs about $5 a month to use if you keep it on for 12 hours a day. That's quite a value for an appliance that can make a room feel 6 or 7 degrees cooler when it's hot outside. When it's cold outside, check to see whether your ceiling fan has a reverse-direction feature. If it does, you can use it to circulate the warm air trapped near the ceiling and make that whole room feel warmer.
5. Invest in a programmable thermostat. Adjust your home's temperature when nobody's home or at night when you're sleeping. This way you won't spend extra money by keeping air conditioning or heat cranked, depending on what time of year it is. Programmable thermostats cost $30 to $100, but that's money you're sure to make back over the course of a year because your energy bills will go down.
6. Keep cooled air — or heated air — inside your home. Effective caulking and weather stripping will keep air or heat from seeping right out of your house. Check for holes or separated joints in your air conditioning ducts, and add insulation around ducts in attics, crawl spaces and garages.
7. Pay attention to your windows. For most of the year in Florida, it's a good idea to use white window shades, blinds or drapes to reflect heat away from the house, and to close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day so your rooms won't heat up too much. When it's cold out, do the opposite: Let the sunlight in during the daytime so it can help heat your home. Then keep your windows covered when it's dark outside to reduce heat loss.
8. Plan your landscaping with energy efficiency in mind. Plant trees or shrubs so they shade air-conditioning units without blocking the airflow. Avoid landscaping with unshaded rock, asphalt or cement on the south or west sides of the house; it will raise temperatures and radiate heat to the house after the sun sets. Also, vines grown on trellises can shade the entire side of a house. (Trees or a fence can work well too.)
9. Adjust your water heater. If you lower the thermostat on a water heater from about 145 degrees to 120 degrees, the change isn't likely to be noticeable. This step could save you more than $20 a year if you heat water with gas and more than $50 if your water heater is electric.
10. Be efficient when doing laundry. Horizontal-axis (front-loader) washing machines use far less water and 60 percent less energy than top-loaders. Also save energy and money by using cold water. Run only full loads when drying clothes, and dry two or more loads in a row to make use of the heat already in the dryer.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Division (www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips); Home Energy Saver (hes.lbl.gov); Consumers Union's GreenerChoices.org (www.greenerchoices.org)