Bright Ideas

8 household ways to save energy, money, and the environment.
Feb 06, 2013
  1. See the light: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs (the swirly, curly ones), use about a third of the energy of regular bulbs and last up to 10 years. The quality of light has grown warmer, too. Test a couple out before you do a wholesale replacement. For more info:
  2. Shoot for the STAR: In partnership with the Department of Energy, the EPA marks the most efficient appliances and electronics with the blue ENERGY STAR label.  You can increase appliance efficiency by washing clothes in cold water and skipping the dry cycle on the dishwasher. Most utilities offer rebates when you buy ENERGY STAR-labeled appliances. To find deals:
  3. Become a vampire slayer: Many electronic devices such as DVD players, computers, and chargers, don't really turn off when you push the off switch. They switch into standby mode and still suck electricity using "vampire" power. Electronics account for about 15 percent of the average home's usage. You can cut down on that substantially by plugging equipment into a power strip and turning it off when you're not using the equipment. 
  4. The great indoors: You might be heating and cooling your whole neighborhood if your windows aren't thermally efficient or if the openings around your windows and doors aren't properly weather-stripped. For easy DIY tips and information on federal tax credits for efficient windows, go to
  5. Program it: Why heat or cool the house when you're out? Programmable thermostats are relatively inexpensive  (about $80) but can save gobs of cash — about $150 a year — on your heating and cooling bills.
  6. Beat the heat: Alternatives to air conditioners, like swamp coolers, ceiling fans, and cross ventilation, save big bucks. If you must go for the big chill, make sure your A/C is tuned up by a professional every year — you'll save money and extend the life of the unit when it's running at its most efficient.
  7. Compute, don't pollute: Screen savers waste energy; set your computer to "sleep" mode when it's idle and save about 80 percent of the electricity it uses.
  8. Use your utility: Most power companies offer free home-energy surveys online or in person. Look on your power bill for a Web site or phone number. Seriously, these people are eager to help you save energy, because it's less expensive than building a whole new power plant for rising consumer electricity demand. 
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