Energy efficiency tops the list of home features that today’s savvy consumers want. And they’re willing to pay for it—an extra $7,100 for a home that will reduce annual energy costs by $1,000, according to a recent report from the National Association of Home Builders. But you don’t have to buy a new house to reap the latest energy savings. Our expert tips could cut your energy bills in half. Simply opting for high-quality LED lightbulbs will save you more than $125 in electricity bills over their life.
Get an energy audit
Home-performance contractors will do a blower-door test and use infrared cameras to pinpoint air leaks, assess your heating and cooling equipment, and even review your utility bills. They can also detect safety hazards, such as indoor air pollutants and carbon monoxide leaks. Energy audits usually cost $250 to $800, depending on the size of your home.
Plug air leaks
Many homes have small leaks in the foundation, walls, ceilings, and roof that let out as much heated air in the winter (and cool air in the summer) as an open window. You can do some air-sealing tasks yourself such as plugging leaks around windows, doors, and electrical outlets with caulk, expandable sealant, and weather stripping. Insulating and sealing ductwork is best left to the pros, but it could lower your energy bills by about $400 a year.
Make technology work for you
Consumers who see how much energy they’re using and what it’s costing them end up consuming about 7 percent less than those who simply get a bill. Almost 40 utility companies have created or plan to create a “green button” on their website that allows customers to easily view their energy-use info. Go to greenbuttondata.org to see whether your utility participates.
Wi-Fi-enabled, programmable thermostats, also make energy use more transparent and convenient. That’s on top of the 10 percent savings they deliver by automatically adjusting your home’s temperature when you’re away or asleep. The Nest Learning Thermostat, $250 programs itself based on your habits and preferences.
Upgrade your appliances
Swapping out a 15-year-old refrigerator for an energy-efficient refrigerator could lower your annual electric bill by $60. A high-efficiency clothes washer might save you another $130. What’s more, a recent study by two leading consumer advocacy groups found that most energy-saving appliances outperform less-efficient models without costing more at the store, when adjusted for inflation. Along with industry and government data, the study analyzed decades of Consumer Reports' Ratings.
Get a hybrid water heater
If your electric water heater is near the end of its life—13 years is average—switching to a hybrid heater could lower your water-heating bills by $350 a year. They meld a standard electric water heater with a heat pump that captures warmth from the air. Those could lower bills by about 60 percent compared with an electric heater. (You should stick with gas if your heater uses that relatively cheap fuel.) With the $300 federal tax credit you’ll get through the end of the year, a hybrid heater can pay for itself in about five years. But they’re usually taller and must be installed in a room that’s at least 12x12 feet with a 7-foot ceiling to capture enough heat from the air. And if there isn’t a floor drain nearby, you’ll need to add a condensate pump to divert water. Watch out for tankless water heaters sold with promises of big savings and endless hot water. Often they’re expensive to buy and install, and limitations on hot-water flow rates could be a problem in large households.
The latest thing in lightbulbs, LEDs improve on compact fluorescent bulbs in many ways, including longer life, enhanced light quality, and better dimming. The downside is cost—about $18 to $35 for a 60-watt replacement LED bulb vs. $1.25 to $1.50 for a similar CFL. Even at those prices, LEDs will lower your electrical bills. Plus, LEDs should only get better and cheaper in the foreseeable future.
Consider alternative energy sources
More consumers are looking beyond fossil fuels to heat and cool their homes, taking advantage of the renewable-energy tax credits that extend through 2016. Geothermal heat pumps are now installed in about 50,000 U.S. homes each year. Those systems use the earth’s relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling, and hot water. Costing $17,000 on average, they’re pricey to install, though the Energy Department puts the payback period at a brisk 5 to 10 years.
Solar is another alternative. Even higher up-front costs—$20,000 or more for photovoltaic roof panels—have created a market for solar leasing. You rent the system from a provider and pay a fixed monthly fee that’s supposed to be lower than your current electric bill.
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