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Financial Tip

For every degree change, your family can save up to 5 percent on your home's energy costs.

Save on Home Energy Costs

Taking some green measures at home this summer may save you another kind of green: money!

Many families spend, on average, $2,000 or more annually on energy. This is mostly for heating and air conditioning. By adopting energy-saving maintenance methods for your home this summer you may be able to cut hundreds of dollars from that total.

DOE offers maintenance tips
A good place to start is with a home energy audit or assessment to pinpoint where your biggest problems may be and what to correct first for the best return on your investment.

"Making energy efficiency upgrades identified in a home energy audit can save 5-30 percent on your monthly energy bill while also ensuring the health and safety of your house," notes the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The DOE provides a do-it-yourself (DIY) walk-through on their website (search "energy audit"). Their 5-step audit includes instructions for making improvements:

Locate air leaks - Find and seal obvious air leaks and drafts around windows, doors and molding with caulk and weather-stripping.

Check insulation - Most older homes need added insulation in the ceiling and walls to meet current standards.

Inspect heating and cooling equipment - Clean the condenser coils on your air conditioner and replace furnace filters as needed.

Check lighting - Consider replacing old incandescent bulbs with energy-saving light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Check appliances and electronics - Estimate their energy usage and take steps to reduce it. For example, unplugging electronic devices when not in use prevents phantom loads that can cost $100 annually.

After completing your DIY assessment, consider a professional audit to help identify additional savings, the DOE advises. To help find and select a certified energy rater in your area the DOE suggests that you conduct a search using the resources of the Residential Energy Services Network. Professionals may charge $300 to $500, so check with your local utility to see if subsidies or discounts are available.

If you have additional questions or want to do more research, visit the Energy Saver section at energy.gov.

EPA shows way to green energy savings
Whether you're retrofitting your current home or planning to build a new energy-efficient "green home", the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is another excellent source of free information. 

On the home page, click on the pull-down menus for "at home" or "new homes" for links to detailed information.

To receive customized recommendations for improving your home's efficiency, sign up for the ENERGY STAR Advisor at energystar.gov. In addition, online tools and information at epa.gov (search: Reducing Energy Use) can help you save energy while improving your home's comfort while reducing your carbon footprint.

For information about operating costs and energy efficiency, look for the ENERGY STAR label when replacing or buying things such as appliances, building products, electronics, heating and cooling systems, lighting and fans, office equipment and water heaters.

The EPA reminds homeowners that proper water heater maintenance can lead to more efficient use of water and save energy since it takes "huge amounts of energy to treat, move and heat water."

Conserving energy saves money, helps protect resources and makes your home more comfortable. Together, it's a win for your family and for our planet.

Teachable Moments

At your next family meeting review your electric and gas bills. Compare usage to the previous year, and discuss factors making it go up or down. Is it hotter this summer, requiring more air conditioning? Were there more or fewer people living at home? Use the EPA's Home Energy Yardstick (search: Energy Yardstick) to compare your home's usage with similar homes.

Next, develop a family action plan for reducing energy usage. Look for areas of your home that everyone can take responsibility for making certain your home is operating at peak energy efficiency. For example, unplug electronics which use power even when turned off and make certain windows are closed tightly and the window shades are either up or down - depending on whether you want to block or let in the heat from the sun. Also, look for improvement projects, such as caulking around the windows and baseboards, to help block drafts from the outdoors.