Good Question: Some steps to save on energy bills

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Question: After the long, hot summer, I noticed my electric bill is taking a bigger piece of my budget. I would like to try to save money by reducing my energy costs. What are some simple but efficient ways to do so?

Answer: A hot summer with an air conditioner running nonstop can certainly increase your electric bill, especially if your home is not as efficient as it could be. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than half of the energy used in a home goes to heating or cooling it.

There are some ways to reduce energy costs and increase savings.

First, some easy things: Install a programmable thermostat that allows you to adjust the temperature appropriately when you're not home. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting your thermostat at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer and then (depending on the season) lowering it or raising it while you're sleeping or not home. For each degree you lower or raise the temperature for an eight-hour time period, you can save 1 percent on your utility bills.

You also should check the air filter on your furnace and/or air conditioner. Replacing the filter as recommended will help the unit run more efficiently.

Consider using a budget plan, offered through your utility company, to pay your bills. This will spread out the cost over the year, instead of paying the seasonal spikes.

Check the temperature of your hot water heater. Lower it to 120 degrees to reduce energy costs. Also, try low-flow shower heads for more energy savings.

Check your home for drafts. Caulk windows and door frames to make sure they are airtight. Make sure your home, including your attic, is well insulated.

You can make other changes to reduce your energy costs. Consider getting rid of that basement refrigerator. Removing the extra fridge can save $50 to $150 a year in utility bills. In addition, replacing an old refrigerator can reduce energy costs. Current refrigerators with the energy star rating are 20 percent to 40 percent more efficient than refrigerators purchased in 2001. If you're shopping for a new refrigerator, consider one with a top mount freezer instead of side-by-side model. It will likely use 20 percent to 25 percent less energy.

Replacing light bulbs is another way to save energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, compact fluorescent light bulbs last approximately 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and use about one-fourth of the energy. While they are more expensive, they last for about 10,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours for older-style light bulbs.

Newer to the market are LED bulbs. LED bulbs with the Department of Energy's Energy Star rating use about 20 to 25 percent less energy than traditional bulbs. Replacing 15 incandescent bulbs in your home with light bulbs that have the energy star rating may save $50 a year in energy costs.

It's also good to do some research before switching appliances or making changes to your home heating or cooling system. The website www.energysavers.gov may provide some helpful information on increasing energy efficiency in your home.

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Heather Murray is manager of education and resource development for Advantage Credit Counseling Service. Visit www.advantageccs.org. Email hmurray@advantageccs.org.


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