Dr. Kate Shoulders of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville said the first step to achieving energy independence is to assess how much energy your home is already using.
By making your home as energy efficient as possible on the front end, Shoulders said you can save a lot of money on the back end since the system you install won’t have to be as big.
“You need to consciously go throughout your house and look at how you’re using energy,” she said.
Here are some things to consider as you begin to make the move toward energy independence:

  • Reduce “phantom power” loads. Even though the picture on your big screen television might be turned off, Shoulders said it’s still using energy because the TV is constantly searching for the remote. That’s a classic example of what Shoulders calls “phantom power,” also called “vampire power” or “standby power.” Phantom power refers to the power that electronic devices continue to use power even though they are turned off. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website state that almost any product with an external power supply, remote control, continuous display (including an LED), or charges batteries will draw power continuously, even when the device itself is turned off. The Discovery Channel once measured how much power a flat screen TV was using while it was turned off. The total came to about $60 per year! Shoulders said one of the best ways to reduce the phantom loads in your home is put devices on a power strip so the power to the device can be completely cut off .
  • Utilize passive solar energy.  “Passive solar” refers to taking advantage of heat from the sun without using any devices. This can be achieved by simply having south-facing windows in your home. As the sun takes a lower trek across the sky during the winter months, that bright sunshine coming through a south-facing window can have the same effect on the inside of your home as it does on the inside of your car during the summer. Since its  not practical to change the orientation of your home, Shoulders said this option is usually for those who are building a home. She said she knows of some people who have placed solar panels over their south-facing windows to serve as a awning during the summer. Since the sun crosses the sky at a higher angle during the summer, the solar panel captures the sunlight and shades the window below to help cool the inside of the house.
  • Insulation and weatherproofing. The “tighter” your house is, the  more energy efficient it will be. Shoulders said this means adding insulation where you can and sealing up any leaks you might find in your home.
  • Be wise with the way you use energy. Simply consider ways to save energy during your regular routine. For example, don’t turn on the oven during the hottest part of the day only to have to crank up the air conditioner to keep the house cool. Instead of putting the clothes in the dryer every time, put them on a clothes line instead.
  • Use solar-powered devices to help cut down on your power use. Shoulders said there are ways you can use solar power around your home without having to invest in a whole-house system. For example, she said installing a solar-powered fan in your attic can removed hot air and make your house to easier to cool. She said some people also use solar-powered water heaters to reduce their power bills.