Save Energy on the Easy Things First

With the gloomy economy, and relatively high price of electric service, many homeowners that didn't concern themselves with their energy costs are now very interested in lowering their electric bill. However, it's not always obvious where to get started first.

Outlining your options

One method that works great is to categorize your options in terms of potential savings and the relative effort to achieve those savings. For example, adding insulation to your attic has high potential savings, but also has a relatively large potential cost and effort. See the chart below for some example ideas on how to categorize opportunities:

Idea Return on Investment Effort/Cost
Seal drafty doors and windows medium-high low
Change electric providers medium-high low
Add insulation to the attic high high
Clean A/C condenser unit medium low
Switch to CFL light bulbs medium low
Lower thermostat setting in winter medium low
Replace older refrigerator medium high
Replace thermostat with programmable unit medium low

You can start to see a trend here where you now have a framework to evaluate your options, and you can now prioritize the steps you'll take first, and decide when to tackle the higher effort moves. One strategy that works extremely well is the take on the low-effort items, and then use the resulting monthly savings to help fund the higher effort or higher cost items.

Some examples of typical "low effort" projects

Sealing drafty doors and windows. Depending on the number of drafty doors and windows, this can be a relatively small effort. One trick that savvy homeowners use is to walk the house with a lit stick of incense, and hold it near the door or window seams that you think might be leaking. On well sealed joints, the smoke will travel upwards, but near a draft, the smoke will travel sideways. Then you can repair or replace the weatherstripping where you identify leaks. Savings are hard to quantify, but it's known that upgrading older windows can reduce costs from 10-25% each month. So, it's likely that just fixing drafts would make a noticeable difference.

Changing electric companies. Do you happen to live in one of the following states that supports electric competition: New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Oregon, Texas, Arizona, Washington D.C., Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Michigan? You might have an extremely easy way to save hundreds each year. In those states, various electric companies compete to offer you the lowest rate, and switching providers is as easy as visiting a web page or making a phone call. And, the savings can be significant. In a recent sample of rates for a particular service area in Texas, the highest priced provider was sometimes 20+ percent higher than the lowest.

You can see that just those two changes alone could potentially net you $100 or more in savings each month...which over time, could fund a higher cost project, like replacing an older refrigerator or adding insulation to your attic. So, putting your focus on the low-hanging fruit first has a distinct advantage!

This guest post courtesy of, a site with hundreds of great tips on how to save money, as well as useful tools, including the ability to compare mortgages.

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