Trim energy use and fatten your wallet

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July 19, 2004 // UPDATED 2:32 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Robyn Repya
Robyn Repya

Energy-saving tips for your residence

No matter the season, keeping your house up and running can get expensive. Whether it's gargantuan heating bills in winter or sky-high cooling bills in the summer, many homeowners get stuck in the pricey drain of energy costs.

However, many home improvements -- some major, some minor -- can save you a lot of dough.

Depending on how much you're willing to spend upfront to make your condo, house or apartment more energy-efficient, the savings can really add up. And there are plenty of cheap, easy ways for renters and homeowners alike to cut hefty energy bills; sometimes just modifying your daily routine can make a big difference.

Big energy-saving projects

The Center for Energy and the Environment, 212 3rd Ave. N., Ste. 560, is a Downtown nonprofit that runs programs promoting efficient use of natural and economic resources. Program Director Mary Raasch provided lots of project ideas on ways to save money and be more energy-efficient.

She listed insulation upgrades as a great way to retain heat in a home, allowing residents to keep the thermostat low. (Costs vary quite a bit, depending on the size of the area and existing insulation.)

If unsure about whether your home needs more insulation, CEE does home energy inspections for $150. Using diagnostic technology, the evaluator can see how energy is used and wasted in your home.

The state's Energy Information Center, part of the Department of Commerce, maintains that Minnesota has more annual solar energy potential than typically warmer locales, such as Houston.

Although installing an active solar energy system in a home can be very expensive, the state offers a rebate program, funded by Xcel Energy, for grid-connected solar installations. The program offers a rebate of between $2,000 and $8,000, or a 20- to 30 percent reduction in installation costs.

Such high-priced projects are intended to eventually save both energy and money in the long run, however, there are many relatively inexpensive, easy ways to conserve energy and money, too.

Cheap and easy savers

To cool and heat your home more efficiently, CEE recommends grabbing some caulk and weather stripping and patching every air leak you can find. All those little cracks add up; think of leaving them unsealed as the equivalent of leaving a window open. Sealing drafty windows and doors -- even openings around wall outlets and switches, plumbing and electrical wire entries -- will keep a home airtight and prevent heated or cooled indoor air from leaking out.

Xcel Energy is also offering cheap ways to save money and conserve electricity, by offering new, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs at reduced prices. Compared to normal light bulbs, they last 10 times longer and use up to 75 percent less energy, Xcel claims. The company estimates $50 in energy savings per CFL bulb.

Normally, CFL bulbs run $4-$15, depending on the type of bulb. Bulbs are available for indoor and outdoor use, and Xcel is offering them online through a wholesaler (go to www.xcelenergy.com, select "Programs and Resources") or call 1-877-535-0350.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Information Center also offers plenty of great conservation tips for all seasons, through something as simple as yard landscaping.

The center claims a carefully positioned yard tree can cut up to 25 percent from a home's heating and cooling energy consumption. The key is to arrange trees with leaves to block solar heat in the summer but which drop their leaves to make use of winter sun. The center referenced computer models of three carefully arranged trees that could yield an average household annual savings of $100-$250.

The center also cites a South Dakota study that found that trees planted as windbreakers on the north, west and east sides of homes cut fuel consumption -- and costs -- by 40 percent on average. The study found that even homes with wind-breaking trees on just one side still saved nearly 25 percent in fuel costs.

While small and cheap modifications to your home help produce energy and cost savings, there's a lot people can do to save that costs no money at all, just by tweaking their household appliance use.

Free energy-savers

A few adjustments to household maintenance routines in the summer can save money and help cool your home more efficiently. Doing little things like closing your shades during the day will also go far.

For air conditioner tips, CEE says if you're not regularly cleaning and replacing air conditioner filters each month, you should be. It helps the system to run more efficiently. They also recommend setting your thermostat just a few degrees higher (in the summer) to save money on electric bills.

When your air conditioning is on, CEE also recommends locking your windows to make your home more airtight and trap cool air indoors. Closing doors to unused rooms also helps to keep the cool air where it's needed most.

Modifying use of dishwashers, according to CEE, will also save energy. Skipping the drying cycle, for instance, can cut energy usage in half.

For washing machines, energy experts at CEE recommend washing only full loads of laundry so as to maximize the cycle but caution you not to overload. Using cold water in washing cycles, as opposed to hot, will also conserve energy. It's also important to clean the dryer filter after each load of wash and dry loads consecutively, to optimize remaining heat from the previous load.

For more information about how to make your home energy-efficient, visit www.mncee.org or www.state.mn.us. For information on solar rebates, go to www.commerce.state.mn.us and type "solar rebates" into the search box.