You can save money by reducing the amount of energy your family uses. It will require changing both your habits and your house. But with government incentives for greening your home, now is a great time to do it.
By Dan Tynan
Nearly half of the typical utility bill pays for heating and cooling. Another 15 percent goes toward heating water. A few quick tricks can save some bucks. Sealing your home costs more but offers bigger long-term savings.
Play the numbers. In summer set the air conditioner no lower than 78 degrees. In winter keep the heat no higher than 68 and crank it down 10 degrees when you hit the hay. Those moves can shave 10 percent or more off your annual tab, according to the DOE. To distribute air more efficiently, use ceiling fans to drive heat down in winter and pull cool air up in summer, and replace your HVAC air filters monthly.
Buy a smarter thermostat. For just $100 to $200, a programmable thermostat can crank down the HVAC while you're away, then turn it back on to the "Comfort" temp an hour before you come home. Kweller says a smart thermostat can pay for itself in a year or less.
Watch your water. The DOE recommends lowering water heater thermostats to 120 degrees, wrapping the tank in an insulating blanket (but don't cover the thermostat), and insulating the pipes. Installing low-flow shower heads and faucets can reduce your bill.
Get a pro energy audit. Though you may be able to fill out a questionnaire at your utility's Web site, it's better to arrange for a thorough on-site assessment, says Harberg. Find an auditor certified by the Residential Energy Services Network (natresnet.org). Hiring a company that only does audits can help you avoid getting recommendations for unnecessary improvements from general contractors.
Seal it. Tightening up your house is the biggest single way to save money on heating and air, says Geoff Chapin of home energy efficiency firm Next Step Living (nextsteplivinginc.com). For instance, as part of a standard home audit, Next Step Living specialists caulk around windows, apply weather strips to doorways, close fireplace flues, and fill cracks around pipes with foam. "This alone can save as much energy as closing a 4-by-4-foot window," he says.
Insulate your attic. Only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 are well insulated, according to the DOE, but it's one of the most efficient ways to reduce heating costs, says Ethan Ewing of Bills.com. "Insulating an attic can save from 20 to 25 percent on heating and cooling," he says. "So adding insulation to a 1,000-square-foot attic can save you more than $400 a year." For more information, go to ornl.gov.