Candle-lit jack-o’-lanterns, corn-stuffed scarecrows, ominous tombstones, and hanging skeletons lend a spooky feel to the night, but it’s the ghoulish energy suckers lurking inside your home that should really give you a fright. Electricity vampires—televisions, phones, fax machines, computers, cell phone chargers—are sucking your Watts even when they are not in use.
Just take a walk through the house in the dark and you’ll see their phantom red “standby” lights glowing eerily in the shadows. What can you do to banish these demons? Cut off their power supply. Plug such devices into smart strips, which sense when you shut down and turn off the electricity to select receptacles. You can also connect entertainment systems and the like to ordinary power strips that are easily switched off when you’re finished watching the latest episode of True Blood.
Simple steps like these cost little, yet they can cleave up to $35 from your annual electricity costs, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. And if that puts you in the mood to lock more power plunderers in the dungeon, we have just the bag of tricks.
Lock Up Tight The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that air leakage accounts for up to 10 percent of a homeowner’s annual energy bill, or about $70 per year for an average U.S. household. Your first priorities are sealing your attic and basement. Then do windows, doors, vents, electrical sockets, and anywhere else air is escaping. If you’re having trouble finding leaks, you can hire a professional to pinpoint them with a blower door test or infrared technology. When a home is sufficiently sealed, it’s possible to downsize (or avoid upsizing) your heating and cooling systems. Cost: $100 (do-it-yourself)–$600 (professional)? Annual savings: $60–$70 Payback: 1.4–10 years
Check the Attic Newton’s Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: Heat travels from the warmer to the colder parts of a system. Therefore, properly insulating your home will curtail the flow of heat to the outside—and conversely keep your house cooler in the summertime. Visit www.eere.energy.gov to determine if you need better or supplemental insulation. You can now buy green insulation made from such things as cotton or sheep wool batting; recyclables such as blue jeans, newspapers, or other cellulose materials; and soy. Cost: $280–$700? Annual savings: $68–$135? Payback: 4–5 years
Switch the Lights Replace traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which now come in a range of sizes, so they’ll fit almost any type of fixture, and styles, including full-spectrum, which mimics natural sunlight. Cost: $3–$9 per bulb Annual savings: $7 per bulb? Payback: 0.4–1.3 years
Mummify Your Pipes Improve your boiler or furnace’s efficiency through better maintenance and minor modifications: seal leaky ducts on furnaces; insulate supply and return pipes on boilers; during the warmer months turn off the pilot light on boilers or furnaces that are used solely for home heating (not for hot water); clean or change air filters on furnaces; install radiator reflectors on boilers to avoid heat transfer from the radiator to the adjacent exterior wall; clean furnace registers; have furnaces and boilers serviced regularly (every two years for gas, annually for oil); shut the vent damper during the off cycle to prevent heat from being drawn up the flue; install zone-control radiators; and use a programmable thermostat to keep the house cooler when you’re sleeping or not home. ? Cost: $215–$285? Annual savings: $160–$236? Payback: 0.9–1.8 years