Low Impact Living: 10 Ways to Cut Home Energy Consumption

clothes line

Editor’s note: Our friends at Low Impact Living point out 10 ways you can save energy this summer. This post was originally published on June 10th, 2008.

The heat of summer is coming, and that means many of us are about to crank up the AC, make an extra batch of ice, and generally burn energy like it’s our job. But we need all need to continue to try to conserve as much energy as possible to conserve resources and slow the march of global warming. And we get to save money at the same time–woo hoo to that!

Here are the ten things we can all do at home to cut our energy consumption. We start out nice and easy, then ramp up to some extra-credit methods at the end of the list for you Climate Crusaders.

1. Resist the urge to live in a refrigerator.

78 degrees is plenty cool in the house. Turn down the AC and get a programmable thermostat so you’re only cooling the house when you really need to.

2. Air dry your dishes and clothes.

The dryer and dish washer use a lot of energy– and the air does the drying job just as well. See some great clothes-drying racks here.

3. Take shorter showers and do not take baths.

Hot water heating is one of the major uses of energy in any home. Showers are the way to go– and keep ’em short. Baths use much more water and heat than do baths (unless you’re taking 30 minute showers!).

4. Make sure you have energy-efficient lighting throughout your home.

Everyone has heard about compact fluorescent lights by now– but are you up to date on LED lights? Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have come a long way, baby, and they are often 10 times more efficient than compact fluorescents.

5. Ditch the beer fridge.

It’s amazing how many homes have two refrigerators. Please do not use more than one fridge. And if you have an old model, get a newer Energy Star model.

6. Use ceiling fans rather than AC.

They are much more energy-efficient and you can get very reasonably priced Energy Star models.

7. Get solar screens for your windows.

These screens cut 75% of the heat coming through your windows, but don’t impact your visibility. They are really great energy savers. See them here.

8. Plant trees!

Placing deciduous trees on the South side of your home is a great way to block summer heat, but keep the sun shining on your home in the winter when you need the warmth.

9. Spend one night each week in candlelight.

It’s romantic, fun and inspires new conversation. If you’ve got kids, how about turning off the TV one night and playing a board game by candlelight? Clue would be particularly spooky!

10. Use a solar oven for some cooking.

They really work! You don’t want that hot oven on in your house anyway. You can either buy a solar oven, or you can learn to make one yourself. It’s another fun summer activity to do with your kids.

** #11: For the truly hard core, here’s a great tip I learned in Africa.

If you don’t have or don’t use AC, at night you can wet a scarf or towel or sheet and lay it on your chest. The evaporative cooling effect will really do the trick for you. Sleep tight!

Photo Credit: m.gifford’s photostream via Flicker, Under Creative Commons License

  1. Jennifer Lance

    The best way to keep your house cool, especially if you live out west where humidity is low, is to open all your windows at night and let the cool air in. First thing in the morning, close the windows and trap the cool air in your house. Our house stays up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperatures using this method. On days when it is 90 to 100 degrees, around 5:00 pm our house gets warmer, and we will turn on the AC for two to three hours, then reopen the windows for the late evening breeze.

  2. Matthew

    About #7, solar screens are good in the summer when you’re trying to lower the temperature, but don’t forget to take them off in the winter when you want to let that heat from the sun in! After all, we use way more energy heating buildings than we do cooling buildings.

  3. Noadi

    You forgot a big one: Don’t forget to turn things off when you aren’t using them. This goes for lights, computers, tv, dvd players, etc. Many appliances will also still pull electricity when they are off so either unplug them or use a power strip with an off switch.

  4. Denise

    Thank You so much for these tips.
    Do you have any for people who live in apartments?
    Where I live, we are not allowed to hang clothes lines or cook on our patios.
    Thank you in advance for your response.

  5. judy

    We are in the process of remodeling an older home. Living in the humid southeast, we have found many builders here fail to employ de-humidifiers in the construction of homes.
    While the house is in the demolition phase, we are making room for several throughout our home. By building in permanent drains that connect to the plumbing we will never need to empty them manually. They will kick in at 50% humidity, and by lowering the amount of water in the air, our home will cool quicker , and our cooling bill will decrease by 35 to 40%.
    You’d be amazed at just how much water is in the air in your home. At this point, we are running the units, but the plumbing isn’t ready yet, so we are having to empty them by hand.
    Our home is just over 6,000 sq. ft. & we have 4 units running 24/7, each unit holds 17 quarts of water & will fill 2-3 times a day.
    Do the math, it’s astounding.

  6. Amy

    As soon as I read the tip about evaporative cooling from a wet sheet doing the job, I knew you didn’t live anywhere near me. I lived without air conditioning for about 5 years. On the worst nights, I put wet washcloths on my head and neck. They helped a little, but when you’re already covered in sweat that’s not evaporating, it doesn’t do much.
    Enjoy the West Coast- Philly is a whole different ball game.

  7. jdthree

    Great article… I am planning on doing most if not all of them to be able to spend less on energy here in So Cal.

    On a side note, does anyone have any info regarding swamp coolers??? There’s a probably more up-to-date name for them, but I knew of friends that lived in Las Vegas that used them and they claimed they used a fraction of the energy and they cooled very well.

  8. emily

    thanks for the awesome tips! i do almost all of these but had never heard of solar screens, i will have to check them out today.

    living by candlelight gives you a whole new perspective, and also two-fold appreciation for both old-fashioned living and modern technology (reading by candlelight can hurt the eyes a bit..)

  9. BobSmith

    Regarding the wet sheet trick… forget it. It won’t do much good. Instead, use ice-packs – the one’s with the blue gel inside. I do that after mowing the lawn and it never fails.

  10. Uncle B

    Forced into early retirement by illness, found survival difficult on smaller pension than expected. Changed lifestyle. Sold cars, bought a used bike, got very small home in a village with a garden in back yard. Bought a pressure canner, one then two small freezers. Switched from expensive Microsoft to free Ubuntu. Bought digital camera and retired my beloved 35mm film camera and now collect .jpgs.Took up fishing from shore for fun and food. Searched web for gardening, freezing, drying and canning methods. Applied all above as well as shopping at thrift stores, going to public library, going for healthy walks and hikes. Put more money in the bank this year than during any of my working years and am really enjoying my new freedom life! We have no idea how much we pay to use oil, it is simply not worth it – We have been sold a ‘bill of goods’ and let it get entrenched in our lives. P.S. I bought a lot of Fords in my lifetime and I never got the pretty girl on the hood, not even once! but I sure got some rusty old bodies!

  11. Melanie

    As a kid growing up in Louisiana, it was often too hot to sleep at night even with a fan blowing right on you. I often did the trick with the wet washcloth, just sort of wiping down arms and legs every once in a while until I drifted off to sleep. It’s actually kind of a pleasant way to drift off.

  12. emmer

    the other name for a swamp cooler is evaporative cooler. i live on the east side of the sierras in bishop, ca. at 4000 ft, this is high desert(low humidity). we have been in the 90’s all week. i have a big window mount swamp cooler and it works great–cools the whole downstairs and improves the upstairs a bit. i also have ceiling fans in most rooms. the combo is unbeatable in low humidity places. my electric bill was $40 last month for lights, frig, dishwasher, tiny euro clotheswasher (we mostly hang dry)charging my electric bike, and the swamp cooler. very cool!

  13. Diane

    It’s the longest day of the year – the start of summer and it’s perishing cold in here, and freezing cold outside. Brrr. But putting a jumper on is cheaper than turning the heating on!

  14. Citizen Politician

    My family unplugs practically everything in the house when we are not home or in a particular room. We have a 14 room house, we managed to reduce our electricity bill from $300 and change to $84! The only appliance that remains plugged in is the refrigerator. The microwave is one of the main culprits remains unplugged most of the time. ^_^

  15. David LaFerney

    Our home is just over 6,000 sq. ft. & we have 4 units running 24/7,

    @Judy – unless there are at least a dozen people in your family you aren’t going to be living very green in a 6000 square ft house. That is like the equivalent of 4 normal American homes.

  16. Heather

    I’m not sure how cost is figured for electricity but lets put it this way: My sister and her husband live just across the hall and religiously follow the 78* thing, me and my fiance however live in our very comfortable refrigerator at 70*. We used the A/C a lot more this month and they used incredibly less so yet our electric bill was cheaper than theirs. :-/

  17. Steve Hornback

    When taking a shower, use the water briefly on full to wet down, then cut it to a trickle (or off) while you’re soaping/washing yourself; then turn the water back on full to quickly rinse and save even more. πŸ™‚

  18. louise

    If you can’t have an outdoor clothes line, indoor drying racks work really well. It takes a little longer to dry, but I think it’s worth waiting a couple of days for dry clothes without spending a penny vs. folding super hot clothes in the summer heat!!

  19. Etna

    Thanks for the amazing tips!

    @ Jennifer Lance — You couldn’t be more right! I live in a house that doesn’t even have an AC or central air, and we learned to trap the cool air inside just like you said. Sadly after really hot days my boyfriend and I usually end up sleeping in the living room, because we have a really powerful fan that we put near our screen door to suck the cool air in. Closing the windows early in the morning makes a huge difference in the temperature of the house.

  20. Jon

    Even a modern refrigerator can be the third largest energy hog (behind air conditioners and water heaters). And the hotter the kitchen gets, the harder the fridge works. I suggest buying one of those “green style” refrigerators that come in 2 parts; the refrigerator/compressor, and the coil unit which can be buried in the earth outside your house. The heat from your refrigerator isn’t just pumped out into your hot kitchen; it is pumped to a cool place outside. This prevents the fridge from working too hard, and prevents your kitchen from getting even warmer. I’m told this system takes less than half the energy of a regular fridge.

  21. Miser

    I don’t have electricity so I don’t have a fridge, ac or washing machine

    I lug water from a well 3 km away

    I have an earthen pot to keep the water cool

    I don’t use fossil fuels, only dry fallen wood that i collect from the forest

    Am I trying to conserve energy?

    No, I am so poor that I can’t afford any of the stuff you’ve talked about in your article.

    Nearly 50% of the planet’s population is like me, or barely better.

    Well you’re trying to conserve, we’re just trying to survive, and you know what, you won’t let even let us do that. You’re ruining our planet for us.

  22. Kathryn

    Great info! I already do most of your suggestions.
    For those living in apartments or rentals, you can air dry your clothes on hangers and rolling racks. I do this year-round. The only thing I dry in the dryer are towels, sheets and jeans. Also, cold water cleans just as well as hot. And, you should use a bath towel one per week. Also, unless you get your clothing really dirty, you can wear most things more than once.
    I have a question:
    We are remodeling a 50’s ranch next year, what do you think about the tankless water heaters?

  23. Jon

    Kathryn, here’s my experience with the small Bosch model tankless water heater. They’re good in theory, but I found that you need a good flow of water through them to keep them turned on. My low-flow shower head didn’t draw enough water to keep the Bosch heater turned on, so my shower alternated between scalding and freezing as the heater alternated on/off every half minute. The Bosch has an adjustment for low-flow, which helped a little bit. I finally punched a hole in the shower head, rendering the low-flow feature useless. I get a nice warm shower but I’m using a lot of water do to it. So my solution ended up being a double-edged sword.

  24. Ria

    These are good tips. Unfortunately if it’s not cool (and 78 degrees doesn’t qualify), I can’t sleep a wink, regardless of season. And the midwest gets extremely muggy in the summer – so A/C, which I lived without for a long time – is damn rough to go without.

    But luckily, they make programmable thermostats that can keep your place nice and cool while you’re home, and save the energy while you’re not. For people in apartments, simple things like plugging smaller appliances/computers into power strips and flipping the strip on and off can help keep your stuff from leaching electricity it doesn’t need. Keep your shades closed during the day when it’s warm to help keep some of the heat out if you can’t get solar screens.

    Don’t worry, there’s plenty of things you can do when you don’t own your own home to keep your energy consumption down πŸ™‚

  25. berend

    Research indicates that a leading cause for energy wastage is that people have little or no understanding of the amount they spend on electricity or gas while using domestic appliances ! See the article http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=170282
    Yet in your list there is no item that will adress this. It might be of interest to add some tools to stimulate this cost-awareness, i.e. this free software to monitor domestic energyconsumption and costs : http://econote.nibfo.eu/


  26. James

    I learned how to make a Swamp-Cooler” from a friend who was raised in Louisiana. Take a pedistal fan and clothes pin a white bath towel to the top of the cage, while hanging the bottom end into a bucket of water. The air blowing through the wet towel will cool off a room fairly well and the energy from a fan is a bit less than the pull from an AC unit.

  27. Andrew

    I found your blog very much interesting .
    You have added very important aspects in your blog.
    I learnt how we could save electricity by following the points mentioned in the blog.

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