Did your home just become homeroom? Your couch the new playground? Maybe the kitchen table looks more like a desk every day? You can’t control the pandemic, but you can control your energy use while you’re home. We’ve got 40+ tips to help.

Kitchen

Cook up some savings while the family’s at home.

  • Check the seal on your refrigerator door to make sure you’re not losing cold air. Try the dollar bill test: Close your refrigerator door on a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, replace the gasket. You can find replacement gasket kits online. 
  • Know what you want out of your fridge before you open it. If you find yourself staring mindlessly into the fridge (#guilty), remember this chilling fact: Every time you hold the door open, up to 30% of the cooled air inside escapes. Keep it closed!
  • Keep the fridge full, not stuffed. A full refrigerator runs more efficiently than an empty one. But this efficiency ends if you block its cooling ventilation. So, don’t overcrowd it.
  • Use an ENERGY STAR® rated refrigerator. If your refrigerator’s getting old, start researching a replacement. (The best time to get a new appliance is before the old one breaks!) A new ENERGY STAR® unit will use 40% less energy than a 30-year-old refrigerator.
  • Cook with microwaves, toaster ovens and slow-cookers when possible. They use 50% less energy than full-sized electric ovens.
  • Use your oven’s self-cleaning feature right after cooking. You will use less energy by utilizing the heat produced while you were cooking.
  • Use lids on pots and pans. They reduce cooking times and save energy.
  • Run your dishwasher only when you have a full load and use the air-dry cycle. If your dishwasher has a “booster” water heater, use it. It will heat the water to 140 degrees as recommended by manufacturers, while maintaining an energy-saving 120 degrees on your primary water heater.
  • Use the right size burner on your stove. Putting a six-inch pot on an eight-inch burner wastes 40% of that burner’s heat. Always put a small pot on a small burner and a large pot on a large burner.

Work from home comfort

Make the most of your new office.

  • Use rugs. Is your workspace on a tile or wood floor? Put a rug down to keep your feet warm. You’ll be less tempted to adjust the thermostat. 
  • Don’t use your TV for background noise. If you need something playing to help you focus, use a radio, or a white noise app on your desktop or phone. It uses a lot less energy!
  • Forget the screen saver. Let your computer monitor go to sleep mode or just turn it off.

Heating

Heating and cooling account for more than half the yearly energy use for a typical home. It’s a good place to start when you’re looking for ways to save.

  • Inspect your furnace filter. If it’s dirty, replace it. Dust and dirt make your furnace work harder and less efficiently. Replace your filter once a month. You can buy filters in bulk online and set a reminder on your phone to replace them. 
  • Keep all heat registers and returns open if you have a forced-air furnace. Your furnace is designed to heat your entire home, even spaces you don’t use often. Your furnace also moves a specific amount of air, so closing off registers decreases its efficiency. Plus, cold air from unheated rooms can escape, leading to drafts and cold spots.
  • Order a learning thermostat online and install it. Lowering your home’s temperature by 10 degrees for eight hours while you sleep could reduce your heating bills by 10%. You can also control your home’s temperature from your smartphone.
  • Vacuum your registers and vents. Move any furniture or drapes that may be covering them so that the air flows freely.
  • If you’re an Iowa customer, take a free online Home Energy Assessment. You’ll get instant, customized feedback to save money and energy, just by answering a few questions.

Cooling

  • Clean off your central air conditioner. Shut off the power first, then hose down the outside compressor. Trim any plants around the unit, so there’s at least a foot of space for air to flow. 
  • Give your dehumidifier a break and keep the windows closed. If it’s humid out, close the windows to save energy by not using the dehumidifier.
  • Circulate air in your home with fans. A ceiling fan should spin so that it directs air toward the floor in summer. Moving air makes people feel cooler, so you can turn up your thermostat a couple of degrees. Just be sure to turn off your fans when you leave a room – fans cool people, not stuff!

Weatherizing

Keep warm air inside when it’s cold out, and cool air inside when it’s hot.

  • Check window panes to ensure they’re sound. If you discover loose glass, replace the putty (glazing) holding the pane in place.
  • Replace door sweeps and weatherstripping on doors where drafts are sneaking in. One temporary low-cost option is a rolled-up towel or blanket at the bottom of the door.
  • Seal windows or doors you never use. Use rope caulk to seal the edges. Don’t seal them shut permanently – you might need quick ventilation or escape during an emergency.

Water heating

A little effort combined with small changes in behavior can make a big difference in how much water and energy you use.

  • Fix leaky faucets. A one-drop-per-second leak adds up to more than 1,000 gallons down the drain in just one year. (Not to mention the sound … annoying!) 
  • Use aerators on kitchen and bathroom sink faucets. Periodically soak aerators and showerheads overnight in vinegar to eliminate mineral deposits and keep them working like new.
  • Set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. This may take a little trial and error. First, establish your baseline: Run your hot water for five minutes, fill a coffee cup and take the temperature of the water with a thermometer. Adjust the dial on your water heater up or down accordingly – targeting 120 degrees. Wait a few hours and test it again. The correct temperature will save energy, prevent scalding and keep bacteria from growing.
  • Insulate hot water pipes. Plumbing on older homes is usually copper or cast iron and both transmit heat very well. Wrapping hot water pipes keeps the heat in the water and allows you to turn down your water heater temperature (see above).

Laundry

  • Wash only full loads of laundry. If you’ve got less than a full load, set the correct water level. 
  • Wash with cold water. Use hot water only with heavily soiled loads – or if someone in your home is sick. Otherwise, washing in cold water with a cold-water detergent is a good way to save energy.
  • Clean the lint screen on the dryer before every use. A clogged lint screen can decrease dryer efficiency and even pose a fire hazard.
  • Go old school and use a clothesline to dry clothes. It’s free, and your clothes will smell amazing!
  • Use a high-speed spin option if your washing machine has it. The more water you remove from your clothes in the washing machine, the less work your dryer needs to do.

Lighting

  • Turn off lights every time you leave a room. One common myth is that lights, especially fluorescent lights, use more electricity when you turn them off and on than if they were left on. This isn’t true. Turning LED lights off and on actually extends their life.
  • Invest in LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. They use 80% less energy than incandescent lights and last up to 20 times longer.
  • Keep lamps away from thermostats. The heat produced by incandescent lights can trick your furnace into running less than needed or your air conditioner more than needed.
  • Dust light fixtures regularly (a great job for kids!). A heavy coat of dust can block up to 50% of the light output.

Appliances and amenities

  • Cover your outdoor hot tub when you’re not using it. If you have a pool, use a solar cover to help heat the water. 
  • Consider going electric the next time you buy a lawn mower. They cost less to operate (about three cents of electricity per use), are about 75% quieter than gas mowers and have significantly reduced emissions.
  • Replace charcoal or propane grills with an electric or natural gas model. They’re inexpensive to operate, don’t generate air pollution and are more convenient – you’ll never run out of fuel.
  • Turn off or unplug any unused electrical devices. Many appliances, especially computers, televisions and cable or satellite boxes, use power even when turned off.
  • Buy a smart power strip to automatically power down devices that aren’t in use. Order one online and have it delivered to your door, then connect your computers, TVs and gaming systems. It will switch them off when you’re not using them, so you’re not wasting energy.
  • Keep humidifiers and dehumidifiers away from walls and bulky furniture. They work best when air circulates freely around them.
  • Take advantage of energy-saving features on video gaming systems. Many gaming systems offer energy-saving options. But, they’re often not enabled. Take a few minutes to find the settings on your system and turn them on.