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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 15, 2014

6 Ways To Cut Home Energy Costs

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By Melissa King, Contributor

ClarkHoward.com

Utility bills can make up a significant portion of a family’s monthly budget. With a little planning, research, and work, you can cut your home's energy consumption by a substantial amount. With Earth Day next week, here are 6 ways to get the job done.

Improve your HVAC's Efficiency

HVAC systems account for half or more of your utility bills. There are several steps you can take to improve the efficiency of your home's system. They include replacing filters regularly and keeping thermostats set at a constant level.

You'll also want to make sure all windows and doors fit correctly, are properly installed, and sealed to reduce air leakage to the outside. The goal is to keep heated air inside in the winter, and air conditioned air inside your home during the summer. Which brings me to my next point…

Check Your Insulation

This helps by reducing loss of heated/cooled air and reduces strain on your system. There are several options for upgrading insulation in existing structures. You can either pay a professional to do blown-in insulation or do it yourself. But be sure to wear proper gloves and a mask if you do the latter.

Team Clark stafff member Joel Larsgaard recently did it himself at his new house. He got free rental of an insulation blower with the purchase of 20 bags of insulation ($11 a bag) at a local big-box home improvement store. Then he grabbed a friend to help him.

Joel got a reimbursement from his local power company. So they covered half of his $274 total bill for the job! Visit DSIREUSA.org (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) to see similar incentives that may be available where you live.

Know Your Appliances and Their Use Patterns

Energy used by major appliances also makes up a large portion of the monthly energy bills. When you replace your older appliances, consider upgrading to high efficiency models. The initial extra expense will be offset over time by the reduced energy costs.

Timing the use of your appliances can also be a factor. Try to do laundry either in the early morning or at night. These hours are considered ‘off peak’ hours and power is actually less expensive at these times.

Some usage patterns are easier to control than others. For example, you should allow adequate space for the cool air to circulate around food in both your refrigerator and freezer. That's easy to do.

Finally, consider using the microwave oven instead of conventional oven or stovetop when cooking or reheating your food.

Upgrade Your Lighting

Traditional incandescent light bulbs are horribly inefficient. Ninety percent of the energy used by them is wasted as heat. Incandescent light bulbs are currently being phased out in favor of compact fluorescent and eventually, LED bulbs.

Once again, the initial cost of upgrading can be expensive, but the expense is offset by lower operating costs.

The differences in efficiency between incandescent and CFL/LED bulbs is significant. LED lightbulbs also last considerably longer, so you save money by not replacing burned out bulbs as often.


Inspect Your Plumbing

Make sure there are no leaking faucets or toilets. Consider upgrading to low flow high efficiency toilets and shower fixtures.

Low flow toilets, which use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush, have been required by law in new residential buildings since 1994. Most of the problems with the early models concerning inefficient waste removal have been corrected through design changes and pressurization. Many cities and municipalities offer rebates, financial assistance, and even free toilet replacement programs.

Consumer Reports
gave its vaunted "Best Buy" checkmark to two toilets that both sell for about $100—the single-flush Aquasource AT1203-00 (available at Lowe's) and the Glacier Bay Dual Flush N2316 (available at Home Depot.)


Consider a Professional Energy Audit

Consult your local utility provider for assistance locating an auditor in your area. In many cases, the utility company will provide an in-home audit for free or at a reduced cost. They may also offer discounts, rebates, or other incentives to assist with upgrades.


And Don't Forget Safety!

Always make safety your first concern when undertaking home improvement projects. Use appropriate protective equipment and make sure all installations are done correctly to avoid potentially hazardous malfunctions. Take your time and work neatly and orderly, following all manufacturers safety guidelines. Use only reputable licensed contractors when having work done.

What are some ways you have cut energy costs at your home?

Melissa King, a Savings.com DealPro, lives in Savannah, GA. She enjoys "Paying It Forward"  in her community. Check her out on her blog at ThisMommySavesMoney.com.

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