Turning Green

By Sharon Naylor

May 1, 2009 5 min read

TURNING GREEN

Energy efficiency is easy with straightforward tips

Sharon Naylor

Creators News Service

Each year, the average homeowner spends approximately $2,000 a year on energy bills, and in this economy, finding ways to save on home energy costs is a top priority. Luckily, you'll find several national programs established to help you in your efforts towards using less energy, and spending less money for it.

Energy Star, a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy, has become a new gold standard of improved energy-efficiency rating for appliances, windows, doors and other home elements. According to the experts at Lowe's, users save 30 percent or more on their home energy bills.

WaterSense is a partnership program sponsored by the EPA, providing easier resources and products that save water and protect the environment. When upgrading or replacing showerheads, faucets, toilets and other home elements, look for the WaterSense label.

Select home repairs and upgrades made with these products may be eligible for tax deductions of up to 30 percent. Check with your installation professionals or the IRS website for the most current information on tax benefits of new, energy-efficient upgrades.

Choosing materials bearing EPA-approved labels is only one step towards greater energy efficiency and savings. Bob Willoughby, owner of the website energyefficienthometips.net, shares his list of the easiest and most affordable steps you can take to improve your home's energy performance:

* "The first and easiest step is changing some of your personal habits," said Willoughby. "When you leave a room, turn the light off. It's a fallacy that it takes more energy to turn lights on and off within an hour or so. Appliances and electronics that are turned off but still plugged in are continuing to drain energy from your home. So unplug all appliances that you are not currently using, including computers, for greater savings."

* "Your water heater is one of the biggest energy drains in your home," he added. "So keep turning the dial down, adjusting the temperature as many times as it takes to reach a water temperature that you're comfortable with. Most machines are set to 140 degrees, which is just too hot for most people. Besides turning down the temperature on your water heater, you can also buy and easily install a programmable timer that will control your water heater's activity. While you're at work all day, your water heater is not using energy to heat up water you're not using." Inexpensive water heater timers are found at most electronics and home improvement stores, and may be professionally installed.

* Seal leaks around windows and doors. On a breezy day, test the borders of your doors and windows with a feather to reveal any air movements from leaks. "You can caulk up the spaces around windows, and for doors, it's an easy installation to apply door seal strips backed with adhesive that fill the gaps around doors," he said.

* Install a programmable thermostat to control your heat or air conditioning. But be careful not to be too dramatic with your efforts to save money. One way is setting too low a temperature in the winter. "It would take even more energy to heat your home back up again before your return," Willoughby said.

* Install energy-efficient CFL light bulbs, which generate 75 percent less heat than incandescent bulbs. Willoughby suggested buying them on sale, but avoid a big, expensive mistake: "The regular CFL light bulbs are not good for lighting fixtures that have dimmer switches. For those, you'd have to buy a different, more expensive type of bulb."

* Pump up your insulation. If you bought or live in an older home, you will likely benefit from an attic insulation improvement plan. "Now you can arrange for a layer of spray insulation that fills in the cracks and forms a seal, on top of which you'd roll out a layer of traditional insulation for an improved, double-tiered, virtually-airtight system," he said. Insulate other "holes" in your attic, such as attic hatches or doors, spaces around chimneys and recessed "can" lights.

* Help your appliances save energy. "Clean out the lint catcher every time you dry a load of laundry and use a tool to snake out lint and dust from the outgoing air vents and hoses," Willoughby said. "Vacuum the back coils of your refrigerator once a month, and use a dusting wand to clean out dust and debris from underneath your refrigerator." This creates better air circulation through and around each appliance for optimal use of energy and greatly reduces your risk of fires. Change your furnace or air conditioner filters at least every three months for optimal air flow and more efficient energy use.

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