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Financial Education for Everyone

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March 16, 2007

Like most Americans, you're probably reeling from your winter heating bills and hoping spring comes soon. I spoke with some insiders at a major utility company about ways consumers can conserve energy – and cut utility bills. Here are some of their money-saving tips:

Lower your thermostat. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that every 1 degree you lower your thermostat saves about 3 percent on your heating bill. Try lowering it further when you go to bed or are away from home to see an even bigger difference. If you have a furnace, clean or replace the filters frequently – at least once every three months – to ensure efficient operation. On sunny days, open your blinds or curtains to help warm the house; close them at night to help retain heat.

Insulate your home. You can save up to 10 percent of your heating (and cooling) costs by adding weather stripping around windows and doors and caulking around ducts, plumbing bypasses and other openings in walls, floors and ceilings. And talk to a contractor about adding insulation to your attic, exterior walls, floors and crawl spaces. The investment will pay for itself many times over.

Water temperature. Water heating is the third-largest energy expense in the home. Try lowering your water heater temperature to 120°F or lower to see if it’s still comfortable. No sense running scalding water from the tap. (However, if you have a dishwasher, check the manual first to ensure proper operation.) Many hot water heaters also work more efficiently with insulating "blankets," but be careful not to cover its thermostat.

Buy Energy Star products. If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, we’d save enough energy each year to light more than 2.5 million homes. And Energy Star appliances are much more efficient than standard models. For example, Energy Star washers use 50 percent less energy than pre-1994 models. Go to www.energystar.gov for a wealth of information on finding stores that sell these products, special rebates offered by Energy Star partners and utilities, federal tax credits, home improvement suggestions, and much more.

Fireplaces. Traditional fireplaces can often allow more heated air to escape than they generate. Look into installing tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room. And always make sure the damper is closed when the fireplace is not in use.

Use appliances more efficiently. For example:

  • Run full loads in your washer and dryer and use cold or warm water whenever possible. Most detergents are formulated accordingly.
  • Run full dishwasher loads and use the unheated drying cycle if it has one.
  • Refrigerators are one of the biggest energy hogs in your home. Older machines use twice the energy of newer Energy Star models.
  • Don’t preheat your oven and limit how often you open the door – each time you do, the temperature drops about 25 degrees.
  • Turn off computers, printers, televisions, stereos and other equipment when not in use.

You can find a host of other money-saving budgeting tips at Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting), a free personal financial management site sponsored by Visa Inc.

And, remember, as I tell my kids, turn off the darn lights when you leave a room – we’re not made out of money, you know.


This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.