Low effort: Slay the vampire, or parasitic, load in your home by using power strips. Connect your computer or entertainment center gear to a power strip and flick the power strip off when you're done. A more high-tech approach is a "smart" power strip like this one by Bits. You plug your TV or computer into the Control Outlet (in blue) and peripheral devices like printers to the Automatically Switched outlets. When you turn the TV or PC off, the standby power for the peripherals gets cut automatically.
Medium: Do your homework before upgrading your TV, game player, etc. and make energy efficiency one of your top buying priorities. CNET rates products on energy consumption now and Greenpeace rates individual consumer electronics manufacturers on everything from toxic material to greenhouse gas reporting. Flat-screen TVs, in particular, can create a big jump in energy use if you don't choose with efficiency in mind.
High: Install a home-area network from a company like iControl which integrates home energy management with home entertainment.
Now apply the same thinking for reducing energy consumption from consumer electronics to the kitchen.
Low effort: Put a lid on a pot of water set to boil. Freeze food and use a microwave to heat it, which uses less energy than cooking from scratch.
Medium: Buy EnergyStar-rated white goods. Since its inception in 1991, the program has saved 100 terawatt-hours of electricity, or 2.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption in a year. In the no-brainer category.
High: If you want to get fancy with your appliances, look into what GE is doing. These "kitchen of the future" appliances, expected for release next year, will be clever enough to respond to a signal from a smart meter to take go into conservation mode or take advantage of off-peak rates. Whirlpool recently announced that it, too, produce one million "smart-grid compatible" clothes dryers by 2011.
Artificial lighting can account for 15 percent of a home's electricity use. LEDs promise long life and low power, but there's a lot to do before LED prices come down to earth.
Low effort: Install (more) compact fluorescent bulbs. In terms of light quality, you can get a range of colors--check the "K rating" or Kelvin rating. Yes, they do contain small amounts of mercury so you should recycle them with hazardous trash or return them to retail stores like Home Depot that recycle them.
Medium: Open the shades. Managing natural lighting can cut your artificial lighting (and cooling) needs significantly. If you're really hungry for the beneficial effects of "daylighting," consider getting an appliance, such as a Solatube, which pipes light in from the roof.
High: The most high-effort, high-tech approach to lighting is LED lamps. Because of the higher upfront cost, most LED lights are used in commercial spaces where one can take advantage of the different colors LEDs offer. But if price is no object, LED lighting can turn your basement TV room into a fancy home entertainment center or, as this homeowner did, give your dining room some classy ambiance.
Low effort: Get an energy audit and help snoop out the places where air from conditioned space (where you live) seeps into your attic, crawl spaces, basement, etc.
To find an energy auditor, go to efficiencyfirst.org. There are subsidized weatherizing services for low-income people as well.
Medium: Add more insulation to your attic (and walls). Most homes could use more. Homes in the U.S. should have between R-30 and R-60 insulation. This attic was sprayed with Icenyne foam on the rafters, which provides both insulation and seals the air. The DOE's office of energy efficiency offers a map on what you should have for your climate.
High: Get a comprehensive audit with a blower door test and infrared camera. An audit can cost $500 or $600, but it will help locate air leaks around the house, which is important to do before insulating. Cellulose or fiberglass insulation doesn't stop air flow, it just keeps heat in. To fill those air cracks, learn how to use a caulk gun and canned foam.
Heating and cooling is where the bulk of most household's energy budget goes, so the basement is the location of your home's biggest carbon footprint. The clothes dryer and the hot water heater, often in people's basements, are typically among the biggest energy consuming appliances.
Low effort: Clean out the vent on your clothes dryer with a brush. Insulate hot water pipes and put an insulating blanket around your hot water heater. Set the hot water heater to 120 degrees and, if it's electric, put it on a timer
Medium: If you have central air, have it maintained (filters cleaned, etc.) so it will run more efficiently. Use fans (although only when people are in the room) and ventilation, such as opening windows during the cool times of the day. Also in the low-tech department is hanging your clothes to dry.
High: You can supplement or replace your heating or cooling with a range of more efficient products, such as efficient space heaters or evaporative coolers in certain climates. The DOE again offers a good explanation of your options. Heat pumps, such as ground-source heat pumps or geothermal systems, seem to catch on a bit more every year as a very efficient way to heat and cool buildings.
With many people working at home, the home office is a significant consumer of energy both for electricity and space heating/cooling. It's no wonder when you look at the rat's nest of wiring in home offices.
Low effort: Set your computer's power management system at home and at work. Recycle your old electronics gear. See this map to find a recycler.
Medium: Use a laptop instead of a desktop PC. Put things that don't need to have standby power (computer speakers, etc.) on a power strip and click it off when not using. Unplug all those chargers--for the phone, iPod, Blackberry, etc.--when not in use.
High: In addition to buying an energy-efficient PC or other electronics, consider adding other green attributes to your list, such as whether the product can be recycled and the amount of toxins used inside.
The goals here are to reduce water consumption and to lower the amount of energy needed to heat water, which can be up to 25 percent of a home's energy use.
Low effort: Put an aerator on your bathroom sink--for 50 cents, you'll make your money back quickly on lower water consumption. Then, get a low-flow shower head, which save between 20 percent and 60 percent water. Fix those leaks.
Medium: Consider getting an on-demand (also called tankless) hot water heating. In some cases, you can have an electric on-demand water heater placed directly in the bathroom and other places in the home that need hot water.
High: Get a solar hot water system, either flat panel (left on this photo) or evacuated tubes. While solar electric (photovoltaics) cost about $25,000, you can get a solar hot water system for $10,000 or less. These systems have been around for decades (remember Jimmy Carter) but are more reliable and efficient than the 1970s variety.