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Winterize your home to cut energy bills

By Jason Alderman

We’ve all felt first-hand the painful impact that record oil prices have had on home heating and driving expenses this winter. You’ve also likely seen price hikes on just about everything else as fuel-related shipping and manufacturing cost increases get passed along to consumers.

Although you may not be able to personally influence the global supply and cost of oil, there are many steps you can take to lessen your own home energy expenditures. For example:

Turn down the heat. You can trim your heating bill by 3 to 5 percent for every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter (or raise it in summer). Try lowering it further when you go to bed for even bigger savings.

Insulate your home. Up to 30 percent of heated or cooled air can be lost through leaks, so add weather stripping around windows and doors and caulking around ducts, plumbing bypasses and other wall, floor and ceiling openings. Consult a contractor about insulating your attic, exterior walls, floors and crawl spaces.

Lower the water temperature. Heating water is the third-largest home energy expense, after heating/air conditioning and electrical appliances. Try lowering your water heater temperature to 120° F or lower - no sense running scalding tap water 24 hours a day. Just make sure your dishwasher’s manual says that’s okay. Many hot water heaters work more efficiently with insulating blankets; however, be sure not to cover the thermostat.

Other energy-saving tips:

  • Buy a programmable thermostat so you can lower the temperature when you’re not home and heat things up shortly before you return. (The reverse works in summer.)
  • Use Energy Star products, which consume up to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models. Go to for information on finding local retailers, rebates offered by Energy Star partners and utilities, federal tax credits, home improvement suggestions, and much more.
  • Close off unused rooms and shut their heating vents.
  • Clean or replace furnace filters monthly during the winter and dust refrigerator coils every few months to ensure more efficient operation. Also, clean the dryer lint trap after each use.
  • Install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system to your fireplace to re-circulate warmed air; and always close the damper when not in use.
  • Replace old windows with new high-performance, dual-pane windows.
  • Open blinds or curtains on sunny days to help warm the house; close them at night to retain heat.
  • Compact fluorescent lamps use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, last 10 times longer and save $30 or more over the lifetime of each bulb.
  • Use dimmer switches, timers or motion sensors on incandescent lights.
  • Run full loads in your washer and dryer and use cold or warm water whenever possible. Most detergents are formulated accordingly.
  • Run full dishwasher loads and use the unheated drying cycle if it has one.
  • Don’t preheat the oven and limit opening the door - the temperature drops about 25 degrees each time you do.
  • Turn off lights, computers, televisions and other electronic equipment when not in use.

Practical Money Skills for Life (, a free personal financial management site created by Visa, offers a host of other money-saving budgeting tips.

Remember, besides being good for the environment, the less energy you use the lower your utility bills will be.

Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. To sign up for a free monthly personal finance e-Newsletter, go to

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how tax laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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