NEW YORK --
Q: How can I cut my home energy bills?
A: "One of the biggest sources of energy we have is the energy we currently waste," said Craig Stevens, press secretary for the US Secretary of Energy.
You don’t have to install solar panels on the roof to start saving energy. Stevens said one of the first things he did after starting the job was turn down the temperature on his home hot water heater. "I couldn’t believe how much money we saved month to month," he said.
For about $100, a programmable thermostat can 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, said Ronnie J. Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition of business, government, consumer and environmental groups.
After you’ve done that, pick up some compact fluorescent light bulbs. According to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has made the bulbs the centerpiece of its home energy conservation program, switching 30 lights to compact fluorescents would result in an energy savings around $1,000 for the life of the bulbs.
While the bulbs are more expensive than traditional bulbs, they last much longer. Another benefit: The bulbs also throw off 70 percent less heat than conventional bulbs, cutting down home air conditioning costs during summer. And one bulb keeps half a ton of greenhouse gas out of the air, according to Wal-Mart.
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. The EPA estimates that consumers saved $12 billion on their energy bills in 2005 by using Energy Star appliances. Its calculator, www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?cbulk--purchasing.bus--purchasing, can help you crunch the numbers on your potential savings.
Buying some Energy Star appliances, such as windows, furnaces and boilers can qualify you for up to $500 in tax credits. Tax credits are generally more valuable than tax deductions, since they lop dollars directly off the amount of taxes you owe. Energy Star windows qualify for up to $200 in tax credits, insulation and sealing can qualify for up to $500 in tax credits and certain Energy Star furnaces or boilers can qualify for a $150 tax credit. See www.ase.org/taxcredits for more information.
If you have no money to make energy-saving changes in your home, many utilities and nonprofits offer help. The US Department of Energy also offers "weatherization" grants to low-income families to make homes more energy efficient. More than 5.5 million low-income families have had their homes weatherized since 1976. Check out www.eere.energy.gov/weatherization/state--contacts.html/ to see the programs are available in your area.
California offers free services for low-income families including attic insulation, weather-stripping and minor home repairs. See what your state offers at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/liheap/grantees/states.html.
The nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency offers programs such as a project in Philadelphia which installs affordably priced white roof coating to keep homes cooler in summer without using more electricity. Its Web site is www.ecasavesenergy.org/lowincome.html.
For an exhaustive list of further tips, from insulating the attic and the basement to the most energy-efficient placement of the dryer (someplace heated), go to The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Web site, www.rmi.org, and click on the home energy briefs link.
The site’s suggestions range from washing your clothes in cold water to installing ceiling fans, which could let you keep your thermostat four degrees higher in summer. If you’re designing your dream house and you’re interested in passive solar energy, this is the thing to read under the glow of your new compact fluorescent light.