Friday, February 16, 2007

Think Green: Reducing energy use saves money and the environment

  • Turn the thermostat down a few degrees to 68.
  • Turn the temperature down on your hot water heater. A reasonable level is 120 degrees.
  • Monitor your refrigerator temperature. It doesn't need to be any colder than 35 degrees in your fridge. Your freezer should be around 0. Fill up your fridge, even with empty containers, as it will run better. And make sure your fridge regularly defrosts and the coils are clean so that it runs efficiently.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water. It's easy with new cold water detergents. And dry your clothes on the line or a drying wrack when you can.
  • Close your curtains and shade at night, and open them during the day to keep your house warm. Close your southern facing shades during the summer to keep your house cool.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat when the house is empty. Programmed to your daily patterns, it can turn the heat back up half an hour or 45 minutes before you come home. An energy saving thermostat costs between $40-100, but it’s a sound investment. With the pre-programmed settings, the average home saves about $100 a year in energy costs, so this home improvement pays for itself. They are available at Lowes, Home Depot and online.
  • Switch to compact florescent bulbs. They use significantly less energy that regular bulbs. Regular bulbs only use 10% of the energy to create light, the other 90% goes into heat, which also can increase your air conditioning bill. One bulb keeps half a ton of greenhouse gas out of the air. CFLs can get expensive. Fortunately there are several great deals out there including: EFL, Walmart and others.
Want to take earth-friendly energy one step further? Install solar panels on the roof. A new program, through Citzere Renu, offers an affordable solution for those wanting to make the switch. The company essentially leases the equipment to homeowners. They install and maintain the panels for free, and you lock in current electric rates for up to 25 years.

If you're buying new appliances, anything from a dishwasher to a washing machine to an air conditioner, look for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star symbol. Especially if it's a refrigerator. A refrigerator uses 25% of the energy in most homes, the single biggest energy consuming kitchen appliance. Replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a newer energy efficient model would save enough energy to light the average household for nearly four months.

The EPA estimates that consumers saved $12 billion on their energy bills in 2005 by using Energy Star appliances. Its calculator , can help you crunch the numbers on your potential savings. Energy Star rated electronics like TVs, computers, and DVD players are also available. Even better, buying some Energy Star appliances, such as windows, furnaces and boilers can qualify you for up to $500 in tax credits.

Consider doing some more serious upgrades. Putting in extra insulation is often the most cost-effective way to improve your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. How can you tell if your home isn’t properly insulated? Many air leaks and draft are easy to find because they’re easy to feel. Take the time to search out for the drafty parts of your home.

Also an easy way to see if your current insulation is enough for your home is to just look at it. If your insulation looks dirty, that’s an indication that air is moving though it. Those are the first areas you should add extra coverage.

To get the biggest savings, the easiest place to add insulation is usually the attic. In cold weather, warm air rises in your house. This air, which you have paid to heat, moves up into the attic where, if not properly insulated, it escapes. Another great place to put additional insulation is in your walls. Not only will it save energy, but it helps keep the noise level down.

If your home has single-pane windows, as almost half of US homes do, consider replacing them.

Sounds expensive right? It certainly can be, but there's help available for financing. If you already own your home, consider taking out a low-interest loan from Keystone HELP which loans money to PA homeowners for energy efficient improvements. In addition, if you are purchasing a new home, Energy Efficient Mortgages are available that allow a borrower to borrow additional funds for energy efficient upgrades. The upgrades will significantly lower energy bills, and at the end of the day you pay less out of your pocket per month for your mortgage and energy bills combined.

For an exhaustive list of further tips, go to The Rocky Mountain Institute's Web site.

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