While life in quarantine has presented many challenges and COVID-19 has done some devastating damage to our population and the economy, one undeniable benefit of the current global situation is how it is positively affecting our environment. With fewer planes in the sky and cars on the road, emissions are down drastically, which improves air quality and delays the effects of global warming.
However, with more people home during the day than ever before, individual energy consumption may be up. To help compound the eco-friendly impact of COVID-19, use the following tips to decrease your carbon footprint. The bonus is that doing even just a few of these things will likely result in some energy bill savings for you as well!
1. Use (and choose) your appliances wisely.
Unplug things as often as you can. If you haven’t heard of it before, there is something called phantom energy, and it’s what is used by your appliances when they are off but still plugged in. The easiest way to prevent phantom energy consumption is by unplugging any appliances when they aren’t in use.
Tip: Use power strips where you can in order to minimize the number of things you need to unplug.
Be cool to your refrigerator. The ideal temperature for your refrigerator is between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer should be set around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Make it easier for your appliance to maintain these temperatures by keeping both the fridge and freezer well stocked — the more items inside, the less space it has to cool. You should also turn off your ice maker when you don’t need it and perform these refrigerator maintenance tasks regularly.
Try this cooking hack. Turn off your oven or stove a few minutes before the timer is set to go off. Enough heat has been generated at this point to continue cooking the food even after the appliance has been turned off. Just make sure you don’t open up the oven door until the timer sounds or else you will let the heat escape prematurely. You’d be surprised how much this tip can add up in energy savings if you frequently cook at home.
Clean up your laundry routine. Front-loading machines are more energy efficient than top-loading ones, so consider switching when it’s time for a new washer. For optimal efficiency, run only full loads of laundry on cold-water cycles, and use dryer balls or line-dry your clothes (if possible). Remember to check the lint trap after each drying cycle to reduce risk of fire and keep the machine running smoothly.
Know the right way to use your dishwasher. As with laundry, you should check the filters after each cycle and only run full loads of dishes to ensure you are using your appliance as infrequently as necessary. Note that most machines these days are powerful enough to get tough residue off your dishes, so don’t waste too much water pre-rinsing in the sink.
Tip: Your sink and dishwasher typically use the same pipes, so let the sink run for a few seconds until it gets hot before you start the dishwasher. This helps hot water flow to the dishwasher as soon as the cycle starts, minimizing the amount of water and energy it would normally take to heat up.
Opt for LED lightbulbs for your light fixtures. LED bulbs use only 10 watts of energy as opposed to the 14 and 60 that CFLs and incandescents use, respectively. They may carry a slighter higher price tag, but they last much longer than other types of bulbs, resulting in both money and energy savings over time.
Make smart choices when it’s time to upgrade. If you’re due for any new appliances, choose ones with an ENERGY STAR® certification. This designation is essentially the Environmental Protection Agency’s stamp of approval in terms of energy efficiency. Bear in mind that while the cost of some of these appliances may be higher up front, you will usually save money in the long run through lower energy bills. Smart appliances are another way you can better monitor and control your home’s collective energy consumption. Going smart with your appliances affords you more insight into how your items work and often allows you to customize their settings and turn them on or off remotely. Even if you’re not currently in the market for new appliances, check out some of our budget-friendly smart home options to transform your existing setup.
2. Set your HVAC system up for success.
Get preventive maintenance checks. No one knows HVAC systems better than the pros. When you get annual or seasonal maintenance done, you help ensure that all your system’s components are up to date and working properly. Plus, if anything does require a fix, it’s better to get it taken care of before you find yourself in an emergency situation.
Prevent air from escaping. If your home has any gaps — even small ones — along doors, windows or floors, your A/C will have to work harder to regulate the temperature when cool air escapes through these imperfections. Replace any worn-down weather stripping, and fill any small cracks and holes with caulk. Consider adding insulation or upgrading your current insulation if it’s been a while. Not only does insulation prevent heat transfer, but it also helps block noise, resulting in a more peaceful home.
Tip: There are many types of insulation, and not all are environmentally friendly. For instance, spray-foam varieties may off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Make sure to do your research before purchasing or installing.
Keep your A/C at the warmest temperature you can handle it. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that you set your thermostat to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you are at home. If that’s a little warm for your liking, try the next couple of tips to find alternate ways to stay cool without having to lower the A/C.
Use your ceiling fans. Fans can be a powerful tool when it comes to beating the heat in an energy-efficient way. They utilize much less power than A/C units, so if using them helps you keep your thermostats a little warmer than you could usually take, your energy bill will thank you.
Get window tints. You can cut down on how hot your home feels by limiting the amount of sunlight that streams in. Of course, you can always accomplish this by closing your blinds or curtains, but many enjoy seeing the sunshine on a bright summer day. Window tints allow you to keep the blinds open while minimizing the sun’s effect on your home’s temperature. Bonus: Window tints also help block harmful UV rays, cut down on glare and provide greater privacy.
3. Monitor your water usage.
Go tankless. Like most energy-efficient options, tankless water heaters cost more up front, but they come with a host of benefits. Because they only heat water as it’s needed, they use 24–34% less energy than traditional tank water heaters. They also have a much longer life span and require less maintenance. Best of all — they take up much less space!
Turn your water heater down. How often do you check the temperature on your water heater? Ideally, it should be set under 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and if you can keep it even cooler, you should. Test turning it down a couple of degrees, and see if you notice a difference.
Get a low-flow showerhead. A low-flow showerhead uses fewer gallons per minute so you waste less water during your showers. Additionally, because you use less water, your water heater has less water it needs to use energy to heat.
Take shorter showers. Another way to cut down on water usage and heating is by shortening your showers. Shaving just a minute off your shower time can result in hundreds of gallons of water savings a year. Try setting a timer to help you get out more promptly.
4. Consider solar power.
Install solar panels. If you have the money to invest in it, a solar power system can provide immense energy savings. Even if you’re not ready to buy solar panels outright, there are options to lease them instead. Just realize that there are several factors to consider before taking the plunge, such as your area’s weather conditions and the state of your roof. Do your research and evaluate whether your home is a good candidate for the technology.
Looking for even more ways to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle? Here are an additional 20 tips for going green at home.