Conserving energy helps our members, MVEC, and our region’s power grid. During times of high heat and potential stress on the grid, every bit of energy savings our members can practice makes a big difference in daily load management and can lead to grid stability and lower wholesale power costs for MVEC and our members.
Taking some easy steps now can provide some quick energy savings in the long run.
Ways to conserve energy and save money
- Use major appliances (washers, dryers, and dishwashers) after 10 p.m. when the demand is much less. Don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until they are full.
- Set your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher.
- Change your furnace filter – this can reduce energy consumption by up to 15%!
- Make sure your HVAC system is working efficiently and check to see if your air registers are open. AC systems need to push an adequate amount of air into the supply ductwork to function properly.
- Window AC units can be an efficient solution if they are ENERGY STAR®-certified and only used to cool part of your home, part of the time. Make sure to seal any openings around the window unit.
- Use window A/C units in rooms that can be closed off with a door, to make the cooling as effective as possible.
- Make sure you have the right sized unit for the size of the room. A unit that’s too big will cool the room before the humidity has been lowered, which will make it feel less cool, while a unit that’s too small will have to work harder, causing a shorter life span—and it may not do the job.
- Use an electric fan or ceiling fan to help distribute the cold air throughout the area you are cooling. Be aware of your HVAC fan as well and utilize the off/on/circulate settings to conserve.
- Turn off the A/C unit when no one is in the room.
- If your window A/C unit isn’t cooling properly, it may need to be replaced. Look for an ENERGY STAR®-certified unit to make the most of your cooling dollars.
- Make sure your A/C compressor has some plants near it – but not too close. The compressor should have a five-foot space above it and a two- to three-foot gap all the way around so that it gets enough air movement to do its job.
- Just like you keep your A/C filters clean, keep the compressor free of leaves, dirt, and pollen fuzz as well. A quick wash with a hose should do the job.
- The least expensive way to cool yourself is air movement. A ceiling fan or portable fan can make a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler, but keep in mind, fans cool people. Turn them off when you’re not in the room.
- Minimize the use of your oven – opt for a restaurant, grilling outdoors, or using your microwave on the hottest days.
- Install a Wi-Fi thermostat and receive a $50 rebate and save 10% on energy usage from June through September every year.
- Incandescent light bulbs generate a lot of heat. Replace them with LEDs.
- Unplug devices you aren’t using, like chargers, computers, monitors, and consumer electronics. Many use phantom power that keeps them on constantly (even when they’re not in use), which generates heat.
- Make it a habit to turn off lights and TVs in rooms that aren’t in use.
- Maintain appliances for peak efficiency. For example, clean your refrigerator coils.
- Lower your water heater temperature to no higher than 120 degrees F and your refrigerator to no lower than 38 degrees F. Also, consider insulating your hot water pipes.
- Reduce the heat energy your home collects from the sun. Awnings can reduce solar heat gain by as much as 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing windows. Heavy window coverings also work and have the added benefit of reducing heat loss in winter.
- Use reflective film or specially designed window coverings on any skylights. Abundant venting through the roof, gable, or eaves and adequate insulation can keep attics from becoming extremely hot and radiate heat through the ceiling into your living space.
- Seal air leaks around windows, doors, plumbing, and wiring penetrations to keep warm air out and cool air in.
- By planting trees that block sunlight, you can improve comfort and reduce your air conditioning energy use. If the trees eventually grow tall enough to shield your roof, that’s even better.
- The most important windows to shade are the ones facing west, followed by windows that face east. Morning and evening sunlight hits the home more directly than mid-day sunlight. Also, an eave on the south side of your home can help shade your windows during the mid-day sun.
- Update your email. Emails are the fastest way to send out emergency information to our members. Update your email
- Look around each room and make sure the vents and radiators aren’t blocked by furniture or other objects. If the floors feel cold even when the room is warm, put down area rugs for additional warmth.
- If you have a window A/C unit, cover it or remove it during the winter months.
- Open curtains and blinds to let the sunshine in, and close them at night. Thick curtains do a remarkable job of cutting drafts and adding insulation around a window.
- Install window insulation kits – plastic, disposable sheets that are stretched over windows and held in place with double-sided tape.
- Fill cracks and holes in walls and around windows and doors with caulk, filler, and/or expanding foam.
- If you have a gap under an exterior door, block it with a towel or better yet, install some weather stripping. Make sure windows are sealed with caulk and seal areas around plumbing and wiring gaps.
- Insulate the first several feet of the hot water pipe where it exits your water heater tank. If there is room around your water heater, wrap the tank with an insulation jacket, which can be purchased from a home supply store for about $20.
- Just like in the summer, be sure to replace your dirty furnace filters on a regular basis.
- Propane furnaces are expected to last 15 to 25 years, but if yours has been well-maintained, you may get more mileage out of it. Even if your furnace is still running well and has some life left in it, it may not be efficient. Propane, gas, and oil furnace efficiency are measured by the Average Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) that may be located on your furnace.
- A 20-year-old unit might have an AFUE in the 70 to 80 percent range. A new high-efficiency furnace can have an AFUE rating of over 95 percent, which can reduce the portion of your propane bill that goes toward heating by 15 to 20 percent. The AFUE doesn’t account for any heat escaping through poorly-insulated or improperly-sealed pipes or furnace ducts, so you definitely want those issues taken care of first.
- Instead of replacing your old propane furnace with a new one, consider installing an air source heat pump, which would use your existing ductwork. In the past decade, the efficiency of heat pumps has greatly improved, even to the point where they are solid options even in colder climates.
- If your home doesn’t have ductwork, which makes the installation of a central heat pump very expensive, a mini-split heat pump may be your answer for heating and cooling. As efficient as the mini-splits are, they might not provide enough heat in a prolonged, extremely cold snap, so having a backup source of heat is necessary.
- A solid windbreak can cut harsh winter winds. The best solution is a solid row of trees (preferably evergreen) on the windward side of your home, with shrubs underneath the trees to keep the wind from sneaking through.
- Planting a row of shrubs a foot from your home can provide more efficiency. By stopping air movement, it can form a dead air space around the home that acts as bonus insulation.
- Set your thermostat to 68 degrees F on winter days. If that’s too cool, try other ways to stay warm like layering with an extra sweater. You can save more energy by turning down the thermostat even lower at night or when no one is home.
- If you don’t always remember to adjust your thermostat manually, try a programmable model. In the right situation, set correctly, programmable thermostats can save $150 a year. A Wi-Fi thermostat can be managed from your smartphone, but before you purchase one, make sure your landlord approves.
- If you don’t mind less-used rooms being colder, save energy and money by zone heating. Electric baseboards make it easy because they typically have thermostat settings on the units or in each room.
- Portable electric space heaters can also be a good tool for zone heating if they are used safely and wisely in the area you spend the most time. Keep in mind, if you’re using space heaters, you’ll need to reduce the heating you’re supplying to the rest of the home in order to keep your overall electric bill down.
- If your heating system needs to be replaced, talk to your landlord about installing a mini-split system, which is perfect for zone heating and cooling, and easier to install than a new duct and furnace system.
- Small gaps around windows, doors, wiring, and plumbing can be major sources of energy loss and can be alleviated with weather stripping and caulk. A $10 door draft stopper is a simple way to block gaps underneath exterior doors. Sealing air leaks around your home could shave up to one-fifth of your heating and cooling bills.
- Your windows may be letting heat out during the winter and letting heat in during the summer. Window coverings like medium or heavy-weight curtains and thermal blinds can help. On cold winter days, window coverings can keep warmth inside. Opening up window coverings when there is direct sunlight can help cut your heating costs. Cover windows with clear plastic to reduce heat loss and air leaks.
- If the electric account is in your name, you have free access to an online SmartHub account which shows daily, weekly, and monthly comparable usage and may help you spot your energy trends and sudden changes.
- Ask your landlord for help. Installing better insulation, energy-efficient windows, or heating systems are investments that add appeal to their rental properties, which ultimately improve the value of the property. A self-audit with MVEC’s free My EnergyXpert Audit Tool may be a great way to start a conversation with your landlord about potential improvements.
Choosing the right appliance and operating it efficiently can make a difference. Here are some easy ways to save:
- Look for energy-efficient appliances. MVEC has rebates for Energy Star appliances and appliances with low Energy Guide ratings.
- In a Consumer Reports test, the most efficient refrigerator used $68/year less electricity than the least efficient model. Multiply that difference over a decade or two, and the lifetime energy savings could be greater than the up-front cost. All it takes to get the best appliance for your needs is some initial research.
- Look for an ENERGY STAR label which indicates the appliance is substantially more efficient than the minimum standard. Your greatest energy savings opportunities can come from replacing an old appliance with an ENERGY STAR-rated appliance. Removing a refrigerator that’s 20 years old and replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR model can lower the monthly electricity cost by 75 percent, from $16.50 to less than $4.
- Set your refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees and your freezer at 0 degrees.
- Make sure there is adequate airflow between the wall and the back of the unit.
- Keep the refrigerator relatively full when possible. One full unit is better than two partially filled.
- Check and replace worn door gaskets and clean the grills and coils regularly. Refrigeration can account for as much as 18 percent of a home’s usage. If the refrigerator was manufactured before 1995, consider a newer energy-efficient model.
- Defrost the refrigerator and freezer regularly.
- Do you have a freezer or second refrigerator in the garage? This can be a major energy hog, especially if it’s old.
- Use the correct size burner to fit the pan.
- Use smaller appliances like a microwave or slow cooker instead of the oven when possible.
- Use the most energy-efficient and shortest setting that gets your dishes clean.
- Air dry rather than using the heated dry function.
- Wait to run a load until the dishwasher is full.
- Wash clothes in the most economical settings that will do the job and always wash full loads.
- When possible, run consecutive loads when drying clothes to use the heat generated from the first load for the second.
It’s always a great idea to give energy-efficient gifts. Here are a few ideas based on a range of prices. You might even want to keep one or two of these for yourself!
- Smart power strip. Price: $15 to $100—Smart power strips are the perfect gift for your tech-savvy family members and friends because they’ll likely need the extra outlets for their many devices. Smart power strips give more control than traditional ones. By plugging the main hardware item, such as a computer or monitor, into the master outlet, you can easily control the rest of the devices. When that main device is turned off, everything else plugged into the strip also powers off. Some smart power strips can also be operated through a remote control or smartphone app, and some include programmable timers.
- Smart thermostat. Price: $30 to $600—A smart thermostat can adjust the temperature by learning your energy use habits over time, which saves you money and keeps you more comfortable. It can also be controlled through a smartphone app. Just make sure you’re going to use all of its functionality before taking the leap.
- Solar backpack. Price: $30 to $325—Walking or biking to the office, the field or a mountain lake? It may sound crazy, but you can actually make the most of the sun’s energy with a solar backpack. These handy devices collect and store enough electricity to power a phone, tablet or even a laptop. The solar panels stitched onto the back of the packs are flexible and waterproof. Best of all, they have all the features and functionality of their traditional non-solar cousins.
- E-bike. Price: $250 to $9,000— Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are regular bicycles with an electric motor that can be engaged as needed. E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular with people who face challenging terrain, bike to work and don’t want to work up a sweat, or perhaps find regular cycling too physically challenging. Studies also show that e-biking can bring many of the same physical benefits as non-assisted pedaling. They even come in foldable versions. One downside is they are heavier than regular bicycles.
- Electric scooter. Price: $80 to $3,000—The $49 foldable, foot-powered scooter that exploded onto the scene a decade ago has grown up in a big way. In some larger cities, electric scooters are now available to rent at various locations, found and paid for via app. Or you can buy one to use for your daily commute or as a fun way to simply scoot around the neighborhood. Higher-quality versions will have a longer range, larger tires, and better suspension – along with a higher cost, of course. The catch is that they’re still largely confined to paved surfaces.
- Energy efficient tablets. Price: $40 to $4,000—You may already have at least one tablet in your home, but have you considered how energy efficient it is? Try this: Instead of using your TV to binge that new show, consider an ENERGY STAR-rated tablet, and you can use seven times less power! Simply look for the ENERGY STAR label when you’re shopping for new tablets.
- Looking for an efficient gift that costs practically nothing? Enjoy a good book and a cozy evening at home, which requires no energy use at all. Don’t forget to put on your favorite sweater and pair of fuzzy slippers so you can lower the thermostat a couple of degrees.
- Consider giving a friend or relative who lives on MVEC power lines the Gift of Electricity. During challenging times or just as a practical gift, the Gift of Electricity is something you can give any time, for any occasion. You can purchase any amount and give it to an MVEC member of your choice. It’s great for anyone facing financial hardship, adult children living on their own, your hard-to-buy-for parent, a loved one on a fixed budget, or just a practical gift for a friend. Learn more
— Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency
Q: Is it true that turning lights off and on uses more energy than just leaving them on?
A: Not true. Turning off lights definitely reduces energy use. Turn off LED and incandescent bulbs every time you leave the room. The situation is a little different with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Turning them off does save energy but can shorten the life of the bulb. The rule of thumb for CFLs is to turn them off any time they won’t be used for 15 minutes or more.
Q: Would replacing my old windows with new, more efficient ones really cut my energy use in half?
A: No. While replacing inefficient windows with new, energy-efficient windows can cut the heat loss through windows in half (or more), windows typically account for only about 25 to 30 percent of your space heating costs. The amount of energy you use for heating and cooling is likely one-third to one-half of your total energy use, so replacing your old windows might only reduce your total energy costs by about 10 percent. When you consider the high cost of new windows, you may not recoup your investment for 15 or 20 years, or even longer.
Q: Burning wood in my fireplace should save on my heating costs, right?
A: Possibly, but certain conditions need to be met. The wood should be dry and burned efficiently in a properly-installed, properly-placed, high-efficiency wood stove or fireplace insert. Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll lose as much heat through your chimney as you’re distributing throughout the house.
Q: My kids claim using the dishwasher is just as efficient as washing dishes by hand. Are they right?
A: Yes – in fact, it’s usually more efficient! Properly used dishwashers actually use less water while doing a better job, and as a bonus, they will save you more than 200 hours a year. For maximum energy savings, make sure your water heater is set to about 120 degrees and use the most efficient wash/dry settings.
Q: I’ve heard it’s better to heat individual rooms with an electric space heater and keep the doors closed to trap the heat. Is this true?
A: It’s possible to save money with an electric space heater if you use it only a few hours a day and reduce your home’s thermostat setting by a couple of degrees. Space heaters can cause fires, so they need to be used wisely and should never be left unattended. Which brings us to your next question…
Q: Should I close the vents in rooms that aren’t being used?
A: Most experts advise against this because closing supply registers forces your furnace or A/C unit to work harder. They advise keeping all your vents and doors open. If your system supplies too much heat to some rooms and too little to other rooms, you should talk to a heating and air conditioning professional about modifying your ductwork.
Q: Does the age of my home determine how energy efficient it is?
A: Newer homes tend to be more efficient because energy codes have improved, but every home can have hidden energy issues, no matter its age. If you want to evaluate the efficiency of your home, it’s best to schedule an energy audit with a professional.
— Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency
Energy tips for all year-round
- Energy Wise Programs – join an Energy Wise Program and see savings with bill credits and reduced electric rates.
- Monitor your energy use with SmartHub to spot trends and sudden changes.
- Identify areas in your home where efficiency improvements can be made with the free My EnergyXpert Audit Tool.
- Schedule seasonal tune-ups for your furnace and air conditioner.
- Close off rooms not in use, turn down thermostat settings in the winter, and turn it up a couple of degrees in the summer.
- Reduce hot water use by installing low-flow showerheads and aerators. Hot water use can account for 30-40 percent of household electrical usage. If your water tank is located in a cold space, be sure to wrap the tank.
- Install energy-efficient lamps and fixtures in areas of your home where usage is three hours per day or more. LED bulbs are currently the most efficient.
Ready for an adventure? Through interactive quizzes, the Home Energy Adventure tests your energy efficiency skills to help you improve your home’s energy efficiency, and ultimately save money. Let’s go!
This home efficiency analysis tool gives you tips to make your home more energy efficient with simple energy-saving improvement projects.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce has extensive information for Minnesotans on assessing your home, sources of financial help, and other energy-saving tips, including a downloadable energy guide.
The U.S. Department of Energy has an extensive archive of energy information regarding home cooling and heating, efficient appliances, and electronics, home energy audits, weatherizing, and more.