With energy costing the average U.S. household more than $1,200 a year, strategies to conserve power can pay off big. And conservation no longer means shivering in the dark, taking a lukewarm shower or saving pennies at a time by turning off lights. Now you can save several hundred dollars without sacrificing comfort.
For example, replacing a furnace and central air conditioner with high-efficiency models can cut your bills by 30 percent or more. A new refrigerator uses about 75 percent less electricity than one built before 1980.
But you don't have to replace major systems to save. Consider these inexpensive strategies:
— Install a programmable thermostat to raise (or lower) the temperature while you're sleeping or at work. You will save about 3 percent on your energy bill for each degree you give up.
— Increase efficiency of your heating and air-conditioning systems. Have the ducts cleaned and caulk leaky windows.
— Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescents. They use 75 percent less energy than regular bulbs and last 10 times as long.
— Insulate your water heater. An insulating blanket costs $20 and will pay for itself in a year or less by reducing the heat lost through the tank's walls by 25 percent to 40 percent.
— Buy energy efficiency. Look for the Energy Star label www.energystar.gov when buying new appliances. It identifies appliances that tend to be 30 percent more energy efficient than standard models.
— Consider an energy audit. Your gas or electric utility may offer a free or low-cost walkthrough inspection of your home to pinpoint potential savings. Or you can conduct your own audit with the Alliance to Save Energy's Home Energy Checkup www.ase.org/checkup/home.