Zero Cost Ideas to Save Energy


Here are a few ideas for saving energy, dollars and greenhouse gas emissions that won't cost you anything.

They have a payback time of zero years!


If you have some more ideas for zero cost energy saving ideas, please let me know - Gary.


More cheap ways to save energy:


Get the kids involved

Here is an idea from Dana:


Hi Gary,
Show your kids the electric bill, then tell them youíll pay the difference between this yearís and last yearís bill for that month based on current-year pricing. (Once he loaded up his 14 year old twins with a cash incentive the household power usage dropped by something like 10kwh/day. Video games, TVs, computers, and lights didnít get left on nearly as often!) It may have marginal costs the first year in months where they donít beat last yearís usage, but from then on itís all gravy, and it gets the kids to ascribe a dollar value to the energy that would otherwise have been wasted, setting up a conservation habit to last a lifetime. It obviously wonít work for kids under 5 and may not for college kids, but it will probably play well with the 10-15y/o crowd!



Setting your water heater at optimal temperature

From Randy:

I learned this many years ago from an article in New Shelter magazine that was written by Charlie Wing.

This will save you energy, make baths and showers more convenient, reduce your water use, and help protect our environment without spending one cent.  While the money payback will vary on individual households and or individuals, the payback is instantaneous since it is a no cost project. Spend nothing, do this and save as long as you take baths or showers.
The key is to set the water heater to the highest setting you need.  That setting is the temperature at which you bathe. If you take both showers and baths , we want to set it for a shower since showers sprays feel cooler when water is at same temperature as they would be in baths.  If those in your household only take baths, the optimal setting is for the hottest bath anyone wants to take.  But first we must experimentally determine what that optimal temperature is.

Step one -notice if everyone is mixing cold with hot water to bath or shower.  If so then you can turn the temperature down a bit.

Step two -start trying to find the optimal temperature by turning it down in small increments. Listen for complaints and determine if the complainer is still mixing cold with hot.  If not, move temperature up by extremely small amounts until you find point at which complaints stop.  More likely you will find thatyou get no complaints until you have turned the water heater down several degrees.  When you reach the point that you are hearing complaints and you know cold water is not being mixed in by the complainer then you tweak the water temperature up a bit.

Success- you have now set your water heater at optimal temperature, this will allow the person who likes the hottest baths or showers to use only hot water and leave the cold turned off.  This will make it more convenient for him or her and reduce the amount of both heated and unheated water used.

Comments - some people ask if the water will then be hot enough for a dishwasher or for washing clothes.   It always has been for me .  The dishwasher in my home like most  dishwashers today have built in booster heaters.  Furthermore I never wash my clothes in hot water, it sets stains and shortens the life of fabrics.

Calculation of payback  - zero cost, immediate savings, payback is instantaneous.



The EERE says that each 10F you reduce your water heater temperature will save you about 5% on water heating energy.  A family of 3, each using 45 gallons of hot water per day, will use about 3000 KWH of electricity per year for water heating.   This is about $300 worth of electricity, and about 6000 lbs of greenhouse gas emissions.  Cutting the hot water temperature by 20F would save about 300KWH per year, which would save about $30, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 600 lbs -- all at no cost.


Most gas water heaters have a temperature dial that you can use to adjust the water temperature.

Most electric water heaters have two heating elements, one high on the tank and the other low.  Each of these has a temperature adjustment dial.   You will normally have to remove a small door that is held in place with a couple screws to gain access to the temperature dial.   Turn off the water heater circuit breaker before you do the adjusting.



Using Single Lever Faucets

A study house in which all hot and cold water use was measured found that there were many instances in which a mix of warm and hot water was demanded at a faucet, but in which the water did not run long enough for the hot water to ever reach the faucet.  The explanation for this was that people who only really wanted cold water were positioning the faucet lever in the middle (which provides a mix of hot a cold), instead of positioning the lever to the cold end, and then lifting the lever.  So, a lot of energy was wasted to heat water that was not really wanted, and  that never actually arrived at the faucet.


So, if you only need cold water, then move the lever over to the cold position, and then pull it up.



Wash Clothes With Cold Water

Set your cloths washer to use cold water. 

Cloths washers use around 30 gallons per load.  

This is a major part of household hot water use, and is really unnecessary.

We have been washing cloths in cold water for more than 10 years with no ill effects.


This can save a ton of energy.  A hot wash, hot rinse cyle uses about 8 KWH of electricity -- nearly all of it is for water heating.

At 12 cents a KWH, this could save you (400 loads/year)($0.12) (8 KWH) = $380 per year!



Let Your Hot Water Sit Around Before You Drain It

In a typical bath or shower, the water that you just paid to heat up from 50F to 110F ends up going down the drain at 105F -- taking 90% of the energy you just put into to heat it up right down the drain. 

Any time during the heating season that you can let hot water used for baths (or anything) sit around until it cools off before you send it down the drain is good.  The water heats the house as it cools down, and this saves a bit of heating fuel. 



Before you go on vacations, turn your water heater off.

This will avoid all the standby losses associated with keeping all the water in the hot water tank hot all the time you are away. 

Gas water heaters are particularly bad on standby losses because they have an open flue going right up through the middle of the tank that results in high and continuous heat loss from the tank


Computer Power Use

Computers and the related peripherals (printers etc.) use a lot more energy than most people realize.  If you have an unused power strip lying around, you may find you can save about 800 KWH per computer per year.  This is nearly $100 of electricity at 12 cents per KWH.  Details on how we set our computers up here...


Use Bubble Wrap Window Insulation

Applying bubble wrap (packing material) to windows with a water spray is very easy, and will cut the window heat loss in half on a single glazed window (30% on a double glazed window).

Places that sell furniture, canoes and other bulky items that come wrapped in bubble wrap will gladly give it to you.


How to do it:



Vent Your Dryer Inside in the Winter

Caution: Don't do this if your dryer is a gas dryer, or if humidity levels in your house are high.


Venting your dryer inside saves energy in two ways:

- The heated air from the dryer helps to heat your house

- The dryer will not be pulling new cold air into the house to make up for the air its expelling.


These two thinks added up to about 630 KWH per year for us -- $75 worth of electricity at 12 cents a KWH.


How to do it ...



Drive Less -- Combine Trips



Leave Less Stuff On

This adds up -- see here ...



Seal Heating and Cooling Ducts

OK, this will cost you 5 bucks for a can of duct mastic, but the payback could be less than a week.

This study shows that losses from heating ducts in a typical house reduce heating efficiency by 30% -- according to the study, this is "typical", not a maximum.  A lot of the loss is from leaks at duct joints, and you can stop this with a can of duct mastic and a couple hours work.  Here is what we did ...




Added some items 9/2/2007, Oct 5, 2007

Gary 3/1/07