Day 19: Reduce your home energy use
Today's action: Using less energy with some simple tricks
Today’s action is to begin reducing your home energy use. Let’s start by reminding ourselves of how precious energy is. We often take it for granted, but energy is the stuff that helps keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, that allows us to cook our food and keep it from spoiling, and that enables us to stay up late bingeing Netflix shows. But energy also comes with enormous unseen costs–the massive costs of carbon emissions, air pollution, and more. Even if your home is powered by 100% renewable energy (amazing!!), your energy use relies on precious metals and critical minerals that are mined around the world. Let’s be grateful for the energy that powers our lives, but also cognizant of its hidden costs.
And now, let’s reset our approach to heating and cooling. If you live in a cold state, can you start by turning your thermostat down a couple of degrees (F) during the day, and a little more at night? (If you’re worried about being chilly, throw on some extra layers, use more blankets when sleeping, and use door draft stoppers to prevent cold air from sneaking in under your doors. More tips here if you’re still feeling too cold.) If you live somewhere hot, can you use your AC more sparingly, and when you do use it, keep the thermostat a couple of degrees higher than you’re used to?
Once you’ve done that, consider other simple steps that reduce your home energy use. You don’t need to do them all today, but we’ll give you extra credit if you do!
Fight energy vampires by unplugging electronics (especially big ones like TVs and speakers) when not using them instead of letting them go to standby mode. (You can plug them all into a power strip and turn that off if that’s easier.) No joke, this can cut 5-10% of your energy use.
Wash your clothes in cold water when you can; this reduces energy use while also helping your clothes last longer. Line drying instead of using a dryer requires more effort, but also saves energy and is gentler on your clothes.
Keep your fridge full (but not overly full) to make it more energy efficient. If you don’t have enough food to fill it, put a brick in it. (Seriously!)
Use less water. Water is also a precious resource, and using water at home requires energy (to clean, transport, and heat it). If you can, swap in low-flow fixtures for your shower and sink faucets. You can also take shorter showers or skip a couple each week, be more mindful when washing dishes, and use less water for your lawn (see the "looking for more" section for more on this).
Transition to LED lights, which use 75-90% less energy than incandescent bulbs.
Awesome! Kudos to you for tackling your home energy use!
Why this action? For the average American, home energy use is the second-biggest source of emissions (after transportation). Overall, the energy we use in our homes accounts for about 20% of US energy-related GHG emissions. Roughly half of that home energy use is for heating and cooling, making it a natural source to tackle first. In fact, if all buildings in the US took the simple step of adjusting their thermostats by just 1°F, the carbon savings would be equivalent to getting rid of over 5 million cars!
We added those other tips because why waste precious energy (and our hard-earned money) when we don’t have to? Save money on your bills and reduce your emissions at the same time? Yes, please!
Looking for more? Read on for more info and further actions to reduce your energy use.
Learn and reflect:
We used to feel a little frustrated when the main climate advice we got was “turn off the lights” or “switch to LED lightbulbs,” because while those are useful actions, on their own they didn’t seem to match the magnitude of the problem. (And research shows that those little actions don’t have as much impact as other actions, like reducing your driving, flying, and meat eating.) But then we read climate scientist Peter Kalmus’s book, and these lines really stuck with us: “You wouldn’t dream of leaving your water taps wide open when you’re not using them; I feel the same way about electricity. Electricity is precious.” Ahhhh, yup.
Get a home energy audit, which can help you identify ways to use energy more efficiently.
Weatherproofing can help reduce the energy you use to heat your house. Start with weatherstripping your doors and windows. If you're able, weatherproofing also includes better insulation and double- or triple-glazed windows.
Get a programmable thermostat, so you can adjust the temperature when you're not at home. (Or just remember to adjust it before you leave.)
Watering lawns and gardens accounts for 40% of household water use during the summer! A few simple steps to cut this: get a rain barrel to collect rainwater, which you can then use to water your lawn and garden; swap in more drought tolerant plants; and use drip irrigation if you need additional watering. At the very least, water your lawn and outdoor plants in the early morning or evening.
If you happen to be building or renovating a home, look into passive house principles (and foam-free options). Their magic combination of design + lots of insulation + good windows can get you through some of the coldest days without even turning on the heat – and through some of the hottest ones without AC!