Keep Your House from Leaking Cash

House leaking cashHouse leaking cashBy Lori Bongiorno

Think it's impossible to lower your power bill? After all, some environmentalists are abandoning their fridges so they can reduce their electricity use and impact on the environment.

But you don't have to take such drastic measures to save energy and money at home. A few simple home improvement projects (that you can do yourself) can make a noticeable difference in your monthly energy bills.

For those who are concerned about the health of the planet, increasing your home's energy efficiency is an important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some ideas if you're willing to invest a little time (and maybe a little money) up front for savings down the line:

  • Seal air leaks. The cumulative gaps around the windows and doors in an average American house are the equivalent of a three-by-three foot hole in the wall, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Use caulk, spray foam, and/or weatherstripping to stop the air you're paying to heat or cool from seeping out. Learn how to find leaks here.

    Count on saving around $80.76 a year if you seal the large air leaks in your house, says the Rocky Mountain Institute. (Calculations are based on an "average" American home).

  • Adjust your water heater. The Department of Energy says water heating is the third largest energy expense in your home. Expect to save about 3% to 5% in energy costs for every 10 degrees you lower your water heater's thermostat.

    The DOE suggests aiming for 120 degrees (although that may be too low for those who own a dishwasher without a booster heater). While you're at it, insulate your water heater and surrounding pipes for even greater savings.

  • Control your thermostat. Your best bet is to invest in a programmable thermostat. Energy Star says you can save about $180 a year in energy costs if you use it properly.

    In the winter, keep your thermostat at 68 to 70 degrees when you're at home or awake (the summer guideline for those with central A/C is 78 degrees). Whether you choose to upgrade your thermostat or not, turn it back (or raise it in the summer) when you're away or asleep.

    The DOE calculates about a 1 percent savings for each degree you lower your thermostat over an 8-hour period.

  • Maintain your furnace and air-conditioning. Regular maintenance will keep heating and cooling systems operating efficiently. Change filters often (about once a month) so your system doesn't have to work overtime to move air through dirty filters.

Looking for more free and easy things you can do?

Wash your clothes in cold water. Turn off unneeded lights and home office equipment. Unplug an extra fridge. Use the energy-saving mode on appliances. You can save over $100 a year on energy costs if you do it all, less if you pick and choose.

That may not seem like much to some people, and yes, there are many things in your home that use more energy, and, therefore, will result in greater savings. But every little bit counts, and I'd rather spend money on a fun family excursion than waste it lighting empty rooms or powering idle printers.

Environmental journalist Lori Bongiorno shares green-living tips and product reviews with Yahoo! Green's users. Send Lori a question or suggestion for potential use in a future column. Her book, Green Greener Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-smart Choices a Part of Your Life is available on Yahoo! Shopping and

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