5 Common Ways We Waste Energy in Our Homes

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Avoiding energy waste and increasing efficiency can make a significant impact when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint at home.

Do you think about your household carbon footprint? “Turn off the lights when you leave the room!” and “Close the door behind you!” are phrases we’ve likely heard growing up from an adult in our lives. But did these actions really avoid wasted energy? They sure did! Our parents and grandparents were onto something, beyond saving money on their electricity bill.

How does saving energy help us do our part for climate change?

As we now know, wasting energy and climate change are linked because greenhouse gas emissions from energy use are raising the average global temperature. The good news is that small steps we take at home to reduce energy use – including turning lights off – really do help shrink our household carbon footprint.

5 examples of energy waste at home

Understanding these five common ways we waste energy at home can help us determine how to make our homes more energy efficient.

1. Drafty doors, windows and attics

Exterior doors contribute to energy waste because they leak air, even when closed. In addition to helping serve as an efficient heating and cooling system, a good outside door can reduce energy  and help prevent heat loss in a house. Insulated steel and fibreglass doors are more energy efficient than those made of wood, and a new door generally will fit better in its frame, allowing less air out than an old one. Even replacing old, worn weatherstripping can reduce leaks.

Windows are another energy-loss culprit. The heat gain and loss through windows is responsible for 25 to 30 percent of heating and air conditioning energy use in our homes. (Not to mention, it’s uncomfortable to be near a drafty, chilly window!) Old windows can be replaced with energy-efficient ones, and any leaky spots around the sills can be caulked up. Windows in good condition can be enhanced with weatherstripping, storm windows, solar control film and exterior window coverings such as awnings or exterior blinds. 

Last but not least, attics are a common source of energy loss, whether due to poor (or no) insulation or air leaks. They’re also the easiest place to add higher insulation R-value to improve your comfort and the energy efficiency of your home, according to Energy Star.

How do you check for drafts in your house?

To quickly identify areas of air leaks and heat loss in their homes, homeowners can check for drafts in their homes by performing a simple DIY test using incense or a smoke pencil to detect areas where air is leaking through gaps and cracks. For more accurate results homeowners can benefit from a professional home energy audit. During a home energy audit, a professional auditor will use a variety of techniques and tools to assess the energy performance of the home, including a blower door test. 

In addition to a home energy audit, some cities and energy companies offer homeowners access to an aerial infrared heat loss map. This powerful tool can help homeowners identify areas of heat loss and air infiltration in their homes, providing valuable insights into where to focus their energy efficiency efforts. By utilizing an infrared heat loss map, homeowners can improve the energy efficiency and comfort of their homes while also reducing their carbon footprint.

Older homes with wood frame doors are prime targets for energy retrofits
Older doors, including wood frame doors, can leak more air than newer doors made of different materials

2. Inefficient light bulbs

Today we can take energy conservation further than just switching off the light. The type of bulb matters, too. Using incandescent bulbs is a common way we waste energy (and money) at home. New LED bulbs, readily in stock at retailers where you buy light bulbs, can use up to 90 percent less energy than the old incandescents, at a significantly lower cost. Plus, the LED bulb’s life span is at least 15 times longer.

Replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have an Energy Star rating means a savings of $75 each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy efficient lighting not only costs less, it reduces your carbon footprint, too.

How can you increase lighting efficiency at home?

There are several ways to increase lighting efficiency at home, starting with switching to more efficient light bulbs which are readily available at most retailers where light bulbs are sold. Installing dimmer switches or motion sensors can also help reduce energy usage by ensuring that lights are only on when they’re needed. Additionally, arranging furniture and décor to take advantage of natural light can reduce the need for artificial lighting during the day.

A woman replacing an incandescent bulb with an efficient LED lightbulb
Switching out inefficient bulbs for new LED bulbs is an easy energy-saving tip

3. Old appliances

Inefficient old appliances can be a real energy drain. But refrigerators and washing machines in particular have come a long way over the past 20 years when it comes to efficiency. Today’s washing machines, for example, use up to 25 percent less energy and up to 75 percent less water than the older top-loading versions from a couple of decades ago. 

Cold drinks, snacks, dinner prep: We visit our fridge more than any appliance, and it’s always running. Unlike old models, new fridges have high-efficiency compressors that create less heat (thus gobbling less energy). They also have improved insulation to help food stay cold, and better temperature and defrost systems than refrigerators of the past. (Find appliance ratings and other shopping tips in this Government of Canada guide.)

How can we reduce energy consumption of appliances?

Upgrading to energy-efficient appliances can save you money in the long run and reduce your carbon footprint. In New York, energy service providers offer rebates for home energy-efficient appliances, so it’s worth checking with your energy company before making a purchase to see if you qualify for any New York energy rebates or incentives. By taking advantage of these programs, homeowners can offset the cost of upgrading to energy-efficient appliances and make a cost-effective choice that improves their home’s energy performance.

4. Unused chargers and gadgets

Most homes are full of devices, phone chargers and small appliances that usually aren’t in use. It seems small, but the extra step of unplugging your unused chargers and gadgets does actually help reduce your carbon footprint.  

A corded device drawing power while plugged in is called an energy vampire, and it actually accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the total electricity use in residential homes. Some common examples of “vampires” include TVs, video game consoles, and small appliances with a digital clock, like coffee makers. 

Vampire energy creates a surprising one percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. And as we know, CO2 emissions are one of the major contributors to climate change.

How can you stop vampire electricity?

Turning off and unplugging devices that are not in use is an easy solution. Alternatively, putting them on an inexpensive power bar and switching it off when not in use will also do the trick. Or look for a smart power bar that will do the work for you by monitoring energy usage or integrating with other home automation systems.

A person removes a device from a power strip to avoid energy waste from vampire devices
Unplug unused devices or look for a ‘smart’ power bar to automatically manage devices

5. Hot water

Unless removing an oily stain is the issue (hot water does that best), warm- or cold-water wash cycles for your laundry are a great way to save on energy use at home. Why? Because heating up water can account for about 90 percent of the energy it takes to operate our washing machines.

How can you reduce hot water use at home?

Switching to warm water can cut that energy use by half. And cold cycles, which also do a good job of cleaning, are the most efficient choice.

After washing machines, the shower is the next place we use the most hot water at home. Shorter showers are an obvious and easy way to reduce hot water use, as is installing low-flow shower heads. They’re affordable and can achieve up to 60 percent in water savings.

Lastly, hot water tanks or tankless heaters waste energy when they’re set too high. There’s no need to go higher than 49°C (120°F), the temperature the Government of Canada recommends to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Low-flow shower heads are a great way to save on water

Easy ways to save on energy and identify heat loss in your home

The great news about the common ways we waste energy is that, for the large part, the fixes are easy. A shift in habits, like switching to cold-water clothing washes and unplugging devices we’re not even using, can add up to energy savings. And others, like adding attic insulation and replacing old appliances with energy efficient ones, are an investment that will pay dividends to our pockets and the planet.

MyHEAT works with your local energy companies to map wasted energy in the form of heat loss maps at city-scale, but mapping individual houses using high-resolution thermal infrared imagery. These maps and home energy reports are delivered to people like you to help identify easy ways to reduce wasted energy, improve the comfort of your home and save money on your energy bill – that’s a win, win, win!

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