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Change the World: 5 low-cost, energy-saving tips

Holly Johnson | Improvement Center Columnist | April 22, 2013

Are you starting to worry about energy conservation and climate change? Our world is changing right before our eyes. It has taken centuries, but we're finally beginning to realize that our planet has a finite amount of resources; that it may be time for the world to stop squandering them and start making smarter decisions about energy use. Still, you might wonder if there is really anything that you can do to make a difference.

Energy Star is a voluntary program of the U.S Environmental Protection agency that promotes greater energy efficiency among individuals and businesses. If you've bought new appliances, windows or a heating and cooling system recently, you might be familiar with their logo signifying compliance with improved standards of energy efficiency.

Energy Star's Change the World campaign, launched April 2, 2013, aims to further increase awareness of our impact on Earth's resources by encouraging businesses and individuals to pledge to take steps, even small ones, that slow the consumption of energy resources and to inspire others to do the same. And through social media and free, printable .pdf files Energy Star is offering you a means to spread the word about energy conservation.

Pledging to make environmentally friendly changes to your energy usage is as easy as visiting Energystar.gov to get started. You'll quickly find out what a huge impact can be made when millions of people start using less and conserving more.

Change the World: 5 small ways to save energy

You might think that you need to make drastic changes to your home or business in order to make a real difference in your energy usage. However, many relatively minor changes, most of which are inexpensive or even free to implement, can increase energy efficiency.

  1. Turn off appliances when they're not in use. According to Energy Star, the average home uses up to 75 percent of its energy powering electronics that are not in use. That's an almost unbelievable statistic, but it has an extremely easy fix. You can simply choose to unplug your appliances when you aren't using them. You can also plug your appliances into a power strip and switch off the power strip when you leave your house or when your appliances are not in use.
  2. Adjust the temperature on your water heater. The average household spends $400-$600 dollars per year simply keeping water heated and ready for use. If you don't want to replace your water heater with a new Energy Star qualified model, you can still have a significant impact simply by turning the temperature on your water heater down. Taking this small action may drastically reduce its energy usage since it won't have to work as hard to keep your water heated.
  3. Use energy-efficient light bulbs. According to Energy Star, replacing the five most heavily used light fixtures in your home can result in an instant savings of $70 off your annual energy bill. One woman who took the Energy Star Pledge is quoted on their site: "We couldn't afford to change all the bulbs at once, so we chose to replace the bulbs in the rooms where the lights are on the most, and we change two every month." Replacing your lights with Energy Star-qualified light bulbs may be one of simplest ways to save money and energy in your home. And, like the woman quoted, you can even replace a few light bulbs at a time to soften the blow to your pocketbook.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat. Those who want to lower their heating and cooling bills and conserve energy can make a big impact just by purchasing and installing a programmable thermostat. Programmable thermostats have an unbeatable advantage against regular models because you can simply "set it and forget it." You can even program your thermostat to save energy while you're sleeping, on vacation, or at work.
  5. Add insulation to your attic. According to Energy Star, up to half of a home's energy bill's costs can be attributed to heating and cooling. Adding insulation to your attic can be an easy and inexpensive way to conserve energy and lower your heating and cooling bills. A man, who identified himself as Marty M., took the Energy Star pledge and did something about the energy he was losing due to poor insulation: "I have had insulation blown into my attic and have added 4 inches of insulation underneath my home." You can also seal additional leaks by caulking or applying new weather-stripping around doors and windows.

Small as these changes might seem, they could significantly impact your overall energy usage and expense. Once you start the process of making your home more energy-efficient, however, you might even get hooked on finding more ways to save. If your budget allows, you could also consider upgrades such as Energy Star-qualified appliances, replacement windows, geothermal heat pumps, solar panels and more. For additional savings check the EnergyStar.gov site for improvements that could qualify you for tax credits. Saving the world could save you even more money.