(Family Features) It costs over $160 billion a year to heat, cool, light and live in our homes. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), homes account for 21 percent of the country’s energy use each year, and contribute about 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Homes are more energy efficient than they used to be, but there are many ways to improve energy use and lower utility costs. The DOE estimates that many people could save 20 to 30 percent on household energy bills by making some cost-efficient improvements.
Heating and Cooling
About 46 percent of your utility bill is for heating and cooling. These home systems also emit 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. The easiest thing you can do is to make sure your systems are properly maintained.
Other ways to save:
• Install a programmable thermostat – it lets you adjust temperatures automatically according to your schedule. You can save around 10 percent a year on heating and cooling bills by simply turning the thermostat back 10 – 15 degrees for eight hours.
• Clean or replace furnace filters once a month or as needed.
• Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
• Avoid setting the thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on the air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster.
• During cold months, keep draperies and shades on south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter, and closed at night to reduce the chill.
• During warm months, keep the window coverings closed during the day.
• Consider energy-efficient upgrades, as well. If your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old, or your furnace is more than 15 years old, they may need to be replaced. It can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs.
Insulating your water heater tank and water pipes prevents heat loss. Insulate heating ducts in unheated areas, such as attics and crawlspaces, too. Keeping ducts in good repair can prevent heat loss of up to 60 percent at the registers.
The average home loses more than 25 percent of its heat through windows. Installing storm windows can reduce heat loss between 25 and 50 percent. Energy-efficient windows and window coatings save even more energy.
• Seal air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.
• Add caulk or weather stripping to seal air leaks around doors and windows.
• Federal tax credits are now available for some of these home improvements.
• 10 percent of the cost of insulation, storm doors, and Energy Star-qualified “cool roofs,” up to $500.
• 10 percent of the cost of exterior windows and skylights, up to $200 up to $300 on new high-efficiency air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters, and corn-fueled stoves up to $150 on high-efficiency furnaces and boilers.
These tax credits expire at the end of 2009.
Making some energy efficient changes today will pay off for years to come.