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Energy savings: Getting the most for your money

You don't need to be living in California to be hit hard by increasing energy costs.

Whether you're in a hot climate or a cold one -- or something in between -- you're probably paying a lot more for gas and electricity.

There are plenty of ways to cut your energy costs, and many of them involve small changes that don't require the outlay of a whole lot of cash, either.

In fact, there are some things you can do that don't cost a cent.

"Turn down your home thermostat two degrees," says Mark Fryburg of Portland General Electric in Portland, Ore. "For every degree that you lower it, you will cut 2 percent of your heating bill.

"Lower your hot water thermostat. For every 10 degree temperature reduction, that's saving 3 to 5 percent, or $9 to $15 a year off your water heating bill. That's assuming you're heating with electricity.

"Another thing you can do is fix leaky hot water faucets. That'll save you about a dollar a month."

Get an energy check-up
Michael Lowndes of Uniondale, N.Y.-based Long Island Power Authority says the first thing homeowners should do is have a home energy audit.

"Not just once -- repeat it every couple of years. It gives good baselines to work with."

Audits, whether they're done in person by someone from the utility company or by questionnaire, are usually free and cover everything from heating and cooling systems to appliances to insulation. When the audit is done, you'll know which areas of your house are the most energy inefficient. In other words -- where you're letting money fly out the window.

The U.S. Department of Energy has many energy saving tips on its Web site. They can help you save money in every area of your home.

Which energy-saving improvements give you the biggest and fastest return on your investment can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including where you live. But the folks at Portland General Electric have come up with a list that can save everyone money.

Spokesman Mark Fryburg says if you decide to implement any of the suggestions, don't pinch pennies. It's important to buy the best "high performance" equipment.

"Don't get the cheapest shower head or porch light and don't hire the cheapest contractor to install insulation unless you're assured of the quality of the product or the service purchased. For example, there are low-flow shower heads that deliver less water use, but don't deliver a quality showering experience."

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