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Your Blueprint for a Greener Home

(Family Features) A home is probably the largest purchase you'll make in your lifetime. And the costs don't stop with a mortgage payment - rising energy prices make it expensive to operate and maintain a home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), homes account for 21 percent of the energy used in this country every year, with an average annual utility bill of $1,767.

So it's no surprise that a 2010 survey by the Shelton Group found that 64 percent of respondents were interested in owning or renting an energy-efficient home. If you want to make some energy-saving upgrades, here are things you can do to get greener while saving some green.

Locate and Seal Air Leaks

Reducing drafts in a home can cut energy use from 5 to 30 percent each year, and it makes the home more comfortable year round. Check to see if air is flowing through any of these places:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Window frames
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners

In a study of energy-efficient measures, DOE's Energy Information Administration reported that sealing ducts yielded by far the greatest energy savings of 12 different measures studied, at the lowest cost. And in a DOE study of 100 homes in Phoenix, Arizona, sealing ducts cut leakage by 30 percent.

If you can rattle windows or doors, you may have air leaks there, as well. These can usually be sealed with caulking or weather stripping. In addition:

  • Replace any cracked or loose window panes.

  • Consider replacing older, single-pane windows that show signs of leakage, water damage, or condensation with new double-pane windows installed with proper air sealing and flashing.

  • Windows and doors should be weather stripped. See the DOE Energy Savers website, www.energysavers.gov, for a comprehensive description of different types of caulking and weather stripping material.

Inspect Insulation

When correctly installed, insulation delivers comfort while lowering energy bills during the hottest and coldest times of the year. There are several common types of insulation:

  • Fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms)
  • Cellulose
  • Rigid foam board
  • Spray foam

Reflective insulation (also called radiant barrier) is another insulating product which can help save energy in hot, sunny climates.

To get the biggest savings, the easiest place to add insulation is usually in the attic. A quick way to see if you need more insulation is to look across your uncovered attic floor. If the insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, you probably need to add more insulation.

A qualified home energy auditor will include an insulation check as a routine part of a whole-house energy assessment. You can find more information to help you determine what is most cost-effective for your home at www.energysavers.gov.

Upgrade Appliances

In a typical U.S. home, appliances and home electronics are responsible for about 20 percent of energy bills. These appliances and electronics include:

  • Washers and dryers
  • Computers
  • Dishwashers
  • Home entertainment equipment
  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Room air conditioners
  • Water heaters

Refrigerators and freezers consume about one-sixth of all the electricity used in American households, much more than any other household appliance. The annual cost to operate existing units is about $125, while new, efficient refrigerators cost about $50 to $100 per year to operate. When choosing a new refrigerator:

  • Select an Energy Star model.

  • Select a refrigerator of the appropriate size for your household's needs. Larger models use more energy.

  • Choose top-freezer models instead of side-by-side refrigerators, which use approximately 10 to 25 percent more energy.

  • Select only those features that your household needs. Automatic ice makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14 to 20 percent and increase the purchase price by $75 to $250. Models with anti-sweat heaters consume 5 to 10 percent more energy; however, some refrigerators with this feature have "energy saver" switches that allow you to turn these heaters off.

  • Chest freezers are usually more efficient than upright freezers. They are better insulated, and the cold air does not spill out when the door is opened. Automatic defrost freezers can consume 40 to 50 percent more electricity than manual defrost models.

Upgrading to more efficient appliances will not only improve your energy bill, but could save you even more with state or federal rebates.

Improve Water Usage

  • Typically the largest use of water within a home is involved in toilet flushing. On average this comes out to about 25,000 gallons a year for a family of four. Working with American Standard, the DOE project team for the ReVision Retrofit Home in Las Vegas selected an effective and water efficient dual-flush toilet. The dual flush technology features two operational levels: 1.6 gallons per flush; and 1.0 gallon per flush, for heavy or light flushing respectively. This switch can save a family of four up to 17,000 gallons of water a year.

  • A typical bathroom faucet will draw 2.2 gallons per minute. Changing to a WaterSense listed 1.5 gpm faucet can save a family of four over 8,000 gallons a year.

  • Most conventional washing machines use between 25 and 40 gallons of water per complete cycle. Water-saving versions can cut water (and energy) usage by more than 40 percent. The most energy-efficient washing machines are typically front-loading machines. They use about one third the water as a conventional machine to wash the same amount of clothes.

U.S. Department of Energy