Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to forward the discussion on the cleantech revolution, is happy to share this advice article with you via a cross post from our partner Sierra Club Green Home. Author credit goes to Janice Zaltman.

In my real estate and consulting business, the one question that comes up time and time again is: “What steps can I can take to lower my home energy costs?”

“Ask your neighbors what they spend on their energy bill each month,” advises Ben Millar of E3 Building Sciences in Fort Myers, Florida. “If you are spending the same as everyone else with similar square footage in your neighborhood, maybe your home is okay,” he explains.

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Once you have an idea of how your costs measure up, look at your consumption and the things that you can easily change. Here are some examples:

  • Lighting: Do you tend to leave the lights on when you leave the room? Keeping the home well lit can be a big concern for families with children. Luckily, there are several solutions to this issue. Energy-efficient lighting involves both the light source and the fixture. In many cases, you can simply change the light bulb to either a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) or a light emitting diode (LED). Energy-efficient bulbs may require a certain type of fixture by having a pin base that cannot fit into traditional fixtures. By replacing the five most frequently used light fixtures in your home with Energy Star qualified models, you can save $70 each year, according to energystar.gov. Other solutions include occupancy sensors, which automatically shut off the lights once everyone leaves the room.
  • Electronics: Do you have power strips on your high-consumption technology such as televisions, computers, stereo, or DVD player? As long as your gadgets remain attached to a power source, they are generating heat and electricity. Use a power strip switch which turns everything off when not in use.
  • Program the thermostat: Give your air conditioner a break during the day. Installing a programmable thermostat can regulate the temperature throughout your house whether you are home or away.
  • Solar water heaters: Solar water heaters can be a cost-effective way to reduce your hot water bills. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use (sunshine) is free.
  • Give your home an update: Improve outdated home appliances for the best return on your investment. Outdated appliances can be a drain on your utility bill. When I purchased a new Energy Star refrigerator and dishwasher last year using the Energy Star Rebate Program, my utility bill went down 40 percent.
  • Heating and cooling: As much as half of your energy costs go towards heating and cooling, according to Energy Star. If you have an HVAC system that is at least 12 years old, it may be beneficial to consider a newer and more efficient model. Changing the filter monthly and having your system checked at least once per year helps ensure energy efficiency.  Your HVAC system, like your body, needs a good tune-up each year to remain in good health.
  • Weather-strip your windows: Plug up those drafts! If you have old windows and are considering changing them, check out Energy Star windows and pick one for your appropriate climate condition.
  • Rebates and incentives: Check out rebates and incentives at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. They can significantly reduce the cost of your upgrade and lower the time it takes to recoup your investment.
  • Get help from the local utility: In some areas, the local utility offers a free or low-cost service to come to your home and do an energy audit.

By following the above suggestions, you can save between 10 and 40 percent on your home energy bills, depending on your individual usage.

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