Conservation is the first action homeowners must consider if they want to lessen their overall energy impact. This not only saves real money, month by month, but also lowers your own impact on the environment. There is much improvement to be made in the average home, amounting to hundreds of dollars per year in savings, and tons of eliminated pollution.

Here are some tips that can help you reduce your domestic energy consumption.

Smart Lighting
Efficient Appliance Use
Buying Efficient Appliances
Cutting Heat Loss
Heating Temperatures

Using the Sun

     Smart Lighting                                                                           TOP

Lights typically represent about 10% of total home electricity use. Replace the bulbs you use most often with compact fluorescents. They consume one fifth to one quarter the energy of a standard light bulb while providing an equivalent amount of light. CFs last up to eight times as long as incandescents and can save significant amounts of money over their lifetimes, repaying the initial investment many times over. Today's CFs are smaller, cheaper, brighter and have improved colour quality.

Efficient use of lighting, whatever the bulb type, can also contribute to energy savings. Turn off large lights at nighttime, or better yet, install motion sensors on outdoor floodlights or other interior lights (as in our Southfield house). Timers and dimmers are also useful, allowing you to control the amount of light in a room, and when it goes on or off.

     Efficient Appliance Use                             TOP

How one uses and maintains an appliance has direct impact on how much energy (and money) the appliance will use.

Amongst your appliances, the refrigerator sits at the top of the energy-consuming chain. Other than buying a new, more efficient model, there are a few things you can do to squeeze out the best performance from your current model.

  • Move your refrigerator if it is near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents.
  • Vacuum the coils every three months to eliminate dirt buildup that reduces efficiency.
  • Check the door gaskets for air leaks.
  • Defrost the freezer when more than a quarter-inch of ice builds up.

Clothes dryers consume a vast amount of energy, second only to the home refrigerator. Keep yours in a warm area if possible, always dry full loads, and clear the lint trap after each load – all of these measures will help the unit run more efficiently. Of course, we should not forget to mention the most energy efficient dryer of them all, the sun, which comes with an attractive price tag.

In the kitchen check the seal of the oven door gasket, make sure it is tight. Also, resisting the urge of open the oven door to peek at the food while it’s cooking, each time you do this the oven temperature drops by as much as 25 deg. Preheat the oven only as much as needed, and avoid placing foil directly on the racks, as it slows cooking time.

     Buying Efficient Appliances                      TOP

Comparing the performance of a new major appliance now, before your old one breaks down, provides the best opportunity to find a unit with higher efficiency (and lower operating costs) and the features that you want. For instance, the efficiency of the typical refrigerator sold today has more than doubled since 1980, though there still remains a wide margin of efficiency within the current market.

When buying appliances or electronics, use consumer friendly features such as the Energy Guide label to compare the energy use of different models. Yes, efficiency does come at a premium – better equipment will always cost more up front. However the initial cost is only part of the picture, lifetime operating expenses often far outreach the initial sticker price. The choice is simple, pay more now, or pay even more later.

If your household is in the market for a new appliance, look for features like these:

  • Clothes dryers with moisture sensors that sense when the clothes are dry and automatically shutdown.
  • Front loading wash machines that clean just as well as top-loaders, while using less water and energy.
  • Dishwashers that turn off the heating element and circulate air from outside the washer for drying.

     Cutting Heat Loss                                     TOP

Did you know that a third of the heat loss in most homes is through poorly fitting windows and doors? The good news is that much of this can be remedied with some relatively simple measures. Action in this area has the double effect of saving the homeowner significant energy dollars by retaining heat more efficiently, but also makes the home a more comfortable place to live, without drafts or cold areas.

Families can opt to have their home go through an energy audit, an increasingly popular service that many areas offer at low cost ($35-$100 depending on the area). A certified professional will inspect the home fully and provide a report on the state of the home’s performance with respect to all heat loss and energy use aspects. The report recommends areas where improvement can be made, anticipating the effects of such improvements, and identifying the most critical areas that need attention. See our links page for information on the Energuide for Houses program, a Canadian government initiative aimed at improving residential energy use throughout the country.

Of course, the enterprising home handyman can do much of the work themselves.

Check around your doors and windows for drafts, smoke from an incense stick can be useful in tracking down air currents near seals. Repair or replace poorly fitting windows and doors.
If replacing the windows, give serious consideration to the latest in window technology. Upgrade to super-insulating or low-emissivity windows for cold climates. In terms of heat loss, the difference between good and poor windows is tremendous and has a big effect on the overall life costs of the building.

Weather-strip around the windows that open, and caulk the windows that don't. Remember to allow for proper ventilation, preventing condensation and maintaining air quality. Consider a Heat Recovery Ventilator as part of this scheme, if your house doesn’t already have one.

Verify the insulation level in your home, checking walls, the basement and attic. Many older homes (especially pre 1970's era) lack sufficient insulation, particularly in the attic space. Upgrading the insulation in attics is a low-cost measure, walls and basements are less cost-effective but well worth it if the house is uncomfortable.

Does your water heater have an insulating jacket? Stand-by losses account for up to 20% of your water heating bill, and can be reduced. Turn down the water heater thermostat to 120F.

If in the market for a new unit, consider instantaneous water heaters that do not require an energy-hoarding hot water tank. They provide an endless capacity of hot water, with the temperature easily user-specified.

     Heating Temperatures                             TOP 

Set the desired living area temperatures at levels that don’t waste energy, every degree lower on the thermostat translates to roughly 3% savings on your heating bill. Purchase, or make full use of, an electronic thermostat that will allow for pre-determined heating modes based on the occupancy profile of your house – lower temperatures during the daytime (when you’re at work) as well as at night. The system can bring the house up to comfortable temperatures in anticipation of your scheduled arrival, or awakening.

Follow the same approach in summer, during the height of air-conditioning season. Air-conditioners use great amounts of peak-demand (ie expensive) electricity, that only add to the summer smog our cities experience. To ensure your equipment runs at peak efficiency, clean or replace furnace and air conditioner filters once a month during their active seasons.

     Using the Sun                                            TOP


Whenever possible take full advantage of an omnipresent, endless and free source of energy – the sun. On bright days ensure the blinds or drapes are open to let in the sunshine, that can raise room temperature by several degrees even on a cold winter day. During the summer time, consider installing awnings or removable trellises over the windows that contribute to overheating your home.

For more passive solar discussion, see our page on Solar Architecture.

©2006 Nexus Solar Corporation