save some energy, save some green

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American household spends $1,900 each year on energy costs. About half of that covers heating and cooling; the rest goes to lighting, appliances and home electronics. With that in mind, here are some big things—and smaller things—that you can do to make your energy dollar go farther:

The Small Things—

Seal up your home. Patch up and caulk any holes to the outside or your attic. Add weather strips to your exterior doors, as well as doors to the basement and attic. Consider adding insulation to your attic, and to your water heater and the pipes leading from it. Close the flue damper in your fireplace whenever it's not in use.

Maintain your furnace. Have a professional check and clean your furnace each fall to achieve maximum efficiency and safety. And remember to change the filter regularly (check the manufacturer's recommendations).

Turn down the thermostat. This is probably the easiest advice to follow. Set your thermostat between 66 and 68° during the day; even lower at night. The EPA indicates you'll lower your energy bills 5% for every degree lower you set the thermostat for the duration of the winter. Even better, buy a programmable thermostat. They cost between $30 and $100, depending on the features you desire, but they can save you $150 each year.

Replace your five most frequently used light bulbs. Get new ENERGY STAR bulbs, such as compact fluorescent ones, and save more than $60 each year in energy costs.

Power down computers and electronics when not in use. Some of these even use power when turned off—be sure to activate your computer's power management features to completely power it down when idle. Also unplug all chargers and power adapters when electronic items finish charging. Consider unplugging other electronics when they're not in use for a long period for time—microwaves and DVD players, for instance, use power even when they're not "on."

The Big Things—

Replace your windows. Depending on how many windows you replace, this could cost you $10,000 upfront. But windows are a major source of heat loss in wintertime, and upgrading to energy-efficient, double-pane windows can make a big difference in your heating bill, and make your house feel more comfortable.

Replace old appliances. If your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old, consider a new one with an ENERGY STAR rating.

Do both of these and you might save up to 30% on your yearly energy bill, or $600 on average.

Follow these tips and you just might see some nice savings by spring! For more information, check out ENERGY STAR's Money Saving Tips, Bankrate.com, and The Motley Fool's website.

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