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Take steps to keep home energy bill out of hot water

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NEW YORK (4/30/08)--Right as sky-high gas and food prices are squeezing family budgets, expect a sharp increase soon in home energy bills with air conditioner season right around the corner ( April 23). Conservative estimates put electricity price increases at 2.7% this year, with regional surges where there’s a reliance on coal, natural gas, or petroleum to generate electricity, according to a report released by the Energy Information Administration (April 8). Tack on an unexpected heat wave or violent hurricane season, and prices could surge even higher. To help keep your home energy bill from busting an already tight budget, try these simple strategies now:
* Bite the incandescent bullet. Switch to compact fluorescents, which use 75% less energy than conventional bulbs and generate 70% less heat. If they break, they release a small amount of mercury, so open the windows, don some gloves, then put the remnants in plastic bags and take them to a designated disposal site. It’s not as easy as tossing them in the trash, but proper disposal is good for the groundwater. * Have your home inspected. A certified inspector can identify energy-draining air leaks. You’ll recoup the inspection or home energy audit cost in short order with the energy savings over time. Do it now, before the weather gets hot and repair requests fill contractors’ schedules. If you do it yourself, look for holes or cracks around doors, light, or plumbing fixtures. Close your fireplace dampers and check your insulation levels throughout the house. * Use less water. Use low-flow shower heads, repair leaky faucets, and insulate your hot-water storage tank and pipes. Drain a quart of water from your water tank every three months to remove sediment, which reduces efficiency ( Lower the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees. * Wash clothes on cold. Switching from hot to cold setting cuts a load’s energy use in half. * Clean the filters. Dirt and dust significantly lower both central air and wall unit efficiency. * Set it and forget it. A programmable thermostat--set to lower usage when you’re sleeping or at work--cuts cooling bills without sacrificing comfort. * Use ceiling fans. They make the room feel a few degrees cooler. Turn them off when you’re not there. * Close the blinds. Keep the sunlight out on hot days. * Hook up power strips. Instead of leaving microwaves, phone chargers, TVs, and other appliances plugged in 24/7, plug them into power strips that you easily can switch off. As long as they’re hooked to a power source, they’re generating heat and draining valuable energy.
For more information, read “Longevity on the Home Front: How Long Will That Furnace Last?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.