The $100 challenge

If you knew that you could save a meaningful amount of energy for less than $100, would you do it?  So often we think that energy efficiency has to be all or nothing – until we can save up to build that net-zero or off-grid house we’re stuck in our typical American energy-using rut.  But it’s not really true.

My hair gets its own security pat-down at the airport. If you have more, then by all means feel free to use a high-flow showerhead.

My personal favorite is the low-flow shower head.  It’s cheap (about $20), it requires minimal handyman skills, and it requires no ongoing effort.  A typical shower head is about 2.5 gallons per minute.  A showerhead with the Watersense logo will be 1.5-1.75 gallons per minute.  This is a savings of 30-40% on one of the largest hot water uses in your house.  It’s going to pay for itself in less than 2 months and will save water too.  If I can rinse my hair with a low-flow showerhead, you have no excuses.

I also love the clothesline.  Depending what kind you get, I estimate a $20-$100 initial cost with about ½ hour to install.  You do have to spend a few minutes to hang out the laundry, and I will admit that this kept me from being an early adopter of this fine technology.  But I can assure you it’s not that bad and you will save a lot of energy.  Especially if you don’t already have an Energy Star washing machine.  Even if you can only commit to hanging out half your laundry, every little bit helps.

At the risk of stating the obvious, replace your incandescent light bulbs.  Now.  I empathize with the desire to wait until they burn out, but the payback is so fast (under a month of run-time) that you should just do it immediately.  Compact fluorescent or LED, I don’t really care.  The efficiency is close to the same and much better than incandescent.  Don’t wait until you can “afford” LED bulbs.  If that’s an issue, get CFLs now.

Weatherstrip things that are obviously leaking.  Cold weather is a great time to find air leaks in your home because you can feel them with your hand.  Check your doors, windows, attic hatches, mail slots, electrical outlets and any other obvious hole in your floor, walls, or ceiling.  If you feel cold air weather strip it or close it up.  If you’re getting infiltration at your electrical outlets, baby-proofing outlet covers are an effective and inexpensive solution.

Buy a Kill-a-Watt and get rid of phantom loads.  Lighting and appliances probably account for half the energy use in your home.  So if you can’t upgrade your insulation right now, work on phantom loads.  For about $30 you can get this cool device that you plug your devices into and it will show you how much power they use when you’re not using them.  We found out that our office printer uses almost no power when it’s asleep, but our computers were really, really bad.  Now they get turned off whenever they aren’t being used.

Little things add up.  If the average American really committed to doing all of these things, they could probably save 20-30% on their home energy bills.  The payback would be less than a year, and they would be making a big environmental impact.  In 2014, let’s all commit to using more energy for things that matter to us and wasting less.

Copyright 2014 Amy Musser