These actions to save money on utility bills have been collected by the National Wildlife Foundation as a service to homeowners:
1. Turn down the setting on your water heater thermostat. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that you can save at least $20 a year by lowering the setting on your electric water heater from 150 to 130 degrees. (Savings will be less for natural gas heaters.) The higher the temperature inside a water heater, the more heat that's lost through the walls of the tank. Thus, you can save even more by dropping the temperature to 120 degrees. If you have a dishwasher, the thermostat probably should not be set below 140 degrees, but 120 should be more than satisfactory for most manual tasks.
2. Insulate the hot water heater. By wrapping a piece of thick, aluminum-backed fiberglass insulation around your tank, you can reduce the amount of heat lost through its sides and save an additional $20 a year. The insulating materials should not cost more than $10 if you do the work yourself. With gas heaters, be careful not to cover the vent holes; if you don't know where they are, ask a service person.
3. Drain the heater tank. Studies have shown that sediment collecting at the bottom of a water heater reduces the system's efficiency, ultimately producing higher energy bills.
4. Insulate pipes. In many homes, there can be 60 feet or more of three-quarter-inch piping between the hot water tank and a faucet. That length of pipe contains up to two gallons of water.
5. Hurry your showers. Contrary to popular belief, showers save more energy than baths only if they are relatively short. During a long, steamy shower with the faucet giving off eight gallons a minute, it doesn't take long before you have drained off more hot water than you would have used in a 30-gallon bathtub.
6. Use less water. If you family doesn't want to take shorter showers, you can conserve hot water by attaching a flow restrictor. These devices reduce the amount of water that comes out of the head without sacrificing a hard spray.
7. Tune your furnace annually. Tests have shown that a one-fifteenth-inch layer of soot in a furnace can reduce efficiency by up to 50 percent. Just as an improperLy tuned carburetor can waste gas in a car, an improper mixture of air and fuel can cause a furnace to use more oil or gas.
8. Insulate your basement. It's standard procedure to begin insulating a house with the attic, but it may be worth your time to consider insulating your basement, as well.
9. Close up those air leaks. Many people assume that most air leaks in a house occur around window and door frames. However, one Colorado researcher has found that the four major sources of air infiltration are the kitchen fan exhaust, the bathroom fan exhaust, the hole around the clothes dryer vent and the furnace flue.
10. Look for heater helpers. You would be surprised how much lost heat can be recycled around a house. For instance, if you have an electric clothes dryer, you can pull the vent back into the house, Put a stocking over the end to catch the lint, plug up the outside vent hole and let the dryer warm up the room while it is drying the clothes.
11. Consider a dishwasher. If you have a large family, a dishwasher is not the wasteful appliance many people believe it to be. To complete its cycle, it requires about 16 gallons of hot water, and you can usually do an entire day's dishes in one load.
12. Eliminate the dry cyle. Many dishwashers include a heating element that speeds up the drying process. If you wash your dishes in the evening, electric drying is unnecessary. Your machine may have a switch that shuts off the drying cycle. If not, turn off your power after the rinse is completed and open the door to let air circulate around the dishes.
13. Wash clothes at a cooler setting. According to the DOE, eliminting the "warm rinse" cycle on washing machines saves 23 percent of the energy required to run the machine. The Texas Power and Light Co. adds that "if clothes are washed in 140-degree hot water with two 110-degree warm-water rinses, approximately 40 gallons of hot water is needed per load. That would require 160 percent more energy than if a cold-water rinse is used."
14. Have your thermostat checked. Princeton University energy researchers found that half of the thermostats in the community they studied were inaccurate by one or more degrees.
15. Switch off the air conditioner sump heater. Most central air conditioners contain a sump or crankcase heater that evaporates the moisture that might get into the compressor. This heater stays in operation all year long, even when the air conditioner is not in use. Most of these heaters draw between 50 and 75 watts of power, which means an added electrical charge of about $20 for all of the months when the machine sits idle. To turn off the heater during the winter, merely switch off the air conditioner circuit breaker. Be certain, however, to switch the breaker back on at least 24 hours before you activate the air conditioner.
16. Keep your refrigerator clean. Dusting off most appliances won't make them work better, but with refrigerators, such a procedure can be important. The coils in the back should be cleaned every other month
18. Get rid of that large freezer. The high price of electricity these days is rapidly changing the cost-benefit calculations for large freezers. A group of energy consultants in Davis, Calif., found that freezers are so expensive to run that "the question should be raised as to whether the benefits of bulk food buying offset the costs of storage."
19. Douse those pilot lights. Federal studies have shown that the pilot lights on gas stoves may consume up to 30 percent of the fuel used by the stoves. Thus, if you don't cook often, you might be paying more for your pilot light fuel than you are for cooking. The pilots were originally put on stoves for convenience and safety, but if you're willing to relight a burner with a match each time you want to use it - and are very careful not to leave the gas on without a light - you can save substantial money.
20. Don't preheat the oven. In a project for the American Home Economics Association last year, researchers measured how much fuel it took to cook a hamburger in various ways. They found stovetop cooking to be the most economical.
21. Eliminate the television "instant-on." Many tube-type television sets include a feature that enables the picture to appear the moment the set is switched on. While this avoids the 30-second warming up time, it also wastes electricity since the device remains on 24 hours a day.