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Apr 7, 2009

Now's the time to invest in energy-efficient home improvements and take advantage of new federal tax credits. Tax credits are available for 30 percent of the cost of qualified windows, skylights, doors, insulation, water heaters or solar panels. Tax credits, unlike tax deductions, are as good as a rebate -- they come straight out of Line 46, the taxes you owe.

You may not be able to claim tax credits for energy efficiency improvements to your home on this year's return (unless you installed a geothermal heat pump, solar water heater, small wind energy systems or fuel cells) but this is a good time to consider making improvements in 2009 and 2010. The economic stimulus package restored and expanded tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements made in 2009 and 2010.

Why is the government so interested in your windows and insulation? Heating and cooling account for a whopping 40 percent of U.S. residential energy use. Poorly insulated homes, single-paned windows and old inefficient water heaters and boilers are wasting energy and money. By increasing our homes' energy efficiency we can save money, reduce the emissions that cause global warming and reduce the need for new power plants. Learn more about where you may be wasting energy (and money) in your home. Take the house tour.

Tax credits are available for 30 percent of the cost, up to $1,500, for qualified windows, skylights, doors, insulation, metal and asphalt roofs, HVAC, non-solar water heaters and biomass stoves. The credit is available for existing homes and it must be your primary residence. For windows, doors, insulation and roofs, the credit is only for the cost of materials, not installation.

There's no upper limit for geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells through 2016 for existing homes and new construction. And you can include the cost of installation when figuring your 30 percent tax credit for these as well as HVAC and biomass stoves.

In addition to the federal tax credit, you may also be eligible for rebates or other incentives from your state when you make energy-related improvements to your home. For state-by-state details, see 

Not all Energy Star labeled products are eligible for the tax credit so choose carefully. Learn more about qualified products and credits on the Energy Star website. Check out IRS form 5695 to learn how to claim residential energy credits. Remember to keep your receipts and the Manufacturer Certification Statement. 

  • Learn more about how you can save energy -- see what consumes the most energy in American homes and learn which simple steps will have the greatest impact on your energy bill. Take the house tour.

  • Switching to solar power may not be as expensive as you think. Tax credits are available for 30 percent of the cost, including installation. Learn more about qualified products and credits on the Energy Star website.


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Posted: Apr 7, 2009 2:44pm
Mar 19, 2009

There are some things it's hard to get around to doing -- even when they're making a 'drip, drip' noise. Celebrate 'Fix a Leak' week by checking your faucets, showers and toilets for leaks and then putting a stop to the flow. The EPA estimates that leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the U.S.

Even if you live in a place that doesn't suffer from drought, there are plenty of reasons to use water more efficiently. Supplying and treating water for your home requires a significant amount of energy. And efficient water use can reduce the amount of energy needed to treat wastewater and preserve existing streams and rivers.

Fix leaks

Old and worn faucet washers and gaskets frequently cause leaks in faucets and showers. If your shower is leaking from the showerhead, apply a little pipe tape around the pipe stem and then screw the showerhead on. Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip every second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year.

Check your toilet for leaks

A leaking toilet can waste anywhere about 200 gallons of water every day. To see if your toilet is leaking, put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the dye shows up in the toilet bowl after 10 minutes or so, the toilet has a leak. Leaking is usually caused by an old or poorly fitting flapper valve, which is cheap and easy to replace. New and improved high-efficiency toilets use less than 1.3 gallons per flush-that's at least 60 percent less than toilets made before 1992.

Watering the Lawn

If you have an in-ground irrigation system, check it each spring to make sure it wasn't damaged by frost or freezing. An irrigation system at 60 psi with a leak the thickness of a dime can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you may have a leak.

Don't waste water

Letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours. Low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators can reduce the amount of water you use while increasing water pressure. Heating hot water is responsible for 11 percent of home energy use. Remember to use cold water rather than hot to save energy. Get more tips on increasing your water heater's efficiency and reducing the amount of hot water you use.

  • Turn on the cold tap and save energy by using less hot water. Heating hot water is responsible for 11 percent of home energy use.

  • Fix leaks around your home. To check toilets for leaks, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If the dye shows up in the toilet bowl you may need to replace the flapper valve.

  • If you have a conventional in-ground sprinkler system, consider replacing it with a drip irrigation system. They use between 20 to 50 percent less water.
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Posted: Mar 19, 2009 10:34am
Mar 11, 2009

Are you pouring money down the drain every time you turn on the hot water? Reduce your utility bills by  increasing your water heater's efficiency and reducing the amount of hot water you use. In most homes, heating water consumes as much energy as lighting. Here are four basic things you can do to save energy and money.

Use Less Hot Water

By replacing old showerheads with new water-saving designs you can save energy without shortening your shower. Low-flow showerhead models use an average of 2.5 gallons per minute compared to the 5 to 7 gallons used by a conventional showerhead.

Install a low-flow aerator on your kitchen faucet. Most aerators include spray settings that making washing easier and more efficient.

Don't turn the hot water knob on your faucet unless you actually want hot water.  If you turn it on to wash your hands but your system is slow in getting the hot water to the faucet, then you have just wasted money to heat your pipes.

Lower the Temperature on the Water Heater

Set your water heater to 120 degrees. That should provide most households with enough warm water for showering and washing. If you live alone, you can set it lower -- each 10 degree reduction in water temperature can save between 3 and 5 percent of your water heating costs. When you are going away on vacation, turn the thermostat down to the lowest possible setting.

Insulate Hot Water Pipes

Insulating your hot water pipes will keep water hot as it flows through the pipes to your faucet and the water will stay warmer in the pipes. Even when pipes are insulated, the water in the pipes will cool but by staying warmer longer it'll save energy and water. It's easy to insulate the first 6 to10 feet of hot water supply pipe from the water heater. Pipe insulation is available at any hardware store.

Insulate Your Water Heater

An easy do-it-yourself project that should offer an immediate payoff in lower bills is to insulate your water heater. Particularly if your heater is in an unheated part of the house, a fitted water heater blanket can pay for itself quickly.

  • Set your water heater to 120 degrees or less. It'll keep your water hot without wasting energy.
  • Replace old showerheads with new water-saving designs and install low-flow aerators on your faucets.
  • Add insulation to your water heater and hot water pipes. A fitted water heater blanket can pay for itself. 
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    Posted: Mar 11, 2009 9:16am
    Mar 3, 2009

    How much energy could be saved by more efficient lighting? If you're among the millions of Americans who switched to CFLs, you've seen the difference in your electricity bill. But how much energy could be saved with better federal efficiency standards? The numbers are staggering -- a higher standard for just two kinds of bulbs found in offices and homes could save 15.8 quadrillion BTUs of energy by 2048. A quadrillion is one thousand million million -- that's 15 zeros.

    The Department of Energy has proposed new standards for fluorescent tube lamps, including the four-foot-long bulbs found in millions of office light fixtures, and incandescent reflector lamps, the common cone-shaped light bulbs used in "recessed can" light fixtures and track lighting. But the standards don't go far enough -- this is largest potential energy savings of any appliance standard in history at a time when we need it the most.

    Slightly higher standards than the ones proposed could save an additional 6.2 quadrillion BTUs of energy and save consumers $25.6 billion dollars by 2048. And any reduction in energy use reduces emissions of CO2, NOx and mercury, in this case by 290 million metric tons, 461 kilotons and 2.4 tons, respectively.

    Tell the Energy Department to save money and energy by strengthening lighting efficiency standards. The Obama Administration will review the Bush Administration's decision before the final rule is issued in June, now is the time to demand better efficiency standards. Learn more about the proposed standards on NRDC Energy Policy Analyst Lane Burt's blog.

    Many Americans have already done their part by switching to more efficient lighting at home, tossing out incandescent bulbs and replacing them with CFLs. Now it's time for the government to make sure the lighting industry is making the best, most efficient products for all consumers.

    Take a look at the lighting in your office and home and see if you're using these older, inefficient bulbs. BR type bulbs, with a slight bulge designed to focus light where needed, are exempt from efficiency standards. You might find these bulbs in recessed ceiling lights or outdoor spotlights. The truth is CFLs work well in these sockets and you don't need these specialty lights wasting your money. Not all fluorescent tube lamps are efficient, older T12 bulbs use much more energy than T8 or T5 bulbs. Its easy to tell, T12s have a diameter of 1.5 inches (12/8), while T8 are an inch around and T5s are 5/8s of an inch around.

  • Tell the Energy Department to save money and energy by strengthening lighting efficiency standards.
    • Take a look at the lighting in your office and home and see if you're using older, inefficient bulbs. BR type bulbs, with a slight bulge designed to focus light where needed, are exempt from efficiency standards.

    • After you've replaced incandescent bulbs with CFLs in your home and office, consider replacing older specialty lighting with new lamps. You don't even have to remove the old fixtures, just add another, more efficient light source.
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    Posted: Mar 3, 2009 3:28pm
    Jan 29, 2009

    Ensure that your computer doesn't work overtime and waste electricity with these simple steps. Get rid of your screensaver, shut off your monitor and plug into a smarter power strip to save energy, money and prevent pollution from power plants.

    Set Sleep Mode

    Check your computer's settings and activate "sleep mode." Setting your computer to go to sleep after a few minutes of inactivity will save power and the battery if you're using a laptop. Shutting down an inactive monitor and processor can save you up to $50 a year and cut energy use by more than 90 percent. Mac users can find energy saving settings under System Preferences in the Apple menu and adjust the sleep time. Windows users will find power management in the control panel. Windows users may want to opt for operating system Vista's "hibernate" mode over sleep, because it rests the computer in a way that doesn't require you to reload everything when you switch it back on.

    Get Rid of the Screen Saver

    After configuring your sleep settings, take a look at your monitor. Are you using a screen saver? Those flying toasters use as much energy as leaving the computer on. With older monitors, static images would get "burned" onto the screen after a while, hence the term "screen saver" but that's no longer an issue with today's monitors. Set your computer to go to sleep or to hibernate instead.

    Shut off the Monitor

    Monitors typically uses more energy than the computer's hard drive. Remember to turn the monitor off when you're not using your computer. And speaking of flying toasters, if your monitor is as old as that screen saver, it might be time to consider replacing it. Older glass CRT monitors suck up more electricity than flat panel LCD screens. LCDs not only save tons of desk space and ease your eyestrain, but they also use two-thirds less power than CRT monitors. As always, look for the Energy Star label when purchasing any home or office electronics and don't throw electronics out with the trash. Monitors contain lead and should be properly disposed of.

    Plug Into a Smarter Power Strip

    Consider the blinking lights of the rest of the gadgets on your desk: your printer, fax machine, CD burner, external hard drive, MP3 player and any other device that is plugged into your computer. Plugging all those peripherals into a single power strip lets you turn them all off at once. New smarter power strips for the home office can automatically shut off all those peripherals when you shut off your computer. APC's SurgeArrest or Sophisticated's PowerKey Pro are power strips that "know" when your computer turns off or goes to sleep. In response, they shut down any external gadgets plugged into the same strip by cutting power to those outlets.

    Finally, some good news for laptop owners: your computers are about 50 percent more efficient than comparable desktops, because they're designed to maximize battery life.

  • De-activate your screen saver setting and set it to go to sleep instead.
  • Buy a power strip for all the gadgets connected to your computer to cut off power automatically when they're not being used.
  • Get in the habit of turning off your computer monitor and other external gadgets when you're not using them. By the end of a month, saving energy at your desk at home or at work will become second nature.


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    Posted: Jan 29, 2009 8:13am


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