Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 5 Biggest Energy Hogs in Your House (and they are not Palin!)

FD: The best investment I have made in four years was installing a Lennox. My monthly heating and cooling bills were cut in half, and I am still seeing those savings this year.

If you can not replace them, I found this analysis of how to feed them less of your money... oink!

SURE, RELIGIOUSLY SHUTTING down your computer at night and using efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs can help lower your energy bills.

But such small moves put little more than a dent in your total monthly tab.

Thanks to higher fuel and energy costs, the average household will shell out $3,150 on electricity and gas this year, up from $2,100 in 2007, predicts the Alliance to Save Energy.

To really make those bills more manageable, go after the biggest energy guzzlers in your home: the major appliances.

Here are the five worst offenders and how to pare down their costs:

1) HVAC SystemYour home's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is easily the worst offender,

says Maria Vargas, a spokeswoman for the government's Energy Star program. It's no surprise: Most households employ some sort of climate control 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout both the hottest and coldest parts of the year. In fact, heating and cooling represent 50% of the average household's annual energy bill, a total of $1,575.

How to cut your bill: Program the thermostat so that the HVAC system doesn't have to work as hard while you're at work or asleep, advises Vargas.

By Energy Star estimates, you'll save $180 annually by reducing the temperature by just two degrees in the winter, and adjusting the air-conditioner two degrees higher in the summer. (Other ways to improve efficiency include sealing air leaks and maintenance. Click here for more.)

2) Water HeaterYour water heater works around the clock to provide enough hot water for showers, laundry and dishes, among other things. As a result, it represents 13% — the second-biggest chunk — of your annual energy bill, according to the Department of Energy. That's $405.50 for the average household.

How to cut your bill: Dial down the heater's temperature to 120 degrees from the standard 140 degrees, advises Jennifer Thorne Amann, senior associate at American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "That's a perfectly adequate temperature for all the hot-water needs in your household," she says. Lowering the temperature 20 degrees reduces your annual bill by 20%, or just over $60.

Another trick: Wash clothes in cold water only, suggests Amann. That alone can cut your bill by another $113 a year, while keeping your clothes just as clean.

3) RefrigeratorIs your refrigerator running? You bet — and it periodically cycles up to draw maximum watts and keep the temperature consistent. Worse, it does so each time someone opens the refrigerator door for an extended period of time (say, to figure out which foods to eat for a snack). The fridge accounts for 5% of your annual energy bill, or $160 for the average household, according to the Department of Energy. Expect to pay twice that ($320) if you're one of many consumers who use an ancient, inefficient model for spare food storage in the garage or basement, warns Ronnie Kweller, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy.
How to cut your bill: Keep it clean, advises Kweller. A refrigerator cycles on less frequently if the coils beneath and behind the unit remain clean and dust free. Keeping the fridge at a moderate temperature (36 to 38 degrees, not lower) helps, as does regularly defrosting the freezer to eliminate ice buildup on the interior coils. Got a second fridge that's been around for more than a decade? Recycle it, says Kweller. One bigger fridge is more efficient than two smaller ones. Plus, you'll knock out the $150 or more that dinosaur eats in annual energy bills.

For more electricity-saving tips, read our story 13 Simple Ways to Lower Your Electric Bill or watch our video, 3 Tips to Cut Electricity Bills for more ideas.

4) Clothes DryerHere's a hint on just how inefficient your clothes dryer really is: "A dryer can't earn the Energy Star label right now," says Vargas. There just isn't enough information about what makes one more or less efficient than another.

One thing's for certain, though — they're all energy hogs. Clothes washers and dryers collectively account for 6% of your annual energy bill, with the bulk of that amount coming from the dryer, according to the Department of Energy. That's $181 for the average household.
How to cut your bill: Splurge for the most energy-efficient clothes washer you can afford, advises Amann. A more efficient washer wrings more water from your clothes, cutting drying time in half. If you can't afford a new major appliance, be sure to use your dryer's moisture sensor settings. "It'll turn off as soon as the clothes are dry," says Amann. Cut your drying time in half, and you'll cut your bill in half, too.

5) Dishwasher: Loading up the dishwasher may be more efficient than hand-scrubbing stuck-on remains of last night's mac-n-cheese, but it comes with a convenience fee. Dishwasher use represents 2% of your annual energy bill, or roughly $63, according to the Department of Energy.

Cut Your Bill: Let dishes air dry instead of using the drying feature — which doubles the appliance's power draw, recommends Kweller. That simple move could reduce your bill by $30.

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