Prepare for Action

October is National Energy Action Month. The timing of this festive observance is no accident. For most Americans, it is the time of year to prepare for the inevitable pleasantries that come with the season: wind, sleet and snow. Of course, colder temperatures are also sure to follow.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating, combined with cooling, accounts for nearly 50% of the energy use in a typical American home. That makes it the largest single energy expense for most customers.

Fortunately, whether you rent or own, there are steps you can take to weatherize your home for little or no expense. Take a look at some of the tips below. Then take the time to make some changes and realize the difference in your comfort and your wallet.

Steps that won’t cost you a thing:

1. Set your thermostat to 68 degrees.

Your heating system will operate less and use less energy. Turn your thermostat down 5 degrees at night or when leaving your home for an hour or more to save up to $70 on energy costs each year. For a small investment, consider purchasing a programmable thermostat to adjust your home’s temperature settings automatically when you’re sleeping or away.

2. Set your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees.

Simply consider turning down your water heater thermostat to a slightly cooler setting to reduce the amount of energy used to heat the water while still keeping the water warm enough for home use. In fact, each time you lower the temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit you could save up to 3%-5% on your water heating costs. That’s a savings of $6-$10 a year.

3. In the winter, make the most of Mother Nature’s sunlight by opening window coverings on south-facing windows to warm your home. The solar heat gain from sunlight can help reduce your energy usage.

Also, consider closing window coverings in rooms that receive no direct sunlight to insulate from cold window drafts. At night, close window coverings to retain heat – up to 15% of your heat can escape through unprotected windows.

4. If you have a washing machine, use cold water.

According to ENERGY STAR®, washing clothes in cold water will save you about $40 a year with an electric water heater and about $30 a year with a gas water heater.

Low-cost steps you can take:

1. Replace your furnace or heat pump filter regularly.

Dirty filters reduce airflow, making your equipment work harder and use more energy. Replace your furnace filter monthly (unless it is a high-efficiency filter designed to last several months) during the heating season to reduce heating costs by up to 5% or about $35 a year.

2. Install low-flow showerheads and faucets.

Eight-gallon per minute showerheads can reduce your hot water consumption by as much as 10% or $20 per year. You’ll see savings up to $6 per year for a sink faucet aerator.

3. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

CFLs cost a little more, but you can save about $50 over the life of just one bulb.

4. Weatherize your home and save up to 10% of your heating and cooling costs.

A handy homeowner can seal up holes to the outside by weather-stripping doors and sealing windows and gaps along the home’s foundation.

Go big and save big:

1. Insulate your home.

The easiest and most cost-effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in the attic. Other effective places to add insulation include unfinished basement walls and crawl spaces. Insulating walls can be more complex, so check with a contractor for advice. When insulation is correctly installed AND the home is totally weatherized, the average customer can see a savings of up to 20% in heating and cooling costs.

2. Purchase ENERGY STAR appliances.

Appliances and electronics really contribute to your energy bill. When it is time to replace, remember items like refrigerators, washers, dryers, furnaces, TVs and computers have two price tags – the purchase price and the lifetime energy cost. According to ENERGY STAR, the average homeowner spends about $2,000 on energy bills every year. Change to appliances that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating, and you can save up to $75 a year in energy costs.

Article by Tim Laughlin, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.

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