|Energy savings: Getting the most for your money
The proper roofing material and insulation throughout the home are essential to cutting energy costs. Building codes throughout the country dictate the minimum amount of insulation, but a homeowner building a house or replacing a roof may select a roof based on how it looks rather than energy efficiency.
Perhaps nowhere in the country is the type of roof more important than in the South, where the goal is usually to reflect heat away from the home. A recent study by Florida Power & Light proves what Southerners have known for generations -- light-colored roofs do the best job of reflecting the sun.
The study also showed that the best type of roofing material for Sunbelt homes is white, galvanized metal. It actually came in a very close second to cement tile roofing in its ability to reflect the sun's heat, but it won overall because of its "superior ability to cool quickly at night." FPL says a white, galvanized-metal roof should save a customer who lives in a 1,770 square-foot home about $128, or 23 percent annually in cooling costs, compared to a dark-gray shingle roof on the same home.
Made in the shade
Landscaping should do more than just look good. The right mix of trees and shrubs can lower your energy bills by blocking winter winds or the summer sun.
Elaine Donaldson, a Portland General Electric employee, put landscaping to work in her yard.
"If there's a wind from the northeast, put in evergreen shrubs or trees that get pretty big. I have shrubs on the north side -- a whole row of them across the back. On the southeast corner of my home I planted a European Mountain Ash tree. It won't get too big and it blocks the sun from hitting the window. I also have a lot of perennials and native plants so I don't have to do a lot of watering in the summer. The city has to pump the water from somewhere -- that's electricity costs. And it could lower the cost of your water, too."
When buying a tree, Donaldson says, make sure you know how big it will be when full grown. Don't put evergreens under power lines, as evergreens tend to get very tall. Your local nursery should be able to help you with energy-saving landscaping tips.
Whether the energy-saving changes you're prepared to make are big-ticket items such as a roof, central air or an appliance, or inexpensive such as changing light bulbs or getting a room air conditioner, be sure to check with your utility company for rebates. You might be surprised to see how rewarding energy efficiency can be.