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Ways to Cut Home Energy Costs

If you're like most homeowners, you're looking for ways to lower your monthly utility bills as energy costs continue to stress household budgets. These simple tips can help you save money year-round.

1. Control the temperature. Start by keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees during your waking hours in the winter and 10-15 degrees lower when you're asleep or away from home. In the summer, the thermostat should be set at 78-80 degrees -- day and night. Overall, you can save about 1 percent for each degree lower in winter or higher in summer if you keep the thermostat settings constant for at least eight hours a day, according to the Department of Energy.

If you go a step further by installing a programmable thermostat that automatically regulates the temperature in your home, you can save up to $180 a year, according to ENERGY STAR, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

2. Use ceiling fans. The added air circulation makes you feel more comfortable without adjusting the thermostat. You can cut heating needs by 10 percent and cooling by a whopping 40 percent just by using ceiling fans when you're in the room (turn them off when you leave).

Set the switch on your ceiling fans so that the blades turn clockwise in the winter and counterclockwise in the summer. In the winter, the clockwise motion produces an updraft, forcing the warm air trapped at the ceiling to flow down the walls without creating a breeze. In the summer, the counterclockwise direction creates a windchill effect.

3. Be smart about laundry. Washing clothes in hot water uses 85 to 90 percent more energy than cold water, according to the Department of Energy. Consider air-drying your clothes -- indoors or outdoors. It helps them last longer and may also save energy.

4. Don't let air seep in (or out). One of the quickest ways to keep warm air from leaking out of your home during winter months (and in during the summer) is to caulk and seal all seams, cracks and openings to the outside of your home. Use weatherstripping around drafty windows and doors. Sealing air leaks and installing proper insulation can save you up to 30 percent, according to the Department of Energy.

5. Seal your ducts. By sealing the heating and cooling ducts that move air to and from your home's furnace and central air conditioner, ENERGY STAR estimates you can improve the system's efficiency by as much as 20 percent.

6. Use energy-efficient bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs cost more, but use 75 percent less power and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

7. Lower your water heater temperature. Many water heaters are preset at 140 degrees, but most households usually only require 120 degrees. For each 10-degree reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3 and 5 percent.

You might also consider installing a tankless water heater, which heats water on demand. These can increase energy efficiency by as much as 34 percent over conventional storage tank heaters, according to the Department of Energy.

But do your research first. The DoE says these appliances can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000, and even the largest models cannot supply enough hot water for simultaneous multiple uses, such as showers and laundry.

-- Courtesy of USAA

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