It’s the little things

When it comes to energy efficiency in the home, sometimes small changes can make a big impact. A small, unglamorous task like changing the filters on your HVAC system makes your unit run more efficiently – keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It also saves money. And the savings gained from having your system run more efficiently can be applied to more fun or entertaining pursuits that your family can enjoy together.

The lowdown on dirt

As you move around your home, you drive dust into the air from carpets, furniture and drapes. Regardless of where it comes from, dust and dirt trapped in a system’s air filter leads to several problems, including:

  • Reduced air flow in the home and up to 15 percent higher operating costs
  • Costly duct cleaning or replacement
  • Lowered system efficiency

Making the switch

Now, that you know the facts, it’s time to get busy changing or cleaning the air filter in your heating/cooling system. Many HVAC professionals recommend that you clean or change the filter on your air conditioner or furnace monthly. It’s simple and easy, and in many cases, it only takes a few minutes.

Filters are available in a variety of types and efficiencies, rated by a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). MERV, a method developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, tests filter effectiveness. The higher the MERV number, the higher the filter’s effectiveness at keeping dust out of your system. While most types of filters must be replaced, some filters are reusable. And don’t forget about the winter months. Your heating system needs to work as efficiently as possible to keep you warm (and your loved one feeling snuggly), and a clean air filter helps it do just that.

Heating and cooling professionals recommend turning your system off before changing the air filter. Make sure that the arrow on the filter – which indicates the direction of the airflow – is pointing toward the blower motor. When you’ve made the change, turn your system back on.

A teachable moment

Beyond saving money and improving the air quality in your home, changing your air filter is a great opportunity to teach your family more about energy efficiency. Consider getting everyone involved, and the entire family will learn how simple changes can make a big difference.

For other tips on how to save, visit tnelectric.org/efficiency, or call the efficiency experts at your local electric co-op.

 

Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

America is a competitive country. Fast cars, backboard shattering dunks and upper deck home runs get our adrenaline pumping. We even turn eating into a competition. So why not turn energy efficiency into a competitive effort?

Most people agree that using energy wisely is a smart decision. It’s good for your wallet, and it’s good for the planet. But let’s be honest – it can be pretty boring. Dancing with the Stars turned ballroom dancing into something exciting, so the same can be done with energy efficiency.

Several utilities have used the concept of energy challenges to turn energy efficiency into something that gets people excited, and it’s easy to recreate this friendly form of competition. All you need are two groups or even just one family to turn finding energy hogs into a fun activity that saves money.

So, how can you get in on the fun? You will want to compare your energy use this month to the same month last year. This will give a more accurate account of your use. If you don’t want to compare to the same month as last year, you can also do a month-to-month or even week-to-week comparison. Just use data that you can easily access – and remember, this is meant to be fun.

Let’s use an energy competition between two neighbors as an example. Both neighbors will need to know what their baseline energy use is (contact your utility provider if you do not have this information handy). Ideally, use the month from the prior year. This is the number that you will be competing against. The goal of the competition is to have the greatest percentage reduction for the month against that baseline. Now the fun starts. Simply figure out ways to reduce your energy use by the largest amount without spending more than $50. The goal is fun and easy. You shouldn’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on improvements to make a positive impact.

The secret weapon to winning will be to use your kids, since they are amazingly creative and have a unique way of looking at things. Here are some of their suggestions for winning strategies:

  • Go camping outside for a few days instead of living inside the house
  • Cook meals on a grill instead of the kitchen
  • Watch less TV, disconnect the video game system or turn off the computer (Please be aware that these tips may lead to family bonding time.)
  • Unscrew some light bulbs
  • Unplug battery and cell phone chargers
  • Cut down on washing by using washing machines and dishwashers only when they are truly full
  • “Fine” family members (usually the husband or kids) for leaving the lights on in an empty room or a door to the outside open

Once the competition starts, engage everyone in your home to brainstorm ideas to reduce energy use. Challenge everyone in your home to develop a list of things to do. The person with the longest list could win a candy bar. Then do them. Equip the kids with caulk guns to shoot the energy leaks or weather stripping to reinforce the windows. Try to turn everything into a game or a race.

What does the winner of the competition get? In this sort of competition, everyone wins because they are saving energy and saving money. But the prize can be as simple as a pizza party for the winner. Several colleges have tried energy competitions among their dorms. It is amazing what college students will do to earn a free pizza party.

How much energy can you save doing a competition like this? Electric co-ops that have engaged their members in these sorts of competitions have reported energy savings ranging from 9 to 58 percent. Those that saved the most made more drastic changes, such as grilling or camping. The energy savings do go down once the competition ends. But co-ops have found that even when the competition is over, those who played the game are still using less energy than before the competition, and some of the easier behaviors like only running a full dishwasher or unscrewing light bulbs stick.

These ideas can be fun for all who compete, but making a long-lasting impact on home energy savings is the best prize of all!

 

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

By Bret Curry

To seal or not to seal the crawl space is a recurring dilemma for many homeowners. To begin, why do homes have crawl spaces? Crawl spaces became a byproduct when concrete block foundations were introduced. They cost less than basements to build, and they provide access to plumbing, ductwork and some electrical components. Decades ago, conventional wisdom introduced vents, and it was believed they would keep the crawl space area dry. However, the vents introduced a few laws of unintended consequences.

But years of field practice by industry experts, a better understanding of building science, the introduction of diagnostic equipment, relative humidity and dew point monitors and infrared cameras have unveiled some compelling facts about crawl spaces. In fact, many builders across the country who understand building science are no longer building vented crawl spaces, and some building codes are even changing to accept properly sealed crawl spaces.

Experience has taught us that a properly sealed crawl space with a properly installed moisture barrier will dramatically reduce unwanted moisture and thwart heat gain and loss. Proper air and moisture sealing improves comfort and reduces heating and cooling costs. Additional benefits are the elimination of the earthy smell inside a home caused by a damp crawl space and elimination of the environment that promotes the growth of mold and mildew – even the floors will be warmer during the winter. Also, properly sealed crawl spaces can be used for storage.

Many existing homes with vented crawl spaces can be retrofitted and sealed if they meet some very important criteria. First, let’s address how nature affects the crawl space. Remember, heat moves to cool on our wonderful planet. On a summer day, our nice cool crawl space becomes an attraction for hot and humid air. The hot air moves through the vents to the cooler crawl space causing everything to become warmer — even the ductwork and floors. If the ground is not properly covered with a moisture barrier, water vapor from the ground and air will condense on cooler surfaces. This is why most ductwork located in vented crawl spaces has evidence of condensation with mold and mildew on the outer side of the insulation. Uninsulated ducts may even show signs of rust and corrosion. The opposite happens during the winter. The warmer air under the floor escapes through the foundation vents. This causes the floors to become quite cold, even causing pipes to freeze and break.

If you can answer “yes” to the questions below about your crawl space, you could be a candidate for sealing:

  • Is your crawl space dry year-round without any standing or recurring drainage problems?
  • Is your home free from any plumbing leaks?

If you answered “yes,” you may consider a sealed crawl space.

Sealing a crawl space is not that difficult, but it does take time to properly complete the job. A rigid moisture barrier is paramount. There are companies that sell quality watertight moisture barriers and special mastics and tapes to assure an airtight and waterproof seal. Foam board can be used for sealing the inner side of the vents.

If you live in an area where radon could be an issue, I suggest contracting with an authorized entity to handle your project. Also, if you live in an area where termites exist and insurance is required, I suggest that you contact your policyholder and inquire about their parameters concerning sealed crawl spaces. They may require a gap between the top of the moisture barrier and the band joist for inspection purposes. Many termite companies now offer this service.

Be sure to visit www.smartenergytips.org or Facebook www.facebook.com/SmartEnergyTips.org for dozens of energy savings ideas.

Bret Curry is the residential energy manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

Nearly three quarters of U.S. households subscribe to high-speed, broadband Internet service, and most of them are blanketed in Wi-Fi networks. Most households, in other words, are already high-speed Internet gateways, and Americans are increasingly filling them with more connected devices, expanding the universe of products — smart appliances, streaming media players, smart thermostats, and “traditional” networked devices like computers and mobile devices — that can communicate with each other and the Internet.

Homeowners use networks for a variety of purposes, including security, productivity and entertainment, but as network connectivity and control expand to large residential end uses like appliances, heating, air conditioning, lighting and electronics, these networks can increasingly be leveraged for energy monitoring. These home energy networks connect energy-using devices to provide services related to the consumption of energy.

At their most basic, home energy networks provide information on energy use and control over connected devices. Forget to turn off the lights or turn down the thermostat before going on vacation? Need to see how much money you’re spending to run laundry equipment? With home energy networks, there’s an app for that.

Advanced home energy networks can analyze use trends, suggest behavior changes, automate/optimize the setup of certain devices and frequently provide mobile apps to centralize settings and controls. A well-known example is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which users train to recognize their temperature preferences and away-from-home schedules. The more complicated the network and the greater number of connected devices, the deeper the potential energy savings and the more sophisticated these “orchestrations” become. In the most advanced systems, homeowners can create scenarios that effectively provide a “sleep” or “standby” mode for the entire house.

Home energy networks require a lot more than a smartphone and software wizardry. There can be significant hardware investments. Often systems cannot effectively communicate between manufacturers. Of course, some systems will be difficult to set up and configure. But some can be up and running in under two minutes. The combinations of systems are almost endless, and the array of options can be confusing. New players are constantly entering the market offering the killer app to solve all of your home networking problems.

Anyone looking to automate their home or monitor their home remotely should first ask what one or two things they really want to use — not what is trendy, but what is practical and useful. If your schedule is unpredictable, then a smart thermostat may be the best option. It will help you to make your home comfortable when you arrive while saving money when you are away. If you entertain a lot, then one of the smart lighting systems may be the best bet. They allow you to change the light output and color based on how you are using the room. They can help you make the room more romantic for that special someone or set the right light level for watching a movie.

Big box stores are devoting prominent shelf space to a plethora of home energy network systems and devices. The challenge for consumers will be to find systems that perform a useful function and can be installed without having to consult customer support — or a third grader.

 

Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Laura Moorefield is the founder Moorefield Research & Consulting, LLC in 2013. She currently resides in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

Peter May-Ostendorp is the founder of Xergy Consulting in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

By Brian Sloboda

When it comes to energy efficiency, there are two ways to measure improvements. The first is the payback period. This is the amount of time that the improvement will pay for itself. The second is comfort. Improvements can often increase the comfort level of a home. This is not easy to measure, but it is one of the driving forces behind home weatherization efforts. There are several areas of the home that can be improved easily, without breaking your budget.

Lighting

In recent months, the price of LED lamps for residential consumers has steadily declined. 60W LED lamps can be purchased at many big box retailers for $10 or less. LEDs can save 60 percent or more when compared to incandescent bulbs – and last for several years. It should be noted that care should be taken when selecting a bulb for a fixture that uses a dimmer, as not all dimmers will work with LED bulbs. There are also flickering issues with poorly made LEDs.

Heating and air conditioning

The Energy Information Agency estimates that heating and air conditioning account for 22 percent of a typical home’s annual electric bill. Options such as an air source heat pump or a ground source heat pump can be 20 to 45 percent more efficient than the existing heating or cooling system in the average home. However, the upfront cost is often a barrier to adoption.

Simple solutions such as changing air filters at least every three months will increase airflow to rooms, increase the life of the HVAC unit’s motor and improve the air quality of the home. Sealing and insulating ductwork can be completed in a weekend and result in energy savings of up to 20 percent.

By locating and correcting air leaks, you can lessen the amount of work that heating and cooling systems need to do. To locate leaks, walk through your home on a cold day and feel for drafts around exterior doors and windows, electric outlets and entrance points for TV and telephone cables. In basements, target dryer vents, gas lines or any place with an opening in the wall. To fix leaks, apply caulk, spray foam or weather stripping to these areas.

Simple acts, such as cooking outdoors on a hot summer day and keeping curtains closed to keep out summer sun, will keep the interior of the home cooler and reduce the amount of time air conditioning units need to operate.

Appliances and electronics

The appliances and gadgets that make life easier are also the largest users of electricity in our homes. When buying a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR label. This simple act can result in 10 to 15 percent more in energy consumption savings. Some states have adopted ENERGY STAR holidays where the sales tax is waived on the purchase of qualifying ENERGY STAR rated appliances.

More simple household tips to boost energy efficiency include:

  • Cleaning lint traps on dryers and not over-drying clothes will save energy and extend the life of your clothes.
  • Replacing worn refrigerator gasket doors will stop cool air from leaking from the refrigerator.
  • Clean refrigerator coils and keep refrigerators away from heat-generating appliances such as an oven.

Home electronics, such as computers, TVs, DVD players and other modern devices, consume power even when turned off. This phenomenon is called parasitic load, and sometimes these devices are referred to by the more playful term, “energy vampire.” According to a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average home loses 8 percent of its monthly energy consumption to these energy vampires. A full 75 percent of the power used to run home electronics is consumed when those appliances are turned off, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting off power by using a power strip or a smart strip is the best way to stop this senseless loss of energy.

The best energy efficiency improvements are often the easiest. Turning lights off when leaving a room, sealing windows and doors and cleaning refrigerator coils isn’t as much fun as buying a shiny new appliance. But these simple jobs are proven ways to save energy and increase comfort.

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Another colder-than-normal winter is predicted for much of the country this year. Frigid temperatures can cause heating systems to work over time, and since heating and cooling can make up nearly half of your electric bill, you may experience sticker shock when you open that bill. Instead of waiting until after a potentially high bill is in your mailbox, be proactive. There are things you can do now to help ensure you are managing your energy use and spending less.

These simple steps can help you manage your use:

  • Wrap exposed pipes and water heaters that are in unconditioned spaces.
  • Make sure to change your air filter once a month.
  • Keep drapes closed at night and keep those that don’t get direct sunlight closed during the day, too.
  • Keep the fireplace damper closed when it is not in use. Keeping it open can bring cold air into the room.
  • Caulk around the fireplace hearth, and caulk or weather strip around doors and windows.
  • Monitor your electric use. If we’ve had a few days of frigid temperatures, see how you can try to save on days that are milder.
  • Dress for the weather, even if you are inside. Wearing proper clothing like long sleeves and pants, or wrapping up in a cozy blanket will help combat the temptation of bumping up the thermostat.

So, when temperatures fall this winter and you hear your weatherman talking about bringing in pets and plants, take the steps above to help manage your use.

Using the tips above can certainly help you manage your energy use, but your bill may still be higher than normal in winter months. Why?

  • The weather makes a big impact on electric bills, accounting for nearly half of your bill.
  • Even those with the most efficient HVAC systems will see more use in extreme weather.
  • When extreme cold temperatures hit, our heaters work overtime.
  • For example, even if you set your thermostat to our recommended 68 degrees in the winter, when it is 19 degrees outside, your system has to work hard to make up that 49-degree difference.
  • Your heater works harder and cycles on and off more often, making your use much higher. That means your bill will be much higher.
  • Remember, there is value in comfort. For us to be comfortable in our homes, our heaters are going to work harder, but it may be worth the additional cost to you.

Additional tips:

  • Call your local co-op to see what options might be right for you.
  • Speak to one of our energy efficiency experts. They can help you understand how weather and your use patterns affect your bill.

April Lollar writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Water heating is the second largest use of energy in homes, accounting for approximately 14 to 18 percent of residential energy consumption. In addition to wrapping water heaters and pipes in insulation, there are many technologies in this market to help lower energy consumption and save consumers money. These technologies include heat pump water heaters (HPWH), CO2 heat pump water heaters, and point-of-use (POU) water heaters.

Heat pump water heaters

The heat pump water heater is not a new technology, but it is experiencing a revival. A handful of small companies produced units in the 1980s and 1990s, but random failures soured utilities and consumers on the technology. Today, however, some of the major manufacturers of water heaters and other appliances have entered the market, offering a new generation of heat pump water heaters.

There are two types. One, the more expensive option, replaces an existing electric water heater with a new, “integrated” unit combining a heat pump with a water tank. The second type adds a heat pump unit to an existing water heater. The heat pump in both versions circulates a refrigerant, which absorbs heat from the surrounding air and then passes through a compressor to maximize the heat output, which is transferred into the tank’s water. The heat pump can produce most of the heat needed by the water heater. A backup electric resistance element in the tank is called upon when the ambient air is too cold for heat pump operation or additional amounts of hot water are needed. Because the units use both heat pump technology and electric resistance for backup, the units are referred to as “hybrid” heat pump water heaters.

Heat pump water heaters use roughly half the electricity of a conventional electric water heater, but this efficiency comes with a higher price tag and potential trade-offs in effectiveness for participation in load control programs. Integrated units are selling for about twice the cost of a standard tank heater. Depending on the retail cost of electricity and the installed cost of the heat pump water heater, including any financial incentives, the payback period can be as little as three years. In areas with low electricity rates and limited financial incentives, however, the payback period can be much longer.

A heat pump water heater can generally be installed in a conditioned or unconditioned space. However, the space must be at least 10 square feet to ensure adequate air exchange for the heat pump. An open basement, a utility area or—in some climates—a garage is appropriate. The cool exhaust air can be released into the area where the heat pump water heater is located, cooling and dehumidifying the surrounding air, or it can be ducted outside.

Heat pump water heaters are not a universal option. Heat pump water heaters are most efficient in warm and damp climates. Homes in those climates will also benefit from the water heater’s cooling and dehumidifying features. However, residents in colder climates will see decreased performance during colder months. In the northern areas, for instance, if the heat pump is designed to work at ambient air temperatures of 45degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the water heater’s electric element will operate whenever the air temperature drops below that level, reducing energy savings.

CO2 heat pump water heaters

Another emerging water heater technology is the CO2 heat pump water heater. These water heaters are unique because they use CO2 as the refrigerant. Using CO2 is beneficial because other commonly used refrigerants are ozone-depleters or have greater impacts on global warming. In addition to their environmentally friendly chemistry, these heaters can output much hotter water. However, these types of water heaters are still in the early stages of adoption in North America (they are more common in Japan and the European Union) and are much more expensive than conventional water heaters.

Point-of-use water heaters

Depending on where your water heater is located, you will lose some amount of heat as your hot water travels to the faucet. One technology to help reduce this loss is the point-of-use water heater (POU). These water heaters are located near to the water’s end use, for example, near the sink or shower. This option can be more efficient than raising the temperature of the main water heater. However, POUs cannot act as a back-up heater to intermittent units like solar or geothermal water heaters because they are not powerful enough to support a household’s entire water heating load.

Before purchasing a new water heater, be sure to check if any incentives are offered by your local electric cooperative for a particular type. Your co-op can also offer advice on which water heaters work well for your area, as well as other energy-saving tips.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Happy New Year! This is the time of year when we often resolve to make changes of all types. Here’s an idea for you. Instead of focusing on the typical resolutions, such as losing weight and exercising more, why not resolve to make your home more energy efficient? And with winter in full swing, this is a good time to think about making energy-efficiency improvements to your home. Your thermostat is in full heating mode and generally, winter heating requirements cause us to spend more money than we do for cooling. This is because the laws of nature dictate how heat behaves on Earth. As a reminder, heat moves to cool.

On a cold winter day, the heat generated by a heating source is moving through building materials, cracks around doors and windows, unsealed holes created by electrical and plumbing penetrations and improperly installed and inadequate insulation. Furthermore, winter usually doles out a larger temperature difference between the indoor thermostat setting and the outdoor temperature. The greater the temperature difference, the more energy is required to maintain the desired temperature inside your home.

To be clear, not all homes are energy inefficient. So how does one know whether or not his/her manufactured or standard built home is energy efficient? Here is a simple way to do it, based on your average monthly utility usage. Simply multiply the square footage of your home by 10 cents. For instance, a 1,500-square-foot home multiplied by 10 cents (.10) equals $150.00. A 2,000-square-foot home multiplied by 10 (.10) cents equals $200. And so on.

Next, calculate your total electric bills for a one-year period. If you heat with natural gas or propane, be sure to add those bills into the total. Next, divide the total by 12 months to establish the monthly average. If your monthly average exceeds the square-footage multiplied by 10 cents (.10) calculation, you most likely have an opportunity to make some energy efficiency improvements.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives can help identify and offer solutions for high bills and comfort issues. Contact your local cooperative or visit our efficiency archives for many energy savings ideas and solutions.

In the meantime, stay warm and start working on your energy efficiency resolution!

Bret Curry is the residential energy manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

A “tiny house movement” has gained attention nationally as a reaction to the increased construction of larger homes. Popularized by the documentary “Tiny,” a television show, and other media coverage, these homes typically measure less than 1,000 square feet – a far cry from the typical American home. In 1973, the average U.S. home measured 1,660 square feet. Since then, U.S. homes have grown by over 60 percent to reach an average size of 2,598 square feet in 2013 – despite a slight dip in 2008 through 2010. But do smaller homes actually use less energy? What are the factors that determine how much energy a house consumes?

As the size of homes increases, so do the energy demands on it. There’s additional space to be heated or cooled, more lighting is required, and it’s likely that the number of appliances will increase as well. Examining only a home’s size will show a strong positive correlation between the square footage of a home and its energy consumption. To look at an extreme case, homes that measure over 6,400 square feet (the top 1 percent of homes) use two and a half times as much electricity as home sized at 1,600 square feet; but this isn’t the whole story. Other factors such as the age of the home, climate, income and behavior influence energy consumption as well. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that homes built after the year 2000 use only 2 percent more energy than homes built before 2000 even though the newer homes are on average 30 percent larger and contain more electronic appliances.

There are several reasons for this equilibrium in energy use despite the greater building size. First, homes are becoming more energy efficient. They are lit with CFLs and LEDs instead of incandescents and use more efficient appliances. For example, an older refrigerator can use about twice as much energy as a newer model of similar capacity. Second, homes are being built with more energy-efficient features. This includes better building shells, modern windows and more insulation. Larger homes in particular are more likely to include these types of energy-saving features. These changes are due not just to technological advances but policy changes that tightened building codes and raised the minimum energy efficiency standards for appliances. Programs such as EnergyStar have helped to educate consumers about the efficiency and cost-savings of their products. Lastly, more Americans are moving south to more moderate climates. This means that less energy is used on space heating, and although the southern migration has resulted in a 56 percent increase in energy used for air conditioning, it’s not enough to offset the space heating reduction.

What this ultimately means is that the amount of energy a home uses is not pre-determined by its size. While moving into a tiny home may not be practical or possible — they are often not allowed under current zoning regulations and only make up around 1 percent of homes – realize both large homes and small homes have the potential to be efficient or inefficient. Rather than moving into a tiny home to save energy, consider looking into energy-efficient retrofits – contact your local electric co-op for ways to save.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

By Abby Berry

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of Americans lease their homes. Unfortunately, many lease agreements forbid major alterations to rental properties. But don’t worry, renters! Consider using these low-cost, energy-efficient tips from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to improve the efficiency of your home this winter.

Hot savings

Heating the home typically makes up about 48 percent of your utility bill. Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter – Energy.gov recommends 68 degrees Fahrenheit to boost energy efficiency.

During the winter months, take advantage of heat from sunlight. Open draperies and shades during the day to allow natural light to heat your home. Remember to close them in the evenings as the temperature drops and windowpanes become chilly.

Does your home have window air conditioning units? This winter, remember to insulate the units from the outside with a tight-fitting cover, available at your local home improvement center or hardware store. This keeps heated air from escaping outside. If desired, you can remove the window unit during winter months to prevent energy loss.

Another way to save on heating is to make sure your water heater is set at the lowest comfortable setting. Have you experienced scalding hot water when taking a shower? If so, it’s likely that your water heater is set too high – which is a waste of energy. Older models of water tanks are often not insulated, which can be easily remedied by covering them with an insulating jacket.

Bright ideas

Lighting is one of the easiest places to start saving energy, and savings are not strictly limited to winter months. Try replacing a few of your most frequently used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified lights, and save more than $65 a year in energy costs. ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use 75 percent less energy and last several times longer than incandescent light bulbs, saving money on energy bills and replacement costs. Practicing energy-efficient habits is another great way to reduce energy use. Always turn off your lights when leaving a room.

Other ways to save

Leasing an older home or apartment? Odds are you have single-pane windows and old or missing caulk. Don’t let the winter chill seep indoors! Apply caulk around window frames, sashes and door panels to combat air leaks. Also, be mindful when using electronics at home. Unplug devices when not in use, and use smart power strips to save on energy use. To learn more ways to be energy efficient around the home, visit togetherwesave.com.

Abby Berry writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.