The hierarchy of energy efficiency

What should you do now? What can you do later?

Why are these things at the top of all the home energy efficiency articles?

· Unplug unused electronics

· Turn off your lights

· Wash clothes in cold water

Do these things deserve to be at the top of your to-do list? Are there better activities you could be doing? How much do these actions actually save you?

Anything you do to manage your house more effectively/efficiently will save you some amount of money. And we’re all about that. The question is: how much? There are low hanging fruit. And then there are the high tier projects. Time is limited — we want you to use it wisely on the projects that matter most.

Let’s tackle how much these always-included activities actually save you. And let’s discover together what things should be your top priorities. And let’s remember first and foremost the wise words enterprising men quote*:

“Do or do not: there is no try.” — Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

What does Yoda have to do with energy efficiency? Keep reading to find out!


The solution most home energy efficiency articles give you for saving money is to just unplug electronics when they’re not in use. We’ll address a few.

First: the biggest plugged in energy users can’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t be unplugged. Like a fridge/freezer or an AC unit. So. What about what’s left?

An article claimed that unplugging your home printer when it’s not in use could save up to $130 per year (about $11 a month). Seems like a lot of money. Where’s it coming from? And is it a reasonable goal?

A printer uses around 3 watts when it’s in Standby Mode. Say we leave it plugged in all day, all year. Assume the cost for electricity is $0.12 per kWh (a good average). It would cost $3.15 to never unplug it. Annually. That’s a monthly savings of $0.26 if you unplug it when it’s not in use. Cool… I guess.

But let’s go crazy. Let’s say your printer is consuming 50W when we leave it plugged in (it isn’t — at most it might consume 5W — but let’s just say it might for the sake of argument). That would be a cost of $52 per year, or $4 a month. Ok. Even if that was what you could save by unplugging it (which is still nowhere near $130), there are still bigger fish to fry.

Now, the printer is probably the biggest “energy hog” sitting around your house. Most other “always on” electronics aren’t even worth calculating energy use for. The majority of devices left plugged in use 1W or less, adding up to a dollar or two spent a year. So, save maybe your coffee pot with its electronic display, or your fancy, flashy toaster, unplugging electronics isn’t saving you that much. Maybe three or four dollars off each month’s utility bill… if you add everything up. Good luck actually unplugging enough things to save this much, though.

The take home? Unplugging electronics that aren’t in use is super easy. It also shouldn’t be your number one priority.



Light bulbs have a tendency to show up in energy efficiency articles (yes, even we’re guilty). Well, let’s talk light bulbs then.

Some articles propose that you just turn lights off more often — whenever a room isn’t occupied. Say you use incandescent 60-Watt bulbs, and they stay on for 12 hours typically. Again, we’re assuming a cost of $0.12 per kWh. This is around a $3 per month cost, or around $30 a year. Per bulb. Now say you turned the lights off more often, and bulbs were only on 6 hours a day. You just saved around $1.50 per month. Multiply by the number of bulbs, and you get your total saved. Decent.

This seems like an easy approach to saving money. If you’re willing to remember to flip the lights off, that is (why is it always so hard?). But, you know what would save you even more? Switching bulbs altogether.

Imagine you switched to CFLs. Now you’ve gone from 60W bulbs to around 14W. The cost for leaving these bad boys on for the same 6 hours is $0.31 per bulb per month. Or, what if you switched to LEDs, which last practically forever and can go as low as 8W (with still amazing luminosity)?

Basically, what we’re saying is, if you’re going to talk light, don’t talk less. Change the bulbs. That’s the bigger fish to fry.

Cold water

A lot of sites recommend washing your clothes in cold water. One site reported that this action could save you $63 a year.

It costs around $200–300 per year to wash your clothes in warm water (working on the assumption that it costs $0.53 per load and you do seven loads in a week). On the other hand, it apparently costs $0.29 to do a load of laundry cold. That creates a savings of around $100 a year, or $8 a month. Washing cold can even be better for some clothing types.

$8 off a utility bill is worth some investment. Especially when it’s as simple as changing the setting on your washer. Just make sure you follow the rules of what to wash cold, and what to wash warm. Don’t go ruining your favorite sweater and then come crying back to us!

Heating and cooling

What if you could save 10% off your heating bill? That’s what some articles claim you can do by adjusting your thermostat. And they promise almost no difference in how your house feels.

You spend about $40 cooling, and $200 heating your home per month (around $3,000 total annually). Now, it’d be hard to calculate exactly what each degree of heating costs. What really matters is your distance from the temperature outside.

In general, think of it this way: for every degree you move closer to the outside temperature, you could save around 3% on your heating and cooling bill. Also, a two-degree difference is negligible regarding the atmosphere. This part of maintaining your home then becomes one of the biggest areas of savings. And, it’s as easy as pushing a button.

This is your number one priority for home efficiency.

… And more

This is the way it always is: there’s always more to cover. But, this is a pretty good start to delving deeper into some always-mentioned efficiency items. At this point, your to-do list should start looking like this:

1) Adjust your thermostat

2) Change your light bulbs

3) Switch to washing with cold water

4) A plethora of other activities

5) Unplugging electronics that aren’t in use

Now you can start investing into better home energy efficiency.

Short version: you better not buy a new power strip for your chargers before you’ve adjusted your thermostat.

So, why the Yoda quote, then?

In the Empire Strikes back, Yoda in all his wisdom tells Luke when he doubts himself that he must “Do or do not: there is no try.” So, what does that even mean? And what does it have to do with you?

The point is, if you go into something half-doubting, not believing it’s even possible, you’re bound to fulfill your own prophecy. Don’t flounder your way half-heartedly through energy efficiency: just do it (to steal another phrase). Go for it 100%.

But, act wisely. Don’t “try” haphazardly; “do” productively. In this case, get your priorities in order, and start taking action.

Now, get out there and be efficient!

*Yes. That was exactly the reference you thought it was.

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