In that spirit, here are five ways to make your home more energy efficient. All of them can be completed in less than 15 minutes. These tasks are strategic and touch upon the most effective things you can do to reduce your energy consumption and limit carbon dioxide emissions (I'll talk more about this in my next post). The timing doesn't include buying the items—all of which should be readily available at your local hardware store (I challenge you to best me: Skip the megastore and seek out your local, independent hardware shop).

Stuff to Buy:
  • Draft doorstop. Mine was overpriced at $15. If you are crafty, chuck my timing and make your own draft stop.
  • Tape measure (about $4) and scissors (about $2).
  • Hot water insulation blanket (and a knife with which to trim the blanket). Mine cost $20. Look for the blanket with the highest R-value.
  • Duct tape (about $6).
  • LED or compact florescent lightbulbs (a six-pack of CFLs cost me $10 on sale). LEDs are pricey but can last up to a decade and provide the greatest energy efficiency. If you are going with CFLs (which can fit into most standard outlets), opt for the soft white hue, that is, unless you like the high school cafeteria cast of bright white fluorescents.

Stuff to Do:

1) Start the clock.

2) Make sealing all air leaks a priority. Doors and windows are two big areas to tackle. In the interest of time, I started with a draft stop for my front door. It took two minutes to measure the width of my door, trim the foam and slide the stopper underneath the door. I spent an extra 30 seconds reveling in the newfound warmth around the door.

3) Locate your hot water heater and then find the temperature dial on your unit. For each 10° reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3 and 5 percent in energy costs, so turn that sucker down to 120°.

4) Unfurl your hot water heater insulation blanket. If it's lined with fiberglass, be careful and avoid skin contact. (I hate fiberglass. That is why I put people-friendly and eco-friendly cellulose insulation in my attic.) If you have a friend nearby, ask her to help you position and tape the blanket around the heater. Make sure the blanket is nice and snug and cut around any faucets, controls, vents and pipes. Adding insulation won't win your hot water heater any beauty contests but it can reduce heat loss by 25 to 45 percent and will save you around 4 to 9 percent in water heating costs. That's pretty.

5) The clock is ticking! Grab a chair or stepladder and change any incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs. I know you have heard it (and I have said it) a million times, so do it already. Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of an average home's electricity bill. This will save you money and time changing bulbs.

6) In the remaining seconds you have left, turn down your thermostat. You will save roughly 1 percent on your heating bill for each degree your thermostat is lowered. Your best bet is to install a programmable thermostat that will do the work for you, but that doesn't fit in our 15-minute challenge.

Congrats! These small changes are the first steps to a cleaner, greener life. Amid whatever life stuff you have going on, know that strategic small acts can reap great results, whether it's changing a lightbulb or, like Eric, being there for a friend in a time of need.

Embracing the micro-movements—and feeling gratitude for shelter and support in this new year,


P.S. I am not the world's greatest tweeter, but I do drop whatever house gems I find on Twitter @simransethi.

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Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit


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