13 home improvement ideas, from lightbulbs to insulation, to make your house work smarter


A budget of $300 can get big results

1. Replace incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs)
What it costs: $1-$20 each (quantity discounts available)
Why do it: CFLs use 70% less energy

2. Install an Energy Star-rated programmable thermostat
What it costs: $29-$100
Why do it: Save up to 15% on heating and cooling bills

3. Employ “smart” power strips that use motion or power sensors
What it costs: $35-$50 each
Why do it: “Idle current” can account for 1%-2% of energy bills

4. Clean or replace furnace and air-conditioning filters
What it costs: $2-$20 each
Why do it: Clean filters can reduce heating/cooling costs by 1%-2%

5. Caulk and seal walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, and ductwork
What it costs: $10-$40 for caulking, weather-stripping, or mastic
Why do it: Eliminating drafts can save 5%-30% on heating costs

6. Insulate older water heaters and pipes
What it costs: $30-$45 for thermal blanket, pipe insulation, and tape
Why do it: Preventing heat loss can save 4%-9% on water-heating costs

7. Audit your home energy use with a DIY guide ( energystar.gov or hes.lbl.gov)
What it costs: $0
Why do it: Following the suggestions can cut your energy bill by 20%

Add it all up: Total $300

20 CFLs, $70
1 programmable thermostat, $35
2 “smart” power strips, $80
4 furnace/AC filters, $40
Caulking and weather-stripping supplies, $30
Water heater thermal blanket and pipe-insulating supplies, $45

The benefit

These easy changes could save you as much as 15% of your total annual energy bill ― up to $450 per year for a family that spends $3,000 on gas and electric.


• Replaced 1 incandescent lightbulb with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), we’d save 2 million pounds of CO2 per day

• Reduced their driving by 1 mile every day, we’d save 4.8 million pounds of CO2 per day

• Washed their clothes in cold water, we’d save 2.4 billion pounds of CO2 per year

• Line-dried 1 load of laundry once a week, we’d save 836 million pounds of CO2 per year

• Turned down the thermostat 2° (to 68°) in winter and up 2° (to 78°) in summer, we’d save 26 million pounds of CO2 per day

• Unplugged their electronics when not in use, we’d save at least 13 million pounds of CO2 per day

We’d save 20 billion pounds of CO2 per year, the equivalent of 2 million fewer cars on the road for 1 year.

Based on 4.8 million Sunset readers


Ready to take it up a notch? Consider these options as well

1. Contact a professional to arrange a detailed energy audit
What it costs: $200-$325 ($0 if your utility company offers one)
Why do it: Pros can spot waste and suggest cost-effective changes

2. Install a whole-house fan to lighten load on air-conditioning systems
What it costs: $180-$230 (not including installation)
Why do it: Fans can reduce cooling costs by up to 5%

3. Add insulation to your attic
What it costs: 50 cents-$1 per sq. ft. (not including installation)
Why do it: Properly insulated homes use 30%-50% less energy

4. Replace your old refrigerator with an Energy Star-rated refrigerator
What it costs: $500-$7,300
Why do it: Today’s refrigerators use half the energy of 1992 models

5. Install Energy Star-rated windows
What it costs: $150-$600 per standard window (not including installation)
Why do it: Energy Star windows save up to 15% on heating/cooling costs

6. Put in an Energy Star-rated tankless water heater
What it costs: $700-$1,200 (not including installation)
Why do it: Tankless water heaters can be 8%-34% more efficient

Add it all up: Total $4,600*
*Not including installation 

Above improvements, $300
Home energy audit, $300
Whole-house fan, $200*
Attic insulation, $900*
Refrigerator, $500
10 windows, $1,500*
Water heater, $900*

The benefit

Make these changes and you could save 30% or more – at least $1,000 for a family spending $3,000 annually.

Savings are based on a 40-year-old, 1,800-square-foot, one-story home in Sacramento.


For more information

Arizona Public Service

California Energy Commission

California Energy Commission Consumer Energy Center

Energy Star

Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury

National Association of Home Builders

Nevada Power

Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Rocky Mountain Power

Sierra Pacific Power

U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Xcel Energy

For products and services

American Filtration



The Home Depot

Home Energy Tune-Up


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