When it comes to energy efficiency, it’s common for homeowners to focus first on the inside of the home, since the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, large appliances, and entertainment systems tend to suck up so much energy. But while you’re re-caulking those windows in the kitchen to prevent air from leaking, take a look outside. From lighting to landscaping, you’ll find many great ways to save energy around the exterior of your home.

Light the Way.

Since outdoor lights often are left on for longer periods of time than indoor lights, replacing old, inefficient bulbs and fixtures can be the start of big savings. If you replace 15 old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or the newer LED bulbs, you’ll save about $50 a year. And since LED bulbs last longer than old incandescent bulbs, those savings will accumulate year over year.

For flower beds, walkways, patios, and decks, solar lighting may be a good option. The solar cells convert sunlight to electricity so the lights have power when the sun goes down. There are ENERGY STAR-rated outdoor lighting fixtures that shut off automatically during the day, or operate via motion sensors – both good ways to pull the shades on high utility bills.

Power Down the Pool.

If your pool pump is working overtime, your electric bills are going up. Here are three easy tips keep your pool clear and energy costs down.

  • Determine the smallest size pump that will be effective for your pool. Then, “look at the stars.” A 5-star-rated energy-efficient pool pump is a good starting point, but an 8-star-rated pump can use up to four times less electricity than one with 2 stars – saving you about $260 a year.
  • Buy a timer for your pool pump to restrict the time it runs every day, and then run it at the lowest speed that will still clean the pool.
  • Use your human powers to cut power! Grab a skimmer to lift out obvious leaves and debris, clean out the baskets and filters, and make sure the intake grates are free of obstruction. The more help you give your pool pump, the more efficient it will be.

And with Direct Your Energy, you can see an estimate of how much your pool pump is consuming and costing you. Just log into Direct Energy Online Account Manager, click the “Direct Your Energy” link, and the Itemized Usage page delivers usage information for a range of appliances. And if you don’t see any pool pump data on that page, simply update your Home Profile and you’ll see information appear by your next billing cycle.

Time to Entertain!

Outdoor living can be an (almost) year-round activity in Texas, and outdoor kitchens make the party even better. Be careful that an elaborate cooking station doesn’t overheat your budget.

  • Take an honest look at how much you cook at each event and get the right size grill for your needs. Accessories like rotisseries and pizza ovens are fun to have, but can fire up your energy use as well.
  • Figure out the right temperature and timing for cooking just-right chicken and burgers with the hood down. By keeping the heat contained, your food will be juicier, and your energy consumption will be lower.
  • Another way to save when entertaining outdoors is to use “real” plates, napkins glasses instead of disposables. By having options you can wash and use again and again, you’ll reduce waste and save money.

Several retailers now offer durable plastic picnic settings that are sturdy enough for a plate-load of barbecue and potato salad, but can still be thrown in the dishwasher for the next party. Just Google “reusable picnic ware” and take your pick!

A “Greener” Green Thumb

Tired of the lawn mower? So is your energy bill. Mowers, weed-eaters, and leaf blowers are not only loud, but the energy they use can be saved with just a few smart gardening moves.

  • Go “vintage” and get yourself some good hand tools — like clippers, rakes and push mowers – to save money and burn calories.
  • Look at your lawn and see where you might replace the grass with gardens. A layer of mulch and woodchips in the flower beds help retain water, and by using plants native to your region of Texas, your garden will attract butterflies, birds, and bees.
  • Don’t know what your native plants might be? Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center website (https://www.wildflower.org) for information on grass, trees, plants, and flowers that will thrive in your area.