Depending on your climate and on how energy efficient your home already is, you may be able to save anywhere from 20% to 100% on your utility bills. Some home performance contracting companies offer guaranteed energy savings as a result of their work.

Reduce Your Energy Use Before You Invest in Technology

Have you ever wondered why you have to keep heating your home in winter or cooling it in summer? It’s because your home continually loses heat in winter and gains heat in summer. The rate of heat loss or gain is affected by your home’s building envelope—the insulation and air barrier that separate your indoor conditioned (heated or cooled) spaces from unconditioned spaces. The poorer your building envelope, the harder your heating and cooling systems have to work.

So it’s always a good idea to improve the building envelope first, and then upgrade the heating and cooling equipment. If your house loses a lot of heat in winter, installing a more-efficient furnace won’t reduce your energy bills as much as installing a more-efficient furnace in a well-insulated, air-sealed house. And some of the money you put into improving the building envelope may come back to you, if it enables you to buy a smaller, less-expensive heating-and-cooling system.

Choose the Right Appliances and Use Them Right

Your appliances can have a big impact on your energy bills. Look for two colorful items when you’re shopping for appliances:

  • The yellow EnergyGuide label shows how much energy a particular appliance uses in a year and how it compares to other appliances in the same category. (Having an EnergyGuide label doesn’t necessarily mean that an appliance is energy efficient.)
  • The blue ENERGY STAR logo indicates that the appliance has met the ENERGY STAR requirements for products in its category. 

Learning how to read these labels can help you reduce your monthly energy costs.

These days, many products use energy even when they’re turned off, creating what’s called a vampire, phantom, or standby load. Some of those vampire loads are valuable and some aren’t. An internal clock in your computer may be a useful vampire load, while a “power off” light on your TV is unnecessary. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, vampire loads are responsible for 5–10% of a home’s electricity use.

Devices that don’t need to be on 24 hours a day can simply be unplugged when not in use, though in some cases you may have to wait for them to warm up when you restart them. Better still, plug them into a power strip that you can turn off. For a little more money, you can get a smart power strip that turns itself off (see photo, right).

Energy-efficient appliances may actually cut your energy bill twice. Efficient appliances use less energy, and this generates less waste heat that must be removed by your A/C in the summer.

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