The average household in the United States spends over $2,200 per year on energy bills, nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling, according to Energy Star. The average monthly cost soars above $300 during the winter months.
It’s good to know, then, that there are ways to conserve energy using gadgets that can help cut your energy costs by up to 30 percent. These range in price and purpose, but all will save you in the long run. Because these gadgets have the potential to save households a lot of money, I thought I’d share them here.
1. Thermal Leak Detector
The Black & Decker TLD100 Energy Series Thermal Leak Detector is extremely easy to use and can detect costly sources of leaks and drafts in your home. The TLD100 uses infrared sensors to measure surface temperatures in your home. Simply point the device at an inside wall to set a reference temperature. Then move the leak detector along windows, doors, molding, wall outlets, recessed lights, or anywhere else a draft might exist. When it hits a cold or hot spot, the LED spotlight changes from green to red or blue, identifying a hot or cold leak, respectively.
Potential Savings: Energy Star estimates most homes can save 20 percent on heating and cooling costs by sealing and insulating. This device helps you decide where to seal and insulate your home.
Where to Buy: The Black & Decker TLD100 Energy Series Thermal Leak Detector is available at most big box home improvement stores and can also be purchased from Amazon.
2. Programmable Thermostat
Programmable thermostats let homeowners program temperature settings for different times of the day and, with some models, different days of the week. For example, a programmable thermostat can be set to increase or decrease the temperature setting during the day when the family is at work or school. It can also be used to automatically adjust the temperature at night when everybody is sleeping, and then to reset the temperature a few minutes before reveille.
There are many programmable thermostats available ranging in price from about $50 to well over $300. The Sensi Smart UP500W Programmable WiFi thermostat, pictured, is one of the best in-home temperature controls you can buy. In addition to 7-day programming and vacation mode, the Sensi Smart can be adjusted via the internet. And with the latest model, it is also compatible with Amazon Alexa. So if your plans keep you away from home longer than planned, you can adjust the temperature settings from any internet-capable computer or the Wink app on your phone.
There are less expensive models that perform very well, but without the Internet connectivity option. One of the best programmable thermostats for the money is the Lux Products TX9600TS Universal. It offers 7-day programming, touchscreen, and vacation mode for $50.
Potential Savings: According to Energy Star, a properly programmed thermostat can save a home $180 per year.
Where to Buy: The Sensi Smart programmable thermostat is available through Amazon at a cost of $96. It involves a simple, 15-minute self-installation process, for which they also provide easy-to-follow videos.
3. Power Monitor
This an old saying in the consulting world that if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved. Studies have shown this to be true with energy consumption, too.
According to a study conducted by University of Oxford, direct, immediate energy usage feedback lowers consumption by 5% to 15%. Unfortunately, getting direct, immediate energy consumption feedback is still a bit of a challenge.
The Kill A Watt EZ power monitor is one of several solutions to this problem. It’s easy to use: simply plug in the power monitor into any standard wall outlet, and then plug in the electricity consuming device you want to monitor. A large LCD display will count consumption by the Kilowatt-hour, calculating your cumulative electrical expenses and forecast by the day, week, month, or even an entire year.
Potential Savings: A power monitor can reduce energy consumption by five to 15 percent.
Where to Buy: The Kill-A-Watt EZ is available from Amazon for $19.
4. Smart Thermostat
This is different than the programmable thermostat mentioned above. If you want to take your heating and cooling costs a step further (and potentially save yourself even more money), a smart thermostat might be the answer.
Smart thermostats, like Nest or ecobee, not only allow you to easily monitor, program, and control your home’s settings–they also learn your patterns and make changes for you. If your smart system notices that no one is on one floor of the house from the hours of, say, noon to 4pm, it will adjust the temperature settings during that time to avoid wasting electricity. It also notes when you typically leave and return home. And some systems even work with optional GPS equipment to automatically start heating or cooling your home when you’re en route from the office each evening.
Potential Savings: A smart thermostat can save you between 10 and 12 percent on heating costs and as much as 15 percent on cooling costs.
Where to Buy: The most popular system is Nest, which is controlled by an app that can also manage additional accessories like smoke detectors, in-home cameras, and wifi-enabled deadbolts. A basic thermostat can be purchased on Amazon for $248.
Another popular system is ecobee3, which is also controlled by Amazon Alexa and a smartphone app. It retails for $249 on Amazon.
5. Smart Power Strip
Standby power, or vampire power, is the electricity wasted by the items that we leave plugged in 24/7… even though we only use them a few hours a day. You may think that your turned-off TV can’t possibly be using much (if any) power, but you’d be wrong. In fact, this type of waste amounts to as much as 10 percent of our residential energy usage each year!
One solution to this problem is to use a smart power strip. These types of strips allow you to have one electronic be your “control,” with all others in the power strip as your peripheral. When the control gadget is powered on, all of the other gadgets power on as well; when you turn off the control gadget, though, everything else shuts down.
This is great for places like your entertainment center. You can set your TV as the control, with other electronics like your DVD player or sound system as the peripherals. Turn your TV on, and everything else powers on. Turn the TV off, and everything else accompanying it turns off, too.
Since the smart strip functions as a switch, there isn’t any standby power being drained, either.
Potential Savings: You can save as much as 10 percent on your residential costs each year by adding plugged-in items to a smart power strip.
Where to Buy: You can buy a strip like the TrickleStar 7 Outlet Advanced through Amazon for only $11.
6. Timer Outlets
Another easy solution for avoiding wasted energy from appliances is with a timer outlet. These little gadgets plug into your wall outlet, and you then plug your appliances into them. You can set the timer to shut down the appliance at a certain time (or after a period of time), in order to conserve energy.
This is a great gizmo to have if you have electronics like air purifiers, fans, etc. that you use. You may want to leave those sorts of items on for a period of time after you leave the house, but not have them running all the way until you get home. Or you could use the timer to manage outdoor lights (and even Christmas lights), so that they turn off after a number of hours. In that case, just use a timer outlet to shut the electronic down and reduce energy consumption.
Potential Savings: Depending on how many items you use, you could save anywhere from two to 10 percent of your residential usage.
Where to Buy: One highly-rated outlet option is the Nearpow Programmable 3-Prong Outlet, which is available on Amazon for $14.
7. Rechargeable Batteries
If you use batteries in the home (parents, I’m talking to you), you know how quickly battery costs can add up. They’re everywhere–remotes, Swiffer mops, and (seemingly) every toy your kids own–so it’s no surprise that the average home throws away between 100-120 batteries a year. Depending on the type and the brand, that can add up to quite a bit of money.
Rechargeable batteries require an initial investment, but will save you money in the long run. They are made better than ever. And new chargers, like the La Crosse BC1000, even discharge batteries of any remaining power before recharging them. (This keeps them from getting weaker after a number of charging cycles.)
Potential Savings: If you go through 120 AAs a year and buy as you go, you could easily save over $100 a year by using rechargeable batteries. Just keep in mind that the first year will probably be a wash, as you need to invest in the new batteries and charger first.
Where to Buy: One of the more recommended battery brands is the Panasonic eneloop, which comes in a pack of 8 for $20 on Amazon. A great charger is the La Crosse BC1000, which charges both AA and AAA batteries (at the same time) and ensures that they are properly discharged prior to recharging. It can also be found on Amazon, selling for $60.
8. High-Efficiency Shower Head
This suggestion is a double whammy: it will not only save your water bill–reducing the amount of water that you use (and often waste) for showers–it’ll also save you on your electric bill.
The average American can reduce their water usage by as much as 15,000 gallons each year simply by switching to water-saving shower heads. With the average municipal water cost being around $0.005 per gallon, that’s $75 a year saved. Add to that the amount of electricity saved by not needing to run an additional 15,000 gallons through your hot water heater (about $307 if you’re paying $0.12/kWh), and you’re talking about a lot of money saved over time, for a very small investment.
Potential Savings: You could see $75 in water bill savings and over $300 in water heater energy savings, annually.
Where to Buy: The Niagara Earth Massage Low-Flow Shower Head comes in either chrome or white and is available on Amazon for only $8.
9. Space Heater
When the cold weather hits, it’s easy to crank up the thermostat in order to get cozy. However, this is an even easier way to find yourself opening a massive electric bill at the end of the month. The solution? An energy efficient space heater.
If you have a large home, high ceilings, or a small family, it doesn’t make sense to run the heating system nonstop throughout the winter, especially if you’re only enjoying one area of the house at a time. In addition to common sense shortcuts (wearing socks and hoodies, lighting a fire in the hearth, etc), a space heater is a great way to warm the area where you are without needlessly pumping heat into the rest of the house.
Potential Savings: About $2 to $3 a day, if you use a space heater to warm your room rather than running central heat. Obviously, this varies widely based on your home.
Where to Buy: The Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater runs $25 on Amazon, and is easily enough to warm a bedroom or modest family room.
10. Outdoor Solar Lights
Outdoor lighting is ambient as much as it is for security. Whether you use it to feel safe or light up the front walkway, solar lighting can be a great way to save money.
Potential Savings: Of course, this depends on the types of lighting used and the number of lights installed. I have eight lights on my back deck and, between spotlighting and walkway lighting, another 10 out front. Based on what I pay per kWh, it would cost me about $0.82 a month to run each of these low-voltage lights if they’re on all night, every night. That’s $184 a year, which I could easily save if I replaced them all with easy, solar lights.
Where to Buy: You can find all sorts of outdoor solar lighting options on Amazon, sure to meet your needs. For example, this 12-pack of iHomy stainless steel solar pathway lights is only $24.
11. Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs
Switching out any existing, incandescent bulbs in your home for CFL ones can save quite a bit in electricity over the years. For example, a basic 60-watt bulb can easily be swapped out for a 13-watt CFL bulb that puts out the same amount of light. However, it uses significantly less electricity.
Potential Savings: Depending on your electricity rate and the cost of the replacement bulbs, your ROI will vary. However, over the life of the bulb in the example above, you’ll save over $57 in energy costs alone.
Where to Buy: You can find CFL bulbs everywhere now–grocery stores, home improvement stores, and even online (such as this 10-pack on Amazon for only $20).
These last two suggestions aren’t necessarily “gadgets,” but they can save you hundreds–and even thousands–of dollars in electrical expenses for your home. They are more of an investment than LED light bulbs, but the savings are exponentially greater… which is why I felt they still warranted mentioning.
12. Home Solar Panels
If you looked into solar panels when they first gained popularity many years ago, you were likely scared off by the sticker price. Luckily, the cost of panels has dropped more than seven-fold in recent years, making them more affordable than ever for the average home.
Potential Savings: The savings depend largely on your current electricity prices, the size of your roof, and the area in which you live (how much sunlight your state gets). However, the 20-year savings can be as great as $64,000 (Hawaii), though the average is between $20,000 (Texas) and $34,000 (California). Don’t forget that you’ll also add value to your home in the process, and through 2019, the government is offering a 30% federal tax credit on a new system (more info here).
13. Insulate Your Attic
Adding (or just boosting) insulation to your attic is one way to save substantially on both heating and cooling costs. It is an up-front investment–which varies depending on whether you install it yourself or hire a professional (recommended)–but will save you hundreds of dollars a year for years to come.
Potential Savings: Simply boosting your existing insulation from R-11 to R-49 can result in savings of about $600 per year, every single year, on both cooling and heating costs.
Where to Buy: If DIYing, you can order insulation online or buy at your local home improvement store. If hiring out, get reviews on local contractors and request multiple quotes to find the best price for the best work.
If you know of other great energy saving gadgets, please tell us about them in a comment below.