With global warming a growing threat, there's lots of talk about energy-efficient products -- a boon for the environment and your wallet. Yes, there's an initial upfront cost with these products that often pushes them beyond the cheap zone, but in the long run energy-efficient products will help you save money. You don't need to go crazy with a complicated solar thermal system for water, space heating, and cooling or with grid-tied solar electric to have an energy efficient home. There are plenty of ways to keep it simple and still enjoy the rewards.
Here's how to lighten your carbon footprint and your utility bills.
Energy Star Rating"Energy Star" and "energy efficient" are the new product buzz words. What do they each signify? Products with an Energy Star label meet certain criteria about energy use established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to EnergyStar.gov, a product earns the Energy Star label if the entire category contributes to the efficient use of energy on a national basis; the particular product meets consumer expectations for features and performance while boosting energy efficiency; and the amount of energy the product uses can be measured and verified. In addition, if the energy-efficient product costs more than a similar but less-efficient model, consumers must be able to recoup the extra outlay in the form of lower utility bills within a reasonable timeframe. Energy efficient, by contrast, is simply a way of stating that less energy is needed to get the job done.
Energy Efficient Products for the Home.To reap energy savings in your home, you need to invest in energy-efficient appliances both large and small. Examples include washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and furnaces. You can also buy energy-efficient light fixtures and light bulbs (new standards for energy-efficient bulbs went into effect on January 1), as well as energy-efficient space heaters and fans. Some consumer electronics, such as cordless phones, computers, and televisions, also come with an Energy Star label.
Money Saved.Energy-efficient products really do save you money despite the higher initial investment. Let's say your furnace goes out this winter. You can get it fixed or replace it with a high-efficiency furnace. If you upgrade from a 60% efficiency-rated furnace to one with an 80% efficiency rating (85% or higher qualifies for an Energy Star label), you can expect to save up to 30% on your monthly fuel bill; that translates to $42 on a $140 tab. What if you need to replace a 10-year-old washing machine? EnergyStar.gov says if you buy one with an Energy Star label, you'll use 37% less energy and 50% less water, which together will shave $135 off your utility bills each year.
In addition to reducing your utility costs, you can score again come tax time. Energy-saving purchases may be eligible for an energy-efficient tax credit worth up to 30% of the money you spent. The product must meet specific guidelines and not all energy-efficient products qualify. Check out EnergyStar.gov for details.
There's no getting around the cost of transforming your home into an energy-efficient showcase, so make the switch a little at a time. Try to change out one big appliance on a schedule that suits your budget -- perhaps every six months to a year. For example, replace your old refrigerator for an Energy Star refrigerator this year and buy a new energy-saving dishwasher next year. Make small changes in between, such as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs before the phased-in standards require and warming the rooms you're using with energy-efficient cheap space heaters while dialing down the thermostat on the central heat.
Once your big energy-sucking appliances are replaced with more efficient models, you'll notice big savings in the cost of utilities. Put that money toward the next item on your energy-efficiency list and you'll find that the makeover is that much more affordable.