1. Modify energy-wasting behavior. Monitoring devices provide real-time data on energy consumption and give homeowners the opportunity to adjust it. Scott Pigg, senior project manager with the Energy Center of Wisconsin, says "it's hard to save electricity when the only information you have is the monthly bill. There are several devices on the market that can be installed by homeowners to show you how much electricity you're using at any moment and then take steps to reduce your use. A few field studies have shown five to 15 percent electricity savings in homes where these were installed." Check into such devices as the Kill A Watt EZ electricity usage monitor and Leviton's Decora Manual ON Occupancy Sensor and Decora Manual ON Occupancy Sensor Remote Control. The Kill a Watt EZ lets you unplug an appliance and still see the readings and input local kilowatt-hour rates for dollar figures rather than just a kwh reading. Leviton's sensors detect human motion and respond accordingly and feature sensitivity adjustments.
2. Take advantage of new tax credits. If you had been thinking about residential solar, wind and geothermal, this may be the year to take action. Federal incentives have been extended and even increased for some types. Personal tax credits are available for solar water heat, photovoltaics, wind, fuel cells, geothermal heat pumps and other solar electric technologies. Find details at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Learn more about green incentives here.
3. Add LEDs. The technology is advancing for LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, and more are starting to arrive on the residential scene. They are in desk and under-cabinet lights, outdoor pathway and step lights, decorative string lights and residential downlights. The small light sources are the energy created by the movement of electrons through semiconductor material. Many LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light. Check out the 2008 winners from the annual Lighting for Tomorrow design competition sponsored by DOE, the American Lighting Association and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency. They include Kichler Lighting, recognized for its under-cabinet light fixture Design Pro Series, and Cree LED Lighting Solutions, that won the recessed downlight category with its LR4 downlight.
4. Consider time-of-use billing. Some utilities offer "time of use" electricity rates that vary according to the demand on the system. They charge higher rates during "peak" times when demand is highest and lower rates during "off-peak" times. Some utilities even offer incentives to customers who allow them to install control devices that allow the utility to shut off electric water heaters during peak demand. Shut-off periods are generally short so homeowners experience little reduction in service. Check with your utility to see if this is offered and if it will work for your lifestyle.
5. Switch to an Energy Star-rated TV. When your old TV is ready to be recycled, buy one that meets the Energy Star ratings released Nov. 1, 2008. On average, under the new requirements, an Energy Star-qualified TV will save $35 off a consumer's utility bills over the life of the TV, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. More than 200 models meet the qualifications, which means they are about 30 percent more efficient than non-qualified models. Visit the Energy Star Web site for details.
6. Banish phantom loads. Many VCRs, televisions, kitchen appliances, computers and stereos continue to draw power even when they are switched off. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), up to 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics in the average home is wasted sending power to products that are turned off. Use power strips and remember to switch them to "off." Or, consider a product like the new GreenSwitch™. Greg Hood, founder of GreenSwitch LLC, says the product is meant to bridge the behavior gap. GreenSwitch sends a radio signal to companion components in outlets around the home, taking the energy-saving idea of a power strip to a whole-house level. "Customers have the peace of mind knowing that all of those energy hogs typically left on will be turned off at the flip of a switch as they leave the house," says Hood. The system is expandable. For example, a package of eight light switches or outlets, a master switch and a programmable thermostat would cost less than $900. If you feel comfortable changing out a light switch, the installation is easy. However, a national installation service is available.
7. Test your appliances. Use a portable electricity meter to check how many watts your appliances are using. A few simple plug-in tests will help you determine if it time to replace an appliance. Check with your utility to find out if it lends electricity meters or check out products online such as Watts up?. Learn more about energy-saving appliances here.
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