Smart Spending: Make Home More Energy-Efficient

ASHLEY M. HEHER | AP Retail Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - Times may be tight, but in making your home more energy-efficient it's actually true that the more you spend the more you save.

Here's the scoop: This year's federal economic recovery legislation offers rebates for some energy-efficient appliances. And the resourceful can score tax credits of up to 30 percent of the cost of other improvements aimed at making a home more green.

The changes, repairs, installations and general improvements also can lower your utility bills, which helps your wallet as well as the planet – though most of the credits are capped at $1,500.

"Everyone still wants to be green, but the economy is just such where they're really looking to cut back and save as well," said Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Niemi. "They don't want to spend a lot of money on products, and they want those products to save them on their energy bills."

You can start saving by unplugging every gadget that's not in use, from nightlights to video game consoles, a step that can quickly cut a home's electricity use by 10 percent. Then check out these tips – guaranteed to be cheap and easy weekend projects – to help green both your home and your bank account.

1) GET AN AUDIT. Before you invest in a project, you need to know what areas of your home need an upgrade and which will be most cost-efficient. You can hire a professional to do an energy audit, sometimes at a cost of a few hundred dollars, but there's nothing to keep you from trying one on your own. Get tips at www.energysavers.gov. Lowe's Cos. Inc. and The Home Depot Inc. also offer online audit guides that can help you figure out where to focus your energy.

2) SEAL AIR LEAKS: As temperatures fluctuate, building materials expand and contract, and cracks can form that let outside air in – and inside air out. To cut air seepage, shell out about $3 for a spray can of foam sealant or a bit more for weather stripping.

If you're not sure where the leaks are, use an infrared thermometer ($30 and up) to find where temperatures fluctuate. Or (carefully) hold a lit match near where you suspect drafts. Or try holding tissue paper nearby to see if it flutters.

3) HEATING & COOLING: Programable thermostats start as low as $20 and a novice can install one in an hour or so. The benefit? Many have up four different settings, letting you decide what days and what times to turn on the AC or the heat. Like sleeping when the temperature is cooler? Experts say correct use of a programmable thermostat can cut energy bills an average of $180 a year.

Another easy step with a big payoff: installing a ceiling fan to circulate cool air in the summer and – once you change the way the blades face – warm air in the winter.

Finally: Make sure air filters are cleaned regularly. If they're clogged with dirt, dust and pet fur, it makes a furnace or air conditioner work harder. And harder working equipment means higher energy bills.

4) LIGHTING: The twisty compact fluorescent light bulbs called CFLs are definitely more expensive, starting at about $10 for a four-pack of 75-watt bulbs. But they pay for themselves in about 6 months because they use about 75 percent less energy – and then they last about 10 times longer than a standard incandescent light bulb to keep saving you money. Lowe's experts recommend swapping five of your home's most-used incandescent bulbs for CFLs to save as much as $70 in energy bills over the life of the five bulbs.

About a quarter of a home's energy is used for lighting and appliances. You can cut the lighting use dramatically by buying LED lights, which use up to 90 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb. But the selection remains limited.

"Changing out a light bulb is a common thing," said Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb. "It's something we all know how to do. It's easy. It's inexpensive. And there is an almost immediate return on your utility costs."

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On the Web:

www.energysavers.gov

www.lowes.com/buildyoursavings

www.homedepot.com/taxcredit

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