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Tip 3: Take Control

Lowering the thermostat is one sure way to reduce heating costs. On average, you can expect to save about 2% of the energy you use to heat (or cool) your home for every degree you lower (or raise) the temperature setting. Use a programmable thermostat and set it to lower the temperature 10°F when you're sleeping or away from home—or if there's no danger of pipes freezing, you can turn off your furnace completely. (And no, it will not take more energy to reheat the house than you saved by keeping the thermostat turned down.)

Wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket and set the temperature as low as possible. Typically, a 1°F adjustment in your water heater's temperature will result in a 1% change in energy use. You can use a timer to turn an electric water heater off when you don't need it, but you will gain more in efficiency by using conservation strategies such as low-flow showerheads

and insulating water heater tank wraps. If you'll be away for more than a few days, simply turn off your water heater entirely.

Timer controls and occupancy sensors work well on lights that tend to get left on, and multiple lighting circuits help put light only where you need it. Switched wall outlets or power strips allow you to turn things off (such as the entire entertainment center or office peripherals) with ease.

Call in the Energy Experts

Expert energy auditors can help you identify the best way to spend your energy improvement dollars. You can find such experts through your state's energy office, the Residential Energy Services Network, or the U.S. EPA's growing Home Performance with Energy Star program (see Access).

An energy auditor will examine every room in your home, using tools such as an infrared camera to check for insulation voids inside a wall or a "blower door" test to pinpoint air infiltration. A typical audit can take from two to four hours depending upon the tests performed, and auditors may charge a flat rate or by the hour. Always ask what specific tests they will perform, how they charge for services, what the cost will be, and how the results will be presented to you. An average home might save up to 30% on energy costs if all the auditor's recommendations are followed.


Tip 4: Plug In to Power Strips

A "phantom load" occurs when an appliance that appears to be off still consumes some electricity. Examples include appliances with clocks or indicator lights, remote controls, and plug-in power adapters. Although a few watts of standby energy use per appliance may sound like small potatoes, the combined energy use of these small loads adds up fast. Phantom loads in a typical American household use about 1.2 kilowatt-hours per day—the equivalent of some superefficient off-grid whole-house PV systems! Make efficiency easy to practice by using switched outlets or power strips to control these loads and make the switch on the strip easily accessible.

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Tip 5: Bright Lighting

Wherever you can, replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFs). CFs provide the same level of lighting, at about one-quarter of the energy use of incandescents. Although their up-front cost is higher, their reduced energy use paired with their longevity translates into long-term energy and cost savings. Use compact fluorescent bulbs everywhere except inside your fridge, where the cold temperature, short on-times, and frequent on-and-off cycling will reduce the lifetime of the bulb and offer little savings. In the fridge, remove the 40-watt bulbs it probably came with and replace them with a single 15-watt (or lower) incandescent bulb.

For electricity-free lighting during the day in windowless or dark rooms, consider installing light tubes, which bring in natural light. (Skylights can serve the same function but may also bring in unwanted heat during certain seasons.) In areas where excess heat is not a concern, clear roofing panels can provide a fairly inexpensive solution to provide additional daylighting. My (unheated) garage, porch, and chicken coop each have a few clear roofing panels that really brighten these areas during the day.

Tip 6: Seal Leaks & Deal with Ducts

Similar to appliances and electricity, the tighter your home, the less fuel you'll need to keep it warm. Start by identifying and sealing air leaks, which can be found around chimneys, window frames, the top of the foundation walls where wood meets concrete, and plumbing and electrical chases. Sealing your home against air leaks is the most cost-effective improvement you can make to reduce heating and cooling consumption while increasing your home's comfort.

Unless they are properly designed, sealed against leaks, and well insulated, heating and cooling ducts can account for tremendous energy loss to the unconditioned spaces through which they travel, like attics and basements. If you have forced-air heating or cooling, be sure to seal and insulate ducts everywhere you can.

Tip 7: Go Low-Flow to Save on Heating

In most homes, heating water is second only to space conditioning in energy use. Low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators can help lower your household water consumption and water-heating demand. So can using only cold water for clothes washing and laundering only full loads. If you have a private water system, conserving water will also reduce your pumping energy requirements and the load on your septic system.

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