Rodale News met up with the ENERGY STAR crew from the Environmental Protection Agency and asked them to share some of their favorite summer energy-saving strategies, ones that really pay off. For big savings, choosing ENERGY STAR versions when replacing electronics and appliances is a must. But even small changes like the ones below will help pad your wallet with more cash and slim down your carbon footprint.
#1: Light up utility savings. If you're lighting your home with the same type of lightbulb your grandma used grew up using, it's time to make the switch. Those old-fashioned incandescent bulbs put off a lot of heat—not cool for the environment or for your summer cooling efforts. A single ENERGY STAR–certified lightbulb can save up to $135 in electricity costs over its lifetime. If you replace the five most commonly used light fixtures or bulbs with ENERGY STAR versions, you can save $75 a year. With LED technology improving and prices dropping, that's the bulb of choice for 2013 and beyond. (Learn more about LEDs.)
#2: Free your fridge. Keeping your fridge pushed tight up against the wall limits circulation and makes the unit work harder, increasing your energy costs. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and follow the manufacturer's instructions to safely keep the fridge's coils clean. If you're one of the 25 percent of U.S. households using a second, older fridge, considering recycling it. Running an older-model fridge—ones commonly used in basements or garages—could cost your family up to $300 a year. Temperature makes a difference, too. Proper fridge temp should fall anywhere from 35 to 38 degrees—anything lower wastes energy.
#3: Turn on your ceiling fan. Turn your thermostat up by two degrees, and then use your ceiling fan to offset the change in temperature. Be sure to change the fan's airflow direction so it's creating a downward breeze, reducing the need to rely on more costly air-conditioning. The fan creates a windchill effect that cools the people and pets in the room. (When everyone leaves the room be sure to turn the fan off.) The ceiling fan/raised thermostat combo could cut your summer cooling costs by 14 percent. Want to go a step further? Set your programmable thermostat a few degrees higher during hours when your family is out of the house. Doing this effectively could slash your energy costs by $180 a year.
#4: Make monthly filter checks mandatory. About 15 percent of the average family's utility bill goes to heating and cooling costs. To save money, make checking your heating and cooling system's air filter a mandatory monthly habit, and replace it if it's dirty. Leaving a crusty filter in place overworks the system, translating to higher-than-necessary utility bills.
#5: Slay electronic energy vampires. You may have turned off your TV, but that doesn't mean it's not secretly sucking power from the grid in standby mode. The average American family actually spends $100 a year powering devices they believe are turned off. Nationally, that's more than $10 billion in annual energy costs! To counter this power problem, plug your electronics into a power strip with an on/off switch, and flick that switch off when you're not using the devices.
#6: Green your TV settings. Most newer TVs feature setting options—ones like "home" and "standard"—that lower energy costs. Reducing brightness could slash television energy use by 18 to 30 percent.
#7: Unplug it! Sure, it's convenient to leave your cellphone charger in the outlet even when your phone's fully charged or unattached. The problem is, it's still burning away energy. Unplug chargers and power adapters when not in use and put them in a designated spot so you don't lose them in between uses.