How to pare down home energy bills
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For those willing to spend more money, A number of high-tech products can make a dent in home energy costs. Tankless water heaters, ranging in price from $500 to $1,100, generate big energy savings by working on demand rather than keeping water warm 24 hours per day. An outdoor thermometer, which connects to the boiler indoors, costs about $100 and will help reduce energy use on relatively warm winter days.Skip to next paragraph
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Shopping for new appliances? Look for refrigerators, dishwashers - even TVs and computers - with the government's Energy Star label. These appliances typically cost a bit more than other models, but can save money in the long run.
Homeowners considering a new energy-efficient heating system should wait a few months, says Bernie Kent, a personal finance partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. In January, the Energy Tax Incentive Act goes into effect. The law creates a series of tax credits to encourage people to be energy conscious. For example, a maximum annual credit of $500 can be applied after purchases of big-ticket items such as energy-efficient water heaters or new boilers.
The act also contains solar-energy incentives, offering separate tax credits of up to $2,000 each, which can be applied to the installation of solar water heaters and panels, which can cost close to $5,000 uninstalled.
As an alternative, homeowners can be credited for 10 percent of what they spend on "residential energy property expenditures" such as new insulation, windows, or doors. While the new tax incentives do not cover all the Energy Star appliances, a still-unfunded provision offers matching funds to states that provide rebates for all Energy Star products.
Despite the existence of so many options, most families don't think ahead about how to reduce energy use. Only 28 percent of Americans said that they "plan to install measures to conserve energy at home before this winter," according to a survey taken last month by the National Oilheat Research Alliance.
Such attitudes may change soon. "With rising gasoline prices, we're finally seeing demand beginning to fall substantially," says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. "People are changing their behavior and starting to conserve."
That pattern, she says, will eventually take hold in the home.
Some homeowners may base their energy-use habits on false assumptions. To set the record straight, Portland General Electric, Oregon's largest utility company, sheds light on certain "energy myths:"
Myth: Leaving a light on uses less energy than turning it off and on several times.
Truth: Leaving an incandescent light on uses more energy than turning it on and off as needed. But a compact fluorescent light should be left on if it will be used again within 15 minutes. Switching CFLs on and off frequently shortens their lives.
Myth: Keeping your thermostat at the same temperature day and night uses less energy than turning it down at night and heating your home up again in the morning.
Truth: It takes less energy to warm up a cold home in the morning than it does to maintain a constant temperature throughout the night.
Myth: The higher you set your heater's thermostat, the faster your home will warm up.
Truth: It will take the same amount of time for the temperature to reach 70 degrees F. whether the thermostat is set at 70 or 90 degrees. Setting the thermostat all the way up increases your heating costs.
Myth: It costs less energy to boil water if you start with hot water from the tap.
Truth: It essentially uses the same amount of energy (and costs the same) whether you use hot or cold water. If you use hot water, you've already paid to heat the water in the water heater.