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Ten things you can do to save money on energy costs

As the colder months quickly descend, consumers should take the time to ensure their home is as energy-efficient as possible. Consumer Reports’ October issue features a full report on what consumers can do now to save hundreds of dollars on their energy bill. The report includes results from Consumer Reports testing, and advice from its experts to tell homeowners which programs and products work and which promise more than they deliver when it comes to cutting energy costs.

The energy package features tips, buying advice and Ratings of compact fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats, space heaters, and windows and reports on the programs and products that can help save consumers money on their energy bills, and diminish damage to the environment in the process.

1. Change lighting

Consumers can save money and energy by swapping compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) for incandescent bulbs. Energy Star-qualified CFLs are required to meet certain standards, one of which is that they have to save consumers at least $30 in energy costs over the bulb’s roughly 7,500 to 10,000-hour life. The October issue of CR contains Ratings of various CFLs from GE, Philips, Sylvania, N:Vision, Bright Effects, and Feit Electric and advice on choosing the best types of CFLs based on a consumer’s needs.

2. Program thermostat

Consumers can slash home heating costs by up to 20 percent per year by decreasing their home’s temperature by 5 to 10 degrees during the night or when no one is home. CR’s latest tests and Ratings of 25 thermostats reveal that while programmable thermostats can help save energy by automatically raising or lowering temperatures when necessary, eliminating the need for the homeowner to do it manually. However, confusing controls on some of these devices can cause some consumers to burn more energy than they intended.

3. Boost heating efficiency

Consumers can save up to 40 percent on their annual energy bill by sealing leaks, cracks, and gaps in their duct distribution system for their central heating and cooling system. These savings accrue year round and are often greater than the savings from installing a more efficient furnace or central air conditioner. CR also advises caulking holes in walls, especially if they penetrate between floors to an unheated basement or attic.

4. Add insulation

Save hundreds of dollars a year on energy bills by improving a home’s insulation and the cost of the job can be recouped in as little as two years. CR recommends first sealing larger gaps around chimneys, furnace flues, plumbing pipes, and light fixtures. Ductwork that is not located in a living space should be insulated.

5. Save money on hot water

Consumers can save up to 5 percent on their energy bills by insulating hot-water pipes and lowering the temperature on the water heater from 130º  to 120º. For those who need to replace their storage tank style water heater, CR advises choosing a model with a 9- to 12-year warranty since these models typically have thicker insulation and more powerful burners or heating elements for faster heating. Further still, they often include better corrosion protection.

6. Use space heaters wisely

There are potential energy savings if a home’s central heating system is used sparingly to prevent freezing and only a room or two are heated with an electric space heater. However, open floor-plans in today’s homes and the desire by homeowners to be comfortable throughout their house makes this premise unlikely. Further, the national average price of electricity, on an equal energy basis is about 2 ½ times greater than natural gas, the most popular heating fuel. CR’s latest tests and Ratings of 16 space heaters show that they provide more consistent heat than the last batch of devices that were tested. It also reveals why temperature control is key, how safety varies among models, and why some high-priced models disappoint.

7. Replace worn-out windows

Replacing old single pane windows that are beyond simple repairs, such as caulking and weather stripping, can save between 10 and 25 percent on a heating bill. CR tested 19 windows for air and water leakage, durability, and convenience. The report offers advice on how to choose a window and how to find an expert installer.

8. Understand Energy Star

Energy Star appliances are typically more efficient than others and will generally cost less to run. However, consumers should take the energy-use estimates with a grain of salt. Refrigerator lighting, icemakers and special settings on dishwashers are among the hidden energy drains not factored into energy-use figures.

9. Use fires for ambience

Wood-burning fireplaces may look romantic and feel toasty, but they actually suck the heat from the home up and out the chimney. Glass doors only improve the situation slightly. Wood- and pellet-burning stoves provide more heat not only because their hot surfaces are directly heating room air, but also because they are designed as a heat source.

10. Avoid Energy Scams

Beware of pitches from door-to-door salespeople, unsolicited letters, and phone callers that promise to save consumers big bucks on their heating bill. Alternative power suppliers are unlikely to save consumers much money unless they are using lots of energy.

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