Efficiency Tips

Efficiency Tips

You have the power to make a difference!

Rising energy costs have us all thinking about using energy more efficiently. Using any of these simple energy-saving tips can help you make the most of your electricity dollar at home. (NOTE: -$- indicates long-term savings tips)

Efficiency Tips: Appliances

Efficiency Tips: Heating
Efficiency Tips: Lighting  What to do if you break a CFL (EPA brochure, file just under 1mb)
Efficiency Tips: Water

Efficiency Tips: At Work

Efficiency Tips: On the Road

Efficiency Tips: Appliances

Woman at refrigerator with bottle of orange juiceRefrigerator / freezer

  • Adjust temperature settings for different seasons. Check refrigerator setting by placing a thermometer in a jar of water and leaving in refrigerator overnight. In the morning, the temperature should read 34 to 40 degrees F. Adjust settings if necessary. Temperature settings usually need to be reduced in winter. The freezer should be between 0 and 5 degrees F.
  • During winter, freezer space often goes unused. Your refrigerator continues to use energy, however, to freeze this space. Take empty milk jugs, or other plastic containers, and fill them with water. Place them outside until they freeze, then put them in your freezer. This will fill the empty space and reduce the area to be kept cold.
  • Manual defrost refrigerators are generally more efficient than automatic defrost models, but only if they are properly maintained. The freezer should be defrosted if ice buildup is thicker than 1/4 inch.
    Refrigerator should not be located near the stove, dishwasher, heat vents or exposed to direct sunlight. Check to be sure that air flow around your refrigerator is not obstructed.
  • If your refrigerator has an energy-saver (anti-sweat) switch, it should be on during the summer and off during the winter.
  • Never run frost-free refrigerators with freezer compartments in unheated areas with air temperature below 60 degrees F.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 37° - 40°F and your freezer at 5°F.
  • Keep your refrigerator filled to capacity, but don't overcrowd to the point where doors cannot be closed or air cannot circulate.
  • Vacuum the condenser coils (underneath or behind the unit) every three months or so.
  • Check the condition of door gaskets by placing a dollar bill against the frame and closing the door. If the bill can be pulled out with a very gentle tug, the door should be adjusted or the gasket replaced.
  • Do not put uncovered liquids in the refrigerator. The liquids give off vapors that add to the compressor workload.
  • Allow hot food to cool off before putting it in the refrigerator.
  • Plan ahead and remove all ingredients for each meal at one time.

woman at clothes dryer with stack of towelsWasher / dryer

  • Match water level and temperature settings on your washer to the size of your load. Don't fill the whole tub for a few items. Newer machines have automatic water level settings which adjust to load size.
  • Call your water utility and ask them how "hard" or "soft" your water is. You may be using up to six times as much clothing detergent as you need. Your appliance manuals will tell you how much you need for your water type.
  • As much as 90% of the energy used by your washing machine is used to heat the water. For most washing applications, warm wash and cold rinse are just as effective as hot wash and warm rinse. The rinse temperature doesn't affect the quality of the cleaning.
  • Avoid using too much detergent. Follow instructions on the box. Oversudsing makes your machine work harder and use more energy.
  • Clean dryer lint screen after each use. Lint build up greatly reduces efficiency.
  • Overloading the dryer lengthens drying time. Clothes should dry in 40 minutes to one hour.
  • Choose a 'perma press' (cool-down) cycle. No heat is supplied in the last few minutes, but drying continues as cool air is blown through the tumbling clothes.
  • Keep the dryer exhaust vent on the outside of the house clean. It should be clear of cobwebs and lint. The moveable shutters should move easily - they're designed to prevent cold air, heat and insects from entering the vent when the dryer is not operating.
  • Dry multiple loads back to back. Because the dryer takes time and energy to warm up to drying temperature, stop-and-start drying uses more energy.
  • Using a clothesline or indoor drying rack will save energy and reduce fabric wear on your garments (the lint on the lint screen is your clothing being broken down).

Woman adjusting thermostatAir conditioner

  • Set your thermostat comfortably low in the winter and comfortably high in the summer. Install a programmable thermostat that is compatible with your heating and cooling system.
  • When the weather is mild, turn off the AC and open the windows.
  • Close your blinds and curtains during the hottest part of the day.
  • Close cooling vents in unused rooms and keep doors to unused rooms closed.
  • Check and clean or replace air filters every month.
  • Clean the outside condenser coil once a year.
  • Reduce your usage by 10-20% by caulking and weather-stripping your doors and windows.
  • -$- For air conditioners, look for a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The current minimum is 13 SEER for central air.

Insulate your home

  • Schedule periodic maintenance of cooling equipment by a licensed service representative.
  • Attics must be ventilated to relieve heat buildup caused by the sun. If necessary, improve attic airflow by adding or enlarging vents.
  • Install a ceiling fan in the largest room of your house. This will allow you to lower the setting on your air conditioner 3 to 6 degrees, which will save up to 25% of energy costs of home cooling. (Be sure to reverse the fan rotation in winter to "clockwise"'.)
  • When turning on your air conditioner, avoid using the coldest setting. Let the air conditioner warm up for a while before lowering the temperature setting. The room will cool just as fast.
  • Keep leaves and other debris off the condensing unit, and gently brush webs and dust from condensing coils. Ensure that airflow is not obstructed; allow 18" open space clearance from the condenser.
  • If buying a new air conditioner, choose a model with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 10.0 or higher.

father and son cooking at stoveRange / oven

  • Develop the habit of "lids-on" cooking to permit lower temperature settings.
  • Carefully measure water used for cooking to avoid having to heat more than is needed.
  • Begin cooking on highest heat until liquid begins to boil. Then lower the heat control settings and allow food to simmer until fully cooked.
  • Cook as much of the meal in the oven at one time as possible. Variations of 25°F still produce good results and save energy.
  • Use the self-cleaning cycle only for major cleaning jobs. Start the cycle right after cooking while the oven is still hot, or wait until late in the evening when electricity usage is low.
  • Use the burner which is the closest match to pot size. Heat is lost and energy is wasted if burner size is larger than pot size.
  • Keep drip pans under conventional coil burners clean. Don't line drip pans with aluminum foil - they can reflect too much heat and damage the elements.
  • Only preheat when baking. There is no need to preheat the oven for broiling or roasting.
  • Make sure the oven door seal is tight. Rearrange oven shelves before turning your oven on - and don't peek at food in the oven!- each time the door is opened, about 20% of the inside heat is lost.
  • Turn oven off a few minutes before food is ready, and let oven heat finish the job.
  • Gas stoves: electronic ignition (piezo) will use about 40% less gas than a pilot light.
  • Use the microwave whenever possible - it is the most energy efficient way too cook or heat small amounts of food.
  • Sun (Solar) ovens are the most energy-efficient cooking appliance, as they require no fuel of any kind to cook, yet reach temperatures of 360° - 400°.
  • Hybrid solar ovens have all the benefits of a solar oven, with the added convenience of an energy-efficient electric backup for use when sun power is not available. When used in 'electric' mode, these units use 75% less energy than conventional electric range.

Efficiency Tips: Heating

  • Woman adjusting thermostatProtect the thermostat for your heating or cooling system from anything that would cause it to give a false reading. If the thermostat is in a draft, misplaced on a cold outside wall, or too close to a heat-producing register, its accuracy will be compromised.
  • On cold days, open draperies and shades on your south-facing windows to allow the sunlight in; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • If you won't be home for a few days, turn the thermostat to its lowest setting. If there's no danger of pipes freezing or other household items being damaged, turn the heating system off completely.
  • Avoid constant thermostat adjustments, as they can waste fuel. Install programmable thermostats or time clocks to automatically control temperature settings on heating and air conditioning equipment.
  • Close the draperies over large windows and glass doors to form a barrier against heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer.
  • If your home has rooms that are seldom or never used, close the vents in these rooms and shut the doors most of the time. Make sure the rooms get enough heat to prevent mildew from growing or contents being damaged.
  • Reduce the thermostat setting when you have a large group of people in your home. People generate heat, and a party can quickly raise the temperature.
  • Keep the fireplace damper closed except when you have a fire going. Otherwise, updrafts will suck heated air out through the chimney.
  • Make sure warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators aren't blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Maintain proper humidity. A house that's too dry can feel uncomfortably cold even when the temperature setting is correct.
  • Aim the vents of room air conditioners upward for better air circulation; cold air naturally settles downward. On central air conditioning systems, adjust the registers so the air is blowing up.
  • Make sure the outside portion of an air conditioning system is not in direct sunlight or blocked from free airflow.
  • If you have room air conditioners, close all heating system vents so the cool air isn't wasted.
  • Seal air leaks to reduce drafts and get the full performance out of insulation. Always seal air leaks before adding insulation.
  • -$- Add insulation to keep your home comfortable and energy-efficient. Usually, the easiest and most effective place to add insulation is in the attic. This can improve comfort throughout the home.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and radiators.
  • -$- Select energy efficient products when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. For furnaces, look for high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. The national minimum is 78% AFUE, but there are ENERGY STAR models that exceed 90% AFUE.

Efficiency Tips: Lighting

woman installing CFLElectric lighting burns up to 25% of the average home energy budget. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself.

  • LED bulbs last up to 10 times as long as CFLs, and far longer than typical incandescents. Since LEDs do not have a filament – they are solid – the bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping. These bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 BTUs/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs. Common incandescent bulbs get hot and contribute to heat build-up in a room. LEDs prevent this heat build-up, thereby helping to reduce air conditioning costs in the home. They are mercury-free and more efficient; LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of incandescent or CFL). LED bulbs used in fixtures inside the home save electricity, remain cool and save money on replacement costs since they last so long.
  • Turn off lights when leaving a room.
  • Use dimmable bulbs when possible.
  • Provide "task" lighting over desks, tool benches, etc., so that activities can be carried on without illuminating entire rooms.
  • If possible, put lamps in corners of rooms, where they can reflect light from two wall surfaces instead of one.
  • Install photoelectric controls or timers to make sure that outdoor lighting is turned off during the day.

Efficiency Tips: Water

young couple cooking in kitchenWater conservation is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to reduce our demand for water. Saving water also saves energy. As for your personal energy bill, using less hot water saves on water heating.

  • Install aerating, low-flow faucets and shower heads.
  • Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet can quickly waste gallons of water.
  • Lower the thermostat on your water heater; they sometimes come from the factory with high settings, but a 120°F setting provides comfortable hot water for most uses.
  • Insulate your hot-water storage tank. (NOTE: Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to do this safely.)
  • Insulate the first 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater.
  • Install heat traps on the hot and cold pipes at the water heater to prevent heat loss. Some new water heaters have built-in heat traps.
  • Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that lowers the efficiency of your heater. The type of water tank you have determines the steps to take, so follow the manufacturer’s advice.
  • -$- Buy a new energy efficient water heater. While it may cost more initially than a standard unit, the energy savings will continue during the life of the appliance. Look for the Energy Guide label.
  • -$- Consider installing a drain water waste heat recovery system. A recent DOE study showed energy savings of 25% to 30% for water heating using such a system.
  • -$- Heat pump water heaters can be very economical.

In the kitchen:

  • When washing dishes by hand, use as little water as possible. Use only the required amount of dish soap and put the dishes in a rack to rinse them all together and reduce rinse water. Be sure to use short bursts instead of letting the water run when rinsing. When you do use the dishwasher, use appropriate water, energy efficient settings and only run full loads.
  • Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator. This beats the wasteful habit of running tap water to cool it for drinking.
  • Don't defrost frozen foods with running water. Either plan ahead by placing frozen items in the refrigerator overnight or defrost them in the microwave.
  • Don't let the faucet run while you clean vegetables. Rinse them in a filled sink or pan.
  • Use the garbage disposal less and the garbage more (even better--compost!).
  • In the laundry room, be sure to match the water level with your load size. If your washing machine doesn't allow manual water level adjustment, wait until you have a full load before you run your machine.

In the bathroom:

  • Put a plastic bottle or a plastic bag weighted with pebbles and filled with water in your toilet tank. Displacing water in this manner allows you to use less water with each flush. Saves 5 to 10 gallons a day. That's up to 300 gallons a month, even more for large families. Better yet, for even greater savings, replace your water-guzzling five to seven gallon a flush toilet with a one and a half gallon, ultra-low flush model.
  • Capture shower/bath water while waiting for water to change temperatures: This excess water can be used for watering plants. Saves 200 to 300 gallons a month.
  • Check toilet for leaks. Put dye tablets or food coloring into the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing, there's a leak that should be repaired. Saves 400 gallons a month.
  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Saves three gallons each day.
  • Turn off the water while shaving. Fill the bottom of the sink with a few inches of water to rinse your razor. Saves three gallons each day.


  • Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Chunks of bark, peat moss or gravel slows down evaporation.
  • Don't drown your lawn! Most of the year, lawns only need one inch of water per week. As a general rule, lawns only need watering every five to seven days in the summer and every 10 to 14 days in the winter. A hearty rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Buy a rain gauge and use it to determine how much rain your yard has received.
  • Consider dripping. Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use. Micro and drip irrigation and soaker hoses are examples of water efficient irrigation methods.
  • Consider using a commercial car wash that recycles water. If you wash your own car, park on the grass and use a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle.
  • If you have a pool, use a pool cover to cut down on evaporation. It will also keep your pool cleaner and reduce the need to add chemicals.
  • Raise the blade! Adjust the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture better than a closely-clipped lawn.
  • Use a shut-off nozzle on your hose that can be adjusted down to a fine spray so that water flows only as needed. When finished, turn it off at the faucet instead of at the nozzle to avoid leaks. Check hose connectors to make sure plastic or rubber washers are in place. Washers prevent leaks.

Efficiency Tips: At Work

Office equipment like computers, computer monitors, printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines - turn them all the way off when not using them. For example: isn't it nice when you hit the "start" key on a copy machine and a copy spits right out? But like all other "instant on" devices, copiers stay "warm" by burning energy.

Invest in systems or appliances with high energy efficiency ratings

New equipment and appliances offer opportunities for improved energy efficiency. If there is an added cost for high efficiency equipment, be sure to factor in savings from lower energy operation costs over the life of the appliance. Here are some suggestions that provide a good return on your investment:

  • Install automatic, programmable, set-back thermostats to control both heating and cooling. Most offer flexible options that enable you to change settings for different days of the week, weekends and holidays.
  • Install occupancy sensors in hallways, bathrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, storage rooms, and other areas where lights can be shut off for blocks of time.
  • Install photocells in outdoor entry, and security lighting to automatically sense outdoor lighting levels which turn on and off automatically.
  • Install LED exit signs in place of incandescent signs. LED signs last up to 15 times longer, and use much less energy.
  • If you lease equipment, insist on energy efficient models to lower your operating costs.

Change energy use behavior

Significant energy savings can be achieved by simply changing how you and your employees use energy. Some of the fastest and easiest ways to save money typically cost little or nothing. If all of these simple suggestions are implemented, you could reduce your energy costs considerably.

  • Turn off lights, computers, and other office equipment when they are not in use. Have a procedure to ensure these items are switched off overnight and on weekends. Consider installing reminder labels.
  • Lower your heater thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting when your business is occupied. Set the temperature back further when the business is unoccupied.
  • In warmer months, raise your air conditioner thermostat to the highest comfortable setting. There should be at least five degrees F between heating and cooling set points.
  • Set back or turn off heating or air conditioning, a little while before the end of your operating hours. (Remember to maintain some heating in winter to prevent pipes from freezing.)
  • Let the sunshine warm your office during colder months by opening drapes or blinds. Close them at night to retain heat.
  • Remember to turn off outside safety and security lighting at the start of each day.
  • Keep doors and windows closed to prevent heat loss during winter or loss of cool air in summer. However, you may wish to keep doors and windows open to provide ventilation, instead of using air conditioning in summer.

Routine maintenance

Maintenance of energy-consuming equipment is critical to ensuring optimum energy efficiency. Many maintenance items do not require specialized training and can be done yourself. Here are some key items to incorporate into your business maintenance routine.

  • Check to be sure all automatic controls are set and operating correctly.
  • Clean all filters in your heating and cooling system monthly.
  • Check and regularly clean filters if you use exhaust fans.
  • Caulk or weatherstrip any drafty doors or windows.
  • Remove unneeded light bulbs or use lower wattage bulbs.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with screw-in energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs as appropriate.
  • Lower your water heater thermostat
  • Adjust outdoor lighting timer controls to accommodate daylight savings time changes, or install photocells to adjust automatically to changes in the season.

Efficiency Tips: On the Road

  • Slow down, even a little. Each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.
  • Maintain your car well. Regular tune-ups, changing the oil frequently, and keeping car emissions controls in good shape all reduce air pollution significantly. Also, look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.
  • Don't top off the tank. Topping off can spill gas on the ground and release harmful gas vapors into the air.
  • Maintain proper tire pressure. Under-inflated tires reduce your car's gas mileage.
  • Remove excess weight. Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could cut your miles per gallon by up to 2%.
  • Reduce idling. Idling gets 0 miles per gallon. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas at idle than cars with smaller engines.
  • Take advantage of carpools and ride-share programs. You can cut your weekly fuel costs in half and save wear on your car if you take turns driving with other commuters.
  • Choose a more efficient vehicle. Fuel-efficient models come in all shapes and sizes, so you don't have to sacrifice utility or size. There are many options available such as hybrids, flex-fuel, alternative fuel, electric and fuel cell vehicles.

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