Dear "Earth Talk": I'd like to start saving more energy in my home. Do you have any tips? -- Mitch Rochelle, Carson City, Nev.
A University of Michigan study estimates that the average American household could reduce its energy bills by 65 percent and, over the home's lifetime, save $52,000 if it maximized energy efficiency.
One place to start is household appliances. For example, on an older refrigerator, vacuum the coils at the back of the unit regularly to keep them clean and free of dirt and dust. When they become covered in dust, their efficiency is dramatically reduced.
Although repairing old appliances can improve energy efficiency somewhat, replacing them with new models that comply with the federal government's Energy Star standards can reduce household energy costs by 20 percent. Consumers should remember that getting the right-size unit installed professionally is essential to getting the most from a new appliance.
Air conditioning and heating need not take such a huge bite out of America's energy dollar. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if your air conditioner is more than eight years old, it's a good candidate for replacement. If your furnace or boiler is old or simply inefficient, the best solution is to replace it with a modern high-efficiency model. And to keep heating bills to a minimum, install a programmable thermostat and schedule it to trigger heat only during the hours you are home.
Many older homes are poorly sealed and lack insulation, sending energy bills skyrocketing. Also, it is common to find gaps between duct joints, whether a home is new or old. Seal and insulate ducts that are exposed in such areas as your attic and crawlspace to improve your system's efficiency. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by properly sealing air leaks and adding insulation, you can improve comfort and cut your energy bills by as much as 10 percent.
For a do-it-yourself assessment of your home's potential energy efficiency, check out the Home Energy Saver Web site, run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Special software enables users to input information about their homes and then learn how much energy (and money) they could save by insulating the attic or installing double-glazed windows. There's no time like the present to save energy in your home.
Send questions to "Earth Talk" in care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; or e-mail email@example.com.