Insulating your home and using proper heating and cooling systems curb pollution -- and cut bills,

Insulating your home and using proper heating and cooling systems curb pollution -- and cut bills, too.
ou wouldn't flush money down the toilet or toss your wallet out the window, would you?
Of course not! And yet according to the U.S. Department of Energy, millions of Americans throw money away every day by making poor choices on home energy consumption.
According to the department's Web site, the amount of energy wasted in American homes each year through poorly insulated windows and doors alone is about the same as the amount of energy received yearly through the Alaskan pipeline.
Besides drafty doors and windows, other energy wasters that top the department's hit list include: living in a home that is not properly weatherized or insulated; relying on inefficient appliances; using an outdated furnace or air conditioner; and using a fireplace with no damper.
Although there are numerous ways to waste energy, the good news is that there are just as many ways for homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient -- and their wallets a little fatter.
By following these tips, you can cut the cost of your energy bills by 10 percent to 50 percent and help reduce air pollution generated by fossil fuels.
Is your home properly insulated? Adding insulation to your home's attic, floors, walls, crawl space and basement is one of the fastest ways to reduce energy waste and save money.
Insulating your home's attic is easy and very cost-effective. If you have enough insulation in your attic and your home still feels drafty in the winter, you might not have enough insulation in the exterior walls.
Drafty, inferior windows could also be the culprit. Double-pane windows and exterior or interior storm windows are best at keeping cold air out and warm air in. In fact, top-notch windows can reduce your heat loss by 25 percent to 50 percent.
Choose storm windows made of strong, durable materials with weather stripping at all moveable joints.
To maximize solar gain, keep windows on the south side of the house clean and keep blinds and curtains open during the day.
Caulking and sealing all seams, cracks and openings to the outside will also help keep a home toasty in winter as well as cool in summer.
During summer, the best way to keep a house cool is to prevent heat from building up in the first place.
Because the primary source of heat build-up is sunlight that is absorbed through the roof, walls and windows, a few strategically planted trees can be just what you need to save energy and money. In fact, trees planted in the right places can cut energy bills by as much as 25 percent.
Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a home will keep rooms cooler in summer, and because deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall, they will still allow sunlight to shine in and warm the house up during winter.
If you rely on a window air conditioner to keep the house cool during summer, know that bigger doesn't always mean better. In fact, a window air conditioner that is too large for the area it is supposed to cool won't perform as efficiently as a proper-size unit. Window units work better if they run consistently instead of being turned on and off.
When using a window air conditioner, also consider using an interior fan to help spread the cool air around the house, and don't put televisions or lamps near the unit because the heat from these will confuse the unit's thermostat.
Because appliances account for about 20 percent of your home's energy use, there's ample opportunity to either save or waste energy in your home's kitchen.
To make the most of your dishwasher's efficiency, fill the dishwasher up but don't overload it, scrape off large food particles from dirty dishes instead of rinsing them off and let dishes air dry.
If your dishwasher has an internal heating element, set it to a lower temperature to save hot water, and don't use the "rinse hold" selection on the dishwasher for just a few dirty dishes. This setting uses 3 to 7 gallons of water each time.
If you have a gas stove, make sure the flame is burning blue and not yellow. A yellow flame indicates that the gas is burning inefficiently. On an electric stove, save energy by matching the size of the pan to the heating element, cover kettles to help water boil faster and use small electric pans or toaster ovens to warm small portions of food.
If you cook with electricity, turn stovetop burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The heating element will stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity.
The fridge: Also, make sure the refrigerator and freezer door seals are airtight and don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37 to 40 F for the refrigerator and 5 F for the freezer.
Once a year, move the refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum the condenser coils. If the coils are clean, the refrigerator will run for shorter periods.
To save money and energy while washing clothes, wash in cold water using a cold-water detergent as much as possible.
Also wash and dry only full loads, and if you are washing a small load, don't forget to use the appropriate water level setting.
To keep clothes dryers from sending your utility bills soaring, don't over-dry clothes and use the cool-down cycle on the dryer.
Also make sure that your dryer vent doesn't become clogged with lint. Doing so will not only prevent energy waste, it can also prevent a fire from starting.
Don't send dollars up the chimney in a puff of smoke -- keep the fireplace damper closed when it is not in use. Keeping a damper open at all times is the same thing as opening a 48-inch window wide during the dead of winter.
When you do use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening the dampers at the bottom of the firebox, or if these do not exist, opening the nearest window about one inch. Also close doors that lead to adjacent rooms and lower the thermostat setting.
You can increase lighting efficiency by replacing 25 percent of the lights in high-usage areas of your home with fluorescents. Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last six to 10 times longer.
For outdoor lighting, use lamps with a timer so they turn off during the day.
No matter what kind of heating system you have in your home, you can save money and energy by updating your equipment. Remember, though, that a high-efficiency furnace will not make a great impact on cutting energy bills unless your home is also properly insulated and weatherized.
The efficiency of a home's heating system also depends upon a home's air ducts -- a network of tubes in the walls, floors and ceilings. Ducts might be out of sight and out of mind, but the effect they have on your home's heating and cooling system is far from invisible.
If ducts are poorly insulated and leaking air into unheated spaces, this can add hundreds of dollars to your heating bill each year.
Preventing leaks by sealing ducts in the attic or crawl space will keep warm air in during winter and keep cool air from escaping during summer.

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