The U.S. average cost per gallon of gasoline is at an all-time high of more than $3.80 per gallon, and headed toward $4.00 by summer. Increased energy costs are taking a toll on the nation not only at the pump, but also in homes. Even natural gas, long seen as the cheap alternative to petroleum products is creeping toward $11.00 per thousand cubic feet (MCF) – in a $4.00 gasoline environment, consumers are likely to see natural gas selling for the equivalent of about $2.00 per gallon. For people wanting to cut energy costs around the house, Better Business Bureau (BBB) has advice on home improvements that can take a bite out of the energy bill.
The average American household spends $1,400 a year on energy bills, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. What many households don’t realize is that they are paying more than they need to, and by making a few basic home improvements, they can bring down the cost of their bills every month.
BBB offers the following home improvement advice to help reduce energy costs:
Look toward the windows
While replacing old windows with more energy-efficient options requires an upfront investment, homeowners will reap the benefits of this improvement for years to come. Some energy-efficient windows are designed for warmer climates with coatings that prevent heat absorption. Homeowners in cooler climates should consider installing storm windows which can reduce heat loss through windows by 25 to 50 percent.
Stop the leaks
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are many culprits for air leaks around the house that contribute to inflated heating and cooling bills: 31 percent of air is leaked through floors, walls and ceilings, 15 percent from ductwork, 14 percent from the fireplace, 13 percent from plumbing penetrations and 11 percent from doors. In fact, only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 are well-insulated. Applying weather stripping to windows and doors is an easy do-it-yourself project for most homeowners. For a more comprehensive attack on air leaks in the house, homeowners can also call in a professional.
Out with the old, in with the green
Appliances account for 20 percent of homeowners’ energy bills. When shopping for new appliances, heaters, or air conditioners, BBB advises consumers to look for the Energy Star logo – the federal government’s label for energy efficiency. While such purchases can be initially expensive, a new, energy efficient air conditioner, for example, could save up to 50 percent on the utility bill for cooling.
Money does grow on trees
By planting tress and shrubs homeowners can create shade in the summer and windbreaks in the winter. Not only do they add aesthetic value, but carefully positioned trees can save up to 25 percent of the energy a typical household uses for cooling. Trees and shrubs can also be planted near an air conditioning unit to conserve energy. A shaded air conditioner will use as much as 10 percent less energy.
Even though winter seems like a long way away, now is the time to consider improvements that will pay off when the temperature drops. For instance, air ducts that aren’t insulated can lose up to 60 percent of heated air, and BBB Accredited Business, Owens Corning, notes that an estimated 60 million American homes are under-insulated. The Department of Energy recommends 15.5 inches of fiberglass blanket insulation or about 18 inches of blown insulation for attics.
For more objective advice from BBB on home energy efficiency, other home improvement project issues and to find trustworthy contractors for your project, go to www.bbb.org.