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Energy efficiency improvements to the home can save money, but not everyone can replace their furnace with an air-source heat pump. Here are seven low-cost efficiency tips that can help you reduce your energy bills.

1. Mind the thermostat. You might be able to trim your energy bill by carefully managing the temperature in your home. The Department of Energy suggests setting your thermostat to 68 degrees F on winter days. If that’s too cool, try other ways to stay warm like layering with an extra sweater. You can save more energy by turning down the thermostat even lower at night or when no one is home. 

2. Go programmable. If you don’t always remember to adjust your thermostat manually, you could benefit from a programmable model. In the right situation, set correctly, programmable thermostats can save $150 a year. Some programmable thermostats can be managed from your smartphone or other devices. 

3. Try zone heating. If you don’t mind less-used rooms being colder, you might be able to save energy (and money!) by zone heating. Electric baseboards make it easy because they typically have thermostat settings on the units or in each room. Portable electric space heaters can also be a good tool for zone heating if they are used safely and wisely in the area you spend the most time. Keep in mind, if you’re using space heaters, you’ll need to reduce the heating you’re supplying to the rest of the home. Space heaters that are misused can be dangerous and increase energy costs. 

4. Stop air leaks. Small gaps around windows, doors, wiring and plumbing penetrations can be major sources of energy loss. This problem can be alleviated with a little weather stripping and caulk. A $10 door draft stopper is a simple way to block gaps underneath exterior doors. Sealing air leaks around your home could shave up to one-fifth of your heating and cooling bills. 

5. Manage your windows and window coverings. Your windows may be letting heat out during the winter. Window coverings like medium or heavy-weight curtains and thermal blinds can help. On cold winter days, window coverings can keep warmth inside and improve comfort. Opening window coverings when you’re receiving direct sunlight is a ‘passive solar’ technique that can help cut your heating costs. You can also cover windows with clear plastic to reduce heat loss and air leaks. 

6. Look for energy wasters. There are also small steps you can take every day to reduce your energy use. Water heaters should be kept at 120 degrees F. Wash dishes and clothes on the most economical settings that will do the job and always wash full loads. Use the microwave instead of the oven when possible.

7. Have an energy audit. A home energy audit is the best way to identify areas for energy efficiency improvements. Contact your electric cooperative to see if they offer energy audits or if they can recommend someone local.  

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

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