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10 Energy-Smart Home Improvements

With energy costs on everyone’s mind this time of year, here are ten investments that can yield big payoffs on your home energy and tax bills!

  1. Sealing & Insulating Heating/Cooling Ducts. Especially ducts that run through unheated areas of your home such as attics, crawlspaces, etc; you could be wasting up to 30% of your heating and cooling dollars in this area. Use foil-faced tape to seal crimped-metal joints between duct sections. (NOTE: despite it’s name, duct tape really isn’t suitable for this purpose because it dries up over time.)
  2. Weather-Stripping (or Upgrading) Windows and Doors. Repairing leaks – obvious or not – is very easy to do and will always get you a big savings.
  3. Adding Attic Insulation. If your attic has exposed floor joists and you’re able to see them, you need more insulation – a minimum of 12-15 inches to achieve an R-38 rating.
  4. Upgrading Your Furnace and Air Conditioner. If your furnace is more than 15 years old (or your central-air unit is more than 10), upgrading to an Energy Star-qualified model could reduce your heating costs by 15% and your cooling costs by 20%. Regardless of the efficiency of your equipment, make sure it’s serviced regularly to stay in peak operating condition.
  5. Buying Energy-Efficient Appliances. Refrigerators especially can be energy hogs, but designs continue to improve.  Today’s Energy Star-qualified models could save as much as 50% of the energy consumed by a refrigerator that is little over ten years old.  If you’re not ready to replace an aging refrigerator, check the seal to make sure it’s still tight.  If you close the door on a dollar bill and can easily pull it out, it’s time to replace the seal.
  6. Insulating Your Water Heater and Hot Water Pipes. The Department of Energy reports that water heaters can account for up to 25% of a home’s energy use. Installing a tank jacket and insulating hot water pipes may let you lower your heater’s temperature by 10 degrees and still get hot water from the tap sooner than you did before.
  7. Replacing Incandescent Bulbs with Fluorescents. The cost of compact Fluorescent bulbs continue to decline, but they still outlast the incandescent bulbs 10-to-1 and the energy consumption is a fraction of that used by incandescent bulbs. Because fluorescents can take time to achieve full illumination, they’re best for high-use areas of the house where you would leave the light on for more than five minutes.
  8. Installing a Programmable Thermostat. Depending on your home routine, it has the potential to shave $100-$150 a year off your utility bills, easily paying for itself in several months.
  9. Adding Ventilation. It’s good to use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bath but they may not do their job properly once you have tightened up your home because there is no “makeup air” to restore the balance. The simple solution: have a contractor install a duct that brings fresh air into the air return on your furnace.
  10. Landscaping to Save Energy. Plant shrubs and deciduous trees on the south side of your home for summer shade, if possible, but take care that plantings don’t obstruct the airflow of your central-air unit.

Finally, to find out what is on your home’s top-ten list, you should consider contacting your utility company as they typically provide free or low-cost energy audits that will tell you exactly where you are losing the most money. I did this a few months back for my own home and I couldn’t believe how much money I was wasting each month!

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