Thinking about making some changes to increase your energy savings around the house? Adding insulation, plant shade trees, replacing old energy-sucking appliances or installing storm can all be wonderful energy savers. But these options are time-consuming and potentially costly. While you’re contemplating major modifications, try these simple tips in the meantime. These tips are simple to do and inexpensive — or even free. And best of all they can make a significant dent in your energy usage.

1. Embrace Better Bulbs

Do you still have standard incandescent bulbs in your light fixtures and lamps? They’re cheap, but they’re not energy efficient. They’re also becoming less available and will be off the market completely by 2020.

Compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, have been the typical replacement for incandescent bulbs. These bulbs cost a little bit more but last a lot longer. Best of all, they draw 70 percent less energy. However, CFLs do take a while to reach full brightness. Also, mercury, a health and environmental hazard, is a component used in CFLs. 

An alternative is light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. They contain no mercury and produce full light instantly. Prices have dropped dramatically since their introduction, making them a practical and safe energy-saving method.

2. Temper the Temperature

When you face temperature extremes, stay comfortable… but try not to crank the thermostat to extremes. A simple ceiling fan can help you feel significantly cooler in hot weather. When it spins counter-clockwise, a fan forces hot air up. Reverse the spin when the furnace is on to push warm air away from the ceiling and back into the living space.

Keeping your thermostat a little higher in the summer and a little lower in the winter also brings energy savings. Simplify the process year round by using a programmable thermostat.

Seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit is a good hot weather setting. You use up to 5 percent more energy for each degree lower. When cold weather rolls around, drop the thermostat to 68 degrees. Every degree higher boosts energy use 3 to 5 percent. When running the furnace or air conditioner, make sure all the windows and doors are shut. Why heat or cool the outdoors?

3. Watch the Water

Keep an eye on water usage, especially the hot water. Most people do just fine if their household water heater is set at 120 degrees. If yours is higher, turn it down and you’ll save energy. You get bonuses, too. The mineral buildup in the water heater and its pipes will be more gradual. It’s also safer: though some manufacturers recommend 140 degrees for their heaters, that’s high enough to scald.

You may be tempted to wash clothes in hot water to get them really clean, but most modern detergents do just fine in cold water. This is a huge energy savings. When you use a high temp, only 10 percent of a clothes washer’s energy usage is devoted to spinning and agitation. The rest goes to heating the water.

When you absolutely need hot water, try using less. Move a little more quickly in the shower, and you’ll save both water and the energy needed to heat it. Make sure your dishwasher is full before you run it. The appliance uses the same amount of hot water no matter how many dishes are in it. Might was well add that last cup.

4. Pull the Plug

Though it’s convenient to keep small appliances and electronics plugged in all the time, many need energy even when they’re turned off. Individually, the machines don’t use a lot at rest. If you have a microwave, stereo, DVD player, computer, television and more hooked up continually, though, energy consumption adds up. If you find it bothersome to deal with plugs several times a day, use surge suppressors. It’s fast and easy to flip a switch on and off when needed.

5. Cook Quick

The microwave is a great device because it speeds up cooking times. That saves more than minutes. Microwaves also use less energy than conventional ovens: up to 75 percent less. Toaster ovens and slow cookers provide similar savings. If you need your standard oven, you might not have to preheat it. Though baked goods typically need a steady temperature, most other dishes can go in as soon as you switch on the oven.

6. Deal With the Door

Replace your old garage door with a new energy efficient model. Both the window glass and the door itself — made from steel, composite polymer or fiberglass — are insulated. This reduces heat transfer during any season, keeping warmth in during the winter and heat out in the summer. New doors also function better, requiring less maintenance. Consider a more efficient door if yours is at least 10 years old and isn’t well insulated.

Reducing your energy use is an environmentally sound and socially responsible practice. You’re rewarded for your efforts, too. Cutting back lowers your utility bills. You’ve gifted both the planet and yourself.