Did you know more than a quarter of your income is gobbled up by your home?
Mortgage or rent payments make up the bulk of it, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but 11 percent of your annual income goes towards utilities and other household operating costs.
Don’t be surprised: from energy-sucking appliances to leaving the lights on in rooms to blasting your air conditioner all day (when you’re at work), it can all really add up.
My wife and I bit the bullet last year and replaced every single light in and outside our home, more than 400, with LEDs – from pot lights and regular (A19) bulbs to tiny chandelier lights and large front yard flood lights. Our utility bills dropped by at least 10%.
This is one of the ways you can reduce energy costs, especially during heavy use times like the summer. And devices like smart thermostats and power strips can also cut your use and save money.
LEDs and smart LEDs
First, replace your incandescent and florescent bulbs with LED lights, as they sip rather than gulp electricity.
They cost more – so perhaps wait for a big sale or seasonal rebates — but you’ll save money in the long run. A 60-watt equivalent, for instance, might only need 7 to 8.5 watts for comparable visibility, or lumens, with an LED light, not to mention they can last considerably longer.
Take an A19 EcoSmart-branded LED bulb as an example. It offers an estimated energy cost of just over a $1 per year (based on a national average), which will save you roughly $84 over its 15,000-hour lifetime. A 4-pack of dimmable EcoSmart LED bulbs costs about $9.
Wi-Fi-enabled Smart LED bulbs from companies like Philips and TP-Link cost more, as you would expect, but they can save you even more, thanks to the ability to set schedules and timers, remotely access your lights (such as turning lights off via an app), or, when coupled with room sensors, have the lights go off automatically when you leave the room. Smart LEDs also let you use your voice to control them (via Amazon Alexa or Google) or you can change between millions of colors or preset scenes.
Smart LED bulbs start at about $70 for Philips HUE White A19 LED Starter Kit (60W equivalent), which includes two bulbs and a wireless bridge (hub). A 50-Watt Smart Wi-Fi LED Bulb from TP-Link costs about $20, but no hub is required as it works directly with your Wi-Fi router.
Using an app or your voice, programmable thermostats let you conveniently adjust heating and cooling settings – plus some automatically optimize settings based on when you’re home and when you’re not.
By learning your schedule, sensing occupancy (with some models), and detecting the weather outside, it’s estimated a smart thermostat could shave off up to a quarter of your annual heating and cooling bills. Depending on where you live, that could be quite significant.
In other words, unless you have relatives or pets at home, there’s no reason why your air conditioning (in the summer) or furnace (in the winter) needs to be cranked when you’re not there.
Even better than Google Nest, in my opinion, is ecobee4 ($249), a smart Wi-Fi thermostat that works with room sensors to help manage hot or cold spots in your home, detecting if someone is there, and delivering the optimal temperature to individual rooms. You get one sensor in the box, along with the thermostat, but it supports up to 32 sensors. A two-pack of sensors costs $79.
There’s also built-in Amazon Alexa support via its internal speaker and microphone, so you can ask to read you the news, helping plan your commute, set a timer, and, of course, adjust the temperature.
Switches, plugs and strips
Ever hear of “vampire power”? This is when plugged-in products “suck” electricity, even though they’re switched off. This common (but little-known) energy waste is also referred to as “standby” power.
Your smartphone, for example, is probably fully charged after 40-odd minutes, but perhaps you leave it plugged into a wall socket all night? This isn’t good for your wallet or the environment. Some products are worse than others, like large appliances and some home theater gear.
The good news is some switches and power strips can completely cut off electricity, on demand, with a button or app, or through a timer. Belkin, for example, has a line of Conserve-branded switches, sockets and plugs (from $7) that shut off all power to whatever is plugged into it – either with the flip of a switch or after a predetermined amount of time. There are also Conserve power strips for multiple items.
Also from Belkin, WeMo-branded switches and plugs (from $29) may not completely cut off power on devices plugged into them, but they let you remotely turn electronics on and off, and manage costs and usage from anywhere, via the WeMo app. In fact, with the Wi-Fi-enabled WeMo Insight Switch ($34), the app will show you real-time reports on how much energy your devices are consuming (in dollars and cents), plus you can get notifications if your kids are watching TV too long or if your laundry is done.
WeMo devices also pair with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can use your voice to control it all.
Other tips to reducing power
- Ensure you're purchasing consumer electronics branded with the Energy Star logo, as they’ve been tested and verified to be more energy efficient. You should see that familiar sticker on the box and often on the back of the product.
- Curb “idle” time on your devices, such as having your desktop computer or game console go into sleep mode after a short period.
- Wi-Fi-enabled water sensors from Honeywell or D-Link (from $59) can alert you if water is detected, say, on a basement floor – even if you’re not at home – thanks to the app.
- Doing the laundry? Wait until “off-peak” hours, as provided by your electric company, to reduce energy costs. And run full loads, which will also help cut down your bills. Wash laundry in cold water to save even more. Hang dry your laundry.
- While dishwashers use electricity, they save more water (and thus, money) than hand-washing, says the California Energy Commission. Run it during off-peak hours, though.
- Unless it’s sweltering outside, consider a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning.
- Having good insulation can reduce heating and cooling costs. Watch out for cracks and holes on or near doors and windows.
- Solar panels can be a great way to augment (rather than fully replace) your electricity consumption. Costs to install them are coming down, too.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org