Making Your Home More Energy Efficient
For those of us living in a location a little north of Hawaii, the arrival of winter usually means high energy bills. To save money, you could wear your coat inside and turn off the heat, but that probably doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time. However, if you are a homeowner, there may be some simple projects you can undertake to make your home more energy-efficient. They do require you to spend some money up-front, but long-term, you can save thousands of dollars on your energy bills.

Seal Windows and Doors
If you had a 6-inch hole in the middle of your window, you would fix it, right? Well, air can just as easily enter around the sides of windows and doors. To determine if there are gaps that need sealing, place a piece of thread or tissue near the frames on a windy day. If you see it flutter, you know air is coming in. Doors and moveable joints in windows can be sealed with weatherstripping. Weatherstripping comes in various depths and widths – you may want to talk to a hardware store employee about what to use for different locations. Fixed joints in windows can be sealed with caulking. Although it is more expensive, another option, if you have older doors and windows, would be to replace them with new, energy-efficient ones.

You may be able to improve the energy efficiency in your home by increasing the thickness of existing insulation or adding it in areas where there is none. Insulating an unfinished attic is usually a fairly easy project since you don’t have to remove drywall and turn your living space into a construction zone. You can also add insulation around pipes and heating/cooling ducts in unheated areas and the water heater. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard. It is a good idea to consult with a professional or do some research about the recommended level and type of insulation in each area of the home. A helpful source of information is The Zip-Code Insulation Program, created by the Department of Energy, which provides insulation guidelines based on your location and the home’s characteristics.

Replace Appliances and Heating/Cooling Systems
Running appliances and heating and cooling takes up a good chunk of most people’s energy bills. Replacing a refrigerator or furnace is not cheap, but if you are still using the avocado-green fridge from the 70s that was left by the previous owner, it may be worth it, as older appliances and systems tend to waste a lot of energy. A simple way to find energy-efficient products is to see if they have an Energy Star label. To qualify for this label, a product must meet certain standards for energy usage set by the government.

Tax Benefits
Making your home more energy efficient can not only save you money on utilities but lower your tax bill as well. On your 2009 and 2010 federal income tax return, you can claim a credit for 30%, up to $1,500 (combined for both years), of the cost of adding/replacing windows, doors, insulation, roofs (metal or asphalt), HVAC systems, water heaters (non-solar), and biomass stoves. For geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, and small wind energy systems, you can claim the credit until 2016, and the $1,500 cap does not apply. The credit is only available for the purchase price, not installation costs, and not all products are eligible, even if they are Energy Star certified. Qualifying products come with a Manufacturer’s Certification Statement – be sure to save both this statement and the receipt in case you are audited.

It may be cold outside, but energy bills do not have to put a freeze on your finances.