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Home Efficiency Tips: How to Save Electricity

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Home Efficiency Tips: How to Save Electricity
April 22, 2020
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Home Efficiency Tips: How to Save Electricity

American

homes use a lot of energy. But there are ways to boost home efficiency with

simple steps and home automation

trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh)of electrical power in 2019. In that same year, Americans used about 3.7 trillion kWh of electricity across all categories, including residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. Residential use accounts for about 1.4 trillion kWh, or 38%, of that electricity usage.

How much energy goes to waste? The amount may surprise you. You can already see the gap between production and usage. But the energy losses begin with energy generation.

Power plants only capture a fraction of the energy stored in fuel. Petroleum, coal, and nuclear power plants produce electricity at about 33% efficiency. Natural gas plants do a bit better, achieving somewhere near 40%. This is not to say that power plants do a lousy job—the loss of energy as heat is an unavoidable consequence of physics. Compare these figures to automobiles: very efficient cars use around 30% of the energy stored in gasoline to move. A human body is about 25% energy-efficient.

Even more energy goes to waste between the power plant and your house. In the transmission and distribution process, between 8 and 15% of the electricity escapes as heat.

Once the energy gets to our homes, it’s hard to say exactly how much we waste every year—the government can’t precisely measure whether we’re using our energy in a productive way. But we do know roughly where it goes. The EIA reports that these were the leading identified uses of electricity in American homes in 2019:

  • 31% (435 billion kWh) went to space heating and cooling
  • 12% (174 billion kWh) went to water heating
  • 6% (86 billion kWh) went to refrigeration
  • 5% (75 billion kWh) went to lighting

The rest of the applications can be seen in this chart; note the 30% that goes to “Other uses:”

Chart of Home Electricity Usage in 2019Chart of Home Electricity Usage in 2019
This chart, created with EIA data on electricity end-use in U.S. residences in 2019, shows the biggest electricity sinks in our homes: heating, cooling, refrigeration, water heating, and lighting make up over half of all electricity usage.

However, electricity alone doesn’t account for total home energy consumption. Many homes burn fossil fuels—natural gas, propane, or fuel oil—for heating and cooking. In 2015, natural gas burned at home for space heating accounted for about 1.6 trillion kWh of energy—more than the electricity consumption of all U.S. homes in 2019.

At home, we tend to waste energy—electrical or otherwise—by using inefficient light bulbs, lighting empty rooms, heating and cooling excessively and in empty houses, and letting conditioned air escape. Fortunately, you can reduce your energy waste at home with a combination of low- and high-tech steps, reducing waste, emissions, and costs.

Here’s how to be more efficient with the items that make up over a third of energy usage: your lighting and heating and cooling.

Efficient

light bulbs and lighting practices save electricity

Lighting only consumes about 5% of the electricity used by an average U.S. home, but it is perhaps the most obvious (and controllable) use of daily energy. Lights waste power in the same way as other electronics—as heat and when they are needlessly left on. Light your home with less waste and less cost by changing to more efficient light bulbs and turning off the lights when you don’t need them.

LED bulbs are just as bright as other options, but use less energy

Incandescent light bulbs have declined in popularity. But contrary to popular belief, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 did not ban incandescent light bulbs. Instead, it demanded more energy efficiency—in other words, the same light level for fewer watts. 

Thus, the usage of inefficient incandescent light bulbs has dropped, and other varieties have become more common. Fluorescent light bulbs—the long rods or twisty CFL bulbs that give a stereotypically harsh “office” light—are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but they have drawbacks. The light they give off isn't very nice, and they contain mercury, which makes disposal a challenge.

LED bulbs are the most popular solution since their light is attractive, and they offer significant energy and cost savings over incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. An LED bulb:

  • Uses around 6 watts, compared to 45 for an efficient incandescent bulb and 15 for a CFL bulb
  • Lasts around 25,000 hours, compared to approximately 1,200 for an incandescent bulb and 8,000 for a CFL bulb
  • Costs about $30 to run over that lifespan, compared to about $180 for an incandescent or $42 for a fluorescent in the same amount of time
Picture comparing light bulbsPicture comparing light bulbs
Using fewer watts, an LED light bulb (left) gives off just as much light as a CFL (middle) or an incandescent bulb. Image source: The Earth Project

An LED bulb uses less energy, costs less to run, and lasts longer than any other alternative. LEDs also sometimes come with great features like dimmability, multiple colors, and (if they’re a smart Light Bulb) home automation capability.

Smart lighting practices save energy and money

The wise use of light is an easy way to save energy and money. To reduce electricity waste:

  • Turn off lights when you aren’t using them, of course
  • Make better use of outdoor lights, especially at night
  • Invite some indirect natural light into your home

When you aren’t using your lights, turn them off (the same goes for T.V.s and other devices)! Electricity costs about $12.69 per kWh (the average American residential price in December 2019; yours may cost more than twice that). Thus, leaving three 43-watt bulbs on for seven days would cost about $2.75 – $5.50. That's not an astounding figure, but the lights left on for hours at a time add up over a year.

Also, be smart with outdoor lights. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, the United States uses 120 billion kilowatt-hours of energy every year to illuminate streets and parking lots at night. They estimate that about 30% of that energy is wasted because it fails to illuminate anything—it just shines straight into the air. In the residential sector, the average American home wastes 0.5 kWh of energy per night (or about $23 per year) on bad outdoor lighting.

Again, not a huge figure—but the environment and the electrical grid will undoubtedly thank you for being more efficient. Make better use of your outdoor lights by putting them on timers or motion-sensors and shielding them, so the glow points in a useful direction.

Beyond flipping a switch, homes may cut down on energy by using natural lighting. Depending on the direction your home’s windows face, indirect natural light can augment electric lighting without wrecking your A.C. or heating bill.

Home automation helps you light efficiently

All of these ways to save energy work even better when they are automated. With a home automation system, smart technology such as Frontpoint’s smart LED Light Bulbs and Wireless Light Controls give you the power to turn off lights from anywhere—the living room, the grocery store, work, a beach in Maui—with your smartphone.

Picture of the Frontpoint Wireless Light ControlPicture of the Frontpoint Wireless Light Control
A Wireless Light Control gives the same smart-home capabilities to lamps or other plug-in devices. Use them to achieve greater energy efficiency at home.

But you don’t even need to press a button—automate that stuff!

For instance, geofencing capabilities—setting up an invisible boundary that triggers an action when your smartphone crosses it—can make sure that lights are turned off when you leave home. Alternatively, a Motion Sensor can detect when someone is in a room and switch the lights on or off accordingly.

Efficient

heating and cooling are the most powerful ways to achieve home efficiency

Americans used 435 billion kWh of electricity (31% of overall usage) to space heat and cool their homes in 2019. That adds up to around $438 annually per household (based on 2018 monthly bill data)—though this figure doesn’t include water heating or space heating with natural gas and other burnt fuels. Nearly half of all U.S. households heat mainly with natural gas. EIA estimates that Americans using gas heating spent about $580 in the 2019-2020 winter season.

A good portion of these totals is wasted energy: heating and cooling empty spaces, cool or hot air escaping from leaky gaps around doors and windows, and the beating sun working against temperature control. Save money and energy with low- and high-tech solutions like:

  • Caulking and weather stripping to stop air leaks
  • Curtains to manage sunlight
  • A programmable thermostat
  • Home automation that makes HVAC use more efficient

You can accomplish a lot on your own, but a professional home energy audit may help you find new ways to save.

Caulking and weather stripping stop leaks and lead to significant

savings

Small cracks around your doors and windows can add up to large gaps in your home where air can escape. You can seal up these little cracks with weather stripping (for items like doors and windows that need to move) and caulking (for cracks that stay still). Energy.gov estimates that applying weather stripping to double-hung windows can lead to between 5 and 10% energy savings.

During a professional energy audit, a blower door test will be used to find air leaks. You can also identify air leaks on your own. A simple visual inspection can’t find everything, but it can do a lot. Look for cracks and gaps around:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switchplates
  • Door and window frames
  • Baseboards
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted A.C. units
  • Vents and fans

Apply caulking and weather stripping at gaps found in these locations.

Window coverings reduce heat gain and heat loss

Windows transfer heat in and out of your house, potentially frustrating your heating and cooling efforts. In the summer, direct sunlight warms the house and forces your air conditioner to work harder. In the winter, heat escapes through the windows, wasting the work of your heater.

Energy.gov explains that a variety of window coverings, when properly used, can help fight this process. Blinds and shades work reasonably well for preventing heat gain in the summer. Window films or tints likewise block heat gain, but this is actually undesirable in the winter.

Picture of windowPicture of window
Curtains are very effective at preventing heat loss in the winter and reducing heat gain in the summer. During hot summer days, close the curtains. During the winter, open curtains during the day to admit sunlight and draw them at night to hold in warmth.

Curtains work very well in both the winter in the summer. The ability of curtains to block and trap heat depends, naturally, on their color and material. In the summer, draw the curtains during the day for as much as a 33% reduction in heat gain. In the winter, leave the curtains open during the day to admit sunlight. At night, close them to cut heat loss by as much as 10%. Overlapping the curtains in the middle and “sealing” the borders with Velcro only adds to their effectiveness.

Home automation helps you heat and cool efficiently

Z-wave wireless communication technology enables many different devices to integrate into a smart home, including thermostats. When you connect a Z-wave thermostat to your Frontpoint Hub, you can automate and customize the way you heat and cool your home to maximize energy efficiency.

For instance, you can create rules and schedules to reduce climate control waste. In the winter, you might set a schedule to lower the heat at night (and make sure the lights are off!), since you’ll be snuggled up under blankets. In the morning, the temperature can automatically come back up. The A/C can be set to a similar, appropriate schedule in the summer.

And don’t let your heater or air conditioner run full blast while you’re at work. Use a set schedule or location-based geofence rules to modulate the temperature while you’re out of the house.

Finally, you can make all these processes even more efficient by using data collected by Frontpoint’s Smart Schedule Activity Patterns feature. Your Frontpoint security system gathers and analyzes data about daily activity in the home, revealing patterns that let you optimize your automated heating and cooling settings.

High- and

low-tech steps help save energy and money at home

We use a lot of energy to keep our homes comfortable and well-lit. Between electricity and gas bills, the expenses can add up quickly. And it’s important to avoid waste and use energy efficiently—for the health of your wallet, and overtaxed power grid, and the environment.

Fortunately, you can take simple steps to improve the energy-efficiency of your home. LED lights consume much less energy than incandescent or CFL alternatives. Sealing up small cracks in your home with weather stripping and caulk prevents air leaks and makes your HVAC system more efficient. Curtains, when properly used, promote favorable heat transfer at windows.

Home automation systems also make your home more efficient by scheduling and automating energy-consuming activities like lighting and climate control. With Z-wave compatible devices such as smart LED Light Bulbs, Wireless Light Controls, and a Z-wave thermostat—all connected to a Frontpoint Hub—you have the power to reduce waste and automate savings. 

If you learned something from this post, check out other articles on our blog, like this one on how the Frontpoint App helps you automate your entire home or this post on various uses for smart lights.

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