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Tame The Energy Hogs

Give Your Home an Energy Tune‑Up

There are many free and low-cost ways to save energy and lower your electric bill, while increasing home comfort and helping to slow global warming. Tackle the top power hogs first for maximum results. In Florida homes, air conditioners gobble the most power—about 40-50% of energy use in most homes. Always-on electronic devices, hot water heaters, and pool pumps each use about 12-15% of the total.

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We’ve sifted through all sorts of energy saving tips to find the ones that are easiest and most effective.  In many cases, the solutions are free—you just make a small tweak to the way you do things. There are also many low-cost solutions that only require a quick trip to the home improvement store. We’ve made shopping for energy-saving gadgets easy by creating this Amazon Idea List showing examples of the product types recommended below.

Cooling and Heating

Step 1

Take charge of your thermostat

Cost: $0-250

smart thermostats conserve energy
  • Summer – Set your thermostat to 78 Fahrenheit and turn up to 82 F when away for more than 4 hours. Winter – Set your thermostat to 68 deg and turn down to 65 deg when you are away. Keep the fan on auto to reduce runtime and control humidity. You can save 5% on heating and cooling costs for every degree change. Free
  • Install a programmable thermostat to automatically set the temperature to your daily schedule. DIY $20–$50
  • Even better, install a smart thermostat for an additional 10-15% in efficiency and savings. A smart thermostat lets you use your smartphone or smart home hub to control temperature settings both at home and away. They even learn your schedule and adjust temperatures accordingly. DIY $100–$250

Smart Thermostat Buying Guide

Step 2

Use ceiling fans

Cost: Free

Using fan can conserver energy

Using a ceiling fan can help save energy, but only if you also raise the thermostat by at least 2 degrees (or at least avoid turning it down).

  • Turn ceiling fans off when you leave the room. Fans circulate air to make you feel cooler, but don’t actually cool the air. A single fan running all day can add $6 to your monthly energy bill.
  • Set the ceiling fan direction in summer to counterclockwise to help create a downdraft, which creates a direct, cooling breeze. Change your fan direction in winter to clockwise to create an updraft and circulate warm air around the room.

Step 3

Maintain your system

Cost: $0-150

energy efficient air conditioners can lower utility bills
  • Keep interior doors open and vents open and unobstructed by furniture to help your A/C circulate air and increase efficiency by up to 40%. FREE
  • Keep leaves, shrubbery, and debris at least 18 inches away from your outdoor A/C condenser unit to avoid blocking airflow. FREE
  • Change or clean the filter at a minimum every 3 months (check it monthly) using the proper size. Write the installation date on filters with a felt-tip marker for an at-a-glance reminder. DIY $5–10
  • Get an annual maintenance check-up. A professional HVAC contractor can inspect and clean your system to ensure it operates efficiently and prevents costly breakdowns. A/C maintenance checklist. Professional Service $100–150

Step 4

Seal and insulate your home against air leaks

Cost: $0-1,000+

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient, with savings of 20% or more on heating and cooling costs. Bonus  benefits include reduced outside noise, pollen, dust, and insects entering your home, and better humidity control. Warm and cool air can escape through leaks in outer walls, floors, ceilings, doors, and windows. Energy losses from all the leaks, holes, and gaps are like having a window open every day of the year!

  • Wipe away dirt and grime from the tracks of your sliding glass door. A dirty track can ruin the seal, creating gaps for air infiltration. FREE
  • Seal doors and windows with weatherstripping, like door sweeps, spring metal strips, v-shaped vinyl, or adhesive-backed foam. DIY $5–10 each
  • Seal leaky air conditioning ducts to prevent cool air from escaping into the attic. If the ceiling is dirty around your air conditioning vents or there are “attic smells” in the house, this could be a sign of duct leaks. While the sealing materials are relatively inexpensive for DIYers, having an A/C professional inspect and seal your air ducts will save you time and frustration and yield better results. Duct Sealing Fact Sheet Professional Service $1000+
  • Seal your attic and add insulation. Hidden holes into your attic around recessed lights, air duct vents, stove and dryer vents, and behind electrical outlets can allow cool air to escape. If your home was constructed before 1982, you may not have the recommended 10-14 inches of insulation in your attic. Easy DIY insulation check.

Watch: How To Measure Attic Insulation

Use this sealing and insulation project guide to help decide which projects you want to tackle on your own, and which you should leave to a professional.

You may be eligible for a rebate of up to $190 from FPL and a Federal tax credit of up to $500. Professional Installation $1500+

Common Sources of Air Leaks

 

Step 5

Make Shade

energy efficient outdoor space
  • Keep sunlight out of your home during summer months with window shades or window film.
  • Plant shade trees on the east and west sides of the house. A well-located mature shade tree can save up to 20% on cooling Use the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tool to find a tree give-away program in your area, choose a tree, and find the best location in your yard for the most savings.

Tree Tool

Always On Electronics

Step 1

Power Off

Cost: $5-25

unplugging electronics when not in use can reduce your electric bill
unplug to conserve energy

The devices and gadgets of modern life waste huge amounts of energy when idle—an estimated 50 power plants worth of energy nationally every year! Electronic devices such as computers, televisions, and stereos and gaming systems consume electricity even when they are turned off, sucking up and wasting 12 percent of a home’s annual electricity use. That’s why adapters plugged into the wall feel slightly warm even when not in use.

  • Unplug electronics and appliances (such as coffee makers) when not in use. For hard-to-reach devices, plug them into a power strip then click off the power strip. DIY $5
  • Even better, use smart power strips and plugs to power off devices automatically when not in use. Smart power strips can detect if the master device is in sleep mode or has been turned off then turn off all other attached devices at the same time. For example, you can plug electronics such as your home entertainment system into a smart power strip to automatically cut power to cable boxes, speakers, and game consoles when the TV is turned off. DIY $25 Power strip selection guide

Water Heater

Step 1

Heat Efficiently

Cost: $0-1,500+

insulate your water heater to conserve energy
save energy with a water heater timer

Water heaters are typically among the top three energy hogs in the home. The average family spends about $15–20 per month to heat water. To trim those costs, heat more efficiently and use less hot water.

  • The default setting of most water heaters is a scalding hot 140 Lower the temperature by just 10° F to save 3–5% off your energy costs. FREE Step-by-Step DIY Project 
  • If your water heater tank feels warm on the outside, insulate the tank with a wrap. DIY $40
  • Drain about a quart of water from the water tank every 3–6 months to remove sediment that lowers the efficiency of your water heater.
  • Install a timer to turn off your heater at night and when on vacation. Even better, install a smart water heater to optimize water heating with your usage patterns. DIY $50–150
  • If your water heater is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR high-efficiency heat pump water heater. This technology moves heat from the air into the water, releasing cool dry air (like a refrigerator in reverse). Perfect if your water heater lives in your hot Florida garage! These water heaters are pricier than conventional electric models, but their improved efficiency will lower water heating costs by 50%, plus you may receive a $300 Federal tax credit. Professional Installation $1500+

Wondering if you should consider a solar water heater?

Step 2

Use Less Hot Water

Cost: $0-20

improve energy efficiency by washing laundry in cold water
  • Wash and rinse your clothes in cold water to reduce energy use by as much as 90% and save $0.50 per load. Unless your clothes are heavily soiled, cold water is better for your clothes anyway. FREE
  • Run your dishwasher instead of hand washing dishes; it uses one-third less water when running full loads. FREE
  • Install water-conserving showerheads and faucet aerators. You can save 25–60% more water per showerhead, using less hot water. DIY $20

 

Pool and Spa Equipment

Step 1

Optimize Your Pump

Cost: Free

energy efficient pool and spa pumps reduce electricity usage

We Floridians love our swimming pools. But running a pool pump 8 hours a day can add $40–60 per month to your electric bill. Careful maintenance of your pool’s water clarity and chemical level can reduce the amount of time the pump needs to run and save $4–5 per month for every hour you cut back.

  • Limit run time to six hours per day in the summer and four hours per day in the winter. FREE
  • Set your spa heater to less than 104○ Fahrenheit, heat only when you plan to use it, and keep it covered. FREE
  • When upgrading, be sure to look for ENERGY STAR variable speed pumps to ensure efficiency.

Pool Pump Heater Calculator

Lighting


Step 1

Switch to LED

Cost: $1.50-30

Lighting isn’t typically a big energy waster in most homes, but light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are a smart choice for lights you use several hours a day. LED bulbs last 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, so they’ll rarely need replacement, and they are 75% more energy-efficient too. DIY $1.50

Shopping for new LED bulbs presents an overwhelming number of choices. Let’s break it down:

  • Step 1 – Look for the ENERGY STAR Label
  • Step 2 – Decide how much light you need – remember that brightness is measured in Lumens, not Watts. LED bulbs use far fewer Watts for the same brightness.
  • Step 3 – Check the package to make sure the bulb type is matched to your use (i.e., dimmable, enclosed space, outdoor, etc.)
  • Step 4 – Choose a light color from warm to cool.

Watch: How To Choose Lightbulbs

Automatic switches can enhance lighting efficiency and safety:

  • Install a dimmer switch to adjust the light level, save energy, and extend the life of light bulbs. (First make sure your LED light bulbs are compatible with dimmer switches.) DIY $15
  • Install a smart switch to automatically turn on the lights you use most when you get home and off when you leave. DIY $20
  • Use timer plugs, light-sensitive photocells or motion detectors to automatically turn your lights on and off indoors and outdoors. DIY $5-30

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Energy Savings Calculator

Now that you know your options, see how much you can save by taking these energy saving actions around your home.

Input Your Actions

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Savings – kWh/mo

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tons GHG/yr

Turn up the thermostat to 78°F

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Install a smart Thermostat

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Install attic insulation

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Turn off fans

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Lower water heater temp 10 degrees F

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Do laundry in cold water (wkly)

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Hang dry laundry (wkly)

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Use smart plugs for electronics

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Reduce pool pump run time

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Install LED lightbulbs

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Unplug unused freezer

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One year of the energy conservation actions above would prevent (X) tons of GHG emissions, the equivalent of:

0 acres of forests growing for one year

0 tree seedlings grown for 10 years

0 miles driven in a gas-powered car (22.5mpg)

Get Involved

Energy Upgrade Classes

This free online class will teach you cost-saving energy and water conservation strategies. Participants receive a free Do-It-Yourself Energy Saving Kit (one per household) with ENERGY STAR LED light bulbs, WaterSense faucet aerators, a smart power strip, weatherizing materials, outlet insulating gaskets, and other useful goodies. You’ll also learn low and no-cost tips that, combined with the kits, can reduce your household energy costs as much as $560 per year. Take the pre-recorded class at your own pace. Or register for a live class.

Energy Coach Volunteer Opportunities

Sarasota County “Energy Coach” Volunteers share their knowledge and passion for smart energy use by providing consultations with community members, performing assessments and installations, and participating in community events. The training for Energy Coaches includes low- and no-cost energy upgrade options, energy equity, and introductory courses in solar energy and green building. To learn more and inquire about training dates, email SustainableSarasota@scgov.net or 941-861-9900.

Visit the Florida House

The Florida House is a water-and-energy conserving demonstration house in Sarasota, Florida that showcases energy efficient technologies from high performance, all LED lighting, foam insulation and solar panels that power everything from the AC to the water heater. Location: 4454 South Beneva Road.

Take a Class, Volunteer, Attend an Event, Speak Up

Find out what’s happening and join in with our comprehensive community events listing.

Get Involved

Resources and More

Want to Talk to Someone?

Incentives & Rebates

Local, state, federal, and utility rebates and incentives may be available to help pay for some home energy improvements.

Financial Assistance and Financing

  • The Weatherization Assistance Program provides free energy assessments and retrofits valued up to $5,000 to residents facing financial hardship (less than 200 percent of poverty level). Funds are limited. For more information, contact Step Up Suncoast at 941-827-2887, ext. 7806.
  • The Office of Housing and Community Development currently offers an owner-occupied rehabilitation program for residents with financial hardship within Sarasota County, the City of Sarasota, and the City of North Port. The maximum assistance provided is $60,000 in the form of a zero percent interest loan that is deferred as long as the home is owner-occupied.
  • The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides federal money to the Salvation Army to make a payment directly to FPL on the customer’s behalf. Households with a minimum gross income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level may apply up to three times per year for assistance.
  • Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) is a non-profit Community Development Financial Institution that offers loans for home improvements such as high-efficiency A/C, hot water heaters, roofing, and weatherization and insulation.

FAQ

What’s the difference between ENERGY STAR and Energy Guide

Both the ENERGY STAR and the EnergyGuide labels are intended to help you make smart energy choices when shopping for new appliances and electronics. The blue ENERGY STAR label will help you easily identify which products meet strict guidelines for energy savings set by the EPA. The yellow and black EnergyGuide can be used to directly compare your top choices and give you an estimate of the energy use and operating cost.

Learn More

If I turn off my water heater to save energy, won’t I end up using more energy to reheat the water?

Although you will use some energy to reheat water after your heater has been turned off, it will still be less energy overall compared to having your heater on all hours of everyday. Modern water heater tanks are insulated, so all you really need is to turn it on an hour or two before you plan to use the shower. Dishwashers don’t rely on hot water from your tank, they heat the water themselves.

Learn More

What can I do to avoid wasting energy when I’m on vacation or when I close up the house for the season?
  • If you are not going to be home for a while, turn your AC up to 82 degrees or higher in the summer and 65 degrees or lower in the winter. If you can program your thermostat, set it to 72 degrees for two hours every morning before the sun’s up and at 88 degrees the rest of the day to prevent mold.
  • For even more savings, use portable dehumidifiers (1 for every 1000 sq. ft.) instead of the AC. You can set them at 58% by sinks and showers, but make sure to have them in a place where the water can drain.
  • Turn off and/or unplug all of the systems and electronics you will not need like your water heater, TV, internet, toaster, microwave, etc.
  • Set your pool pump to run no more than six hours a day.
  • If your fridge/freezer is empty, turn it off (including the ice maker), clean it, and prop the doors open. If you want to leave it on, turn it to the warmest setting.

Learn More

Ask the Expert

Submit your energy-related question to local sustainability experts. If selected, they will answer and feature your question on our FAQ. Not all questions will be answered.

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