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Investing in renewable energy sources
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Even though environmental groups say the energy bill signed into law by the Bush administration, in July, does nothing new to promote the use of renewable energy, federal incentives do exist and are helping to frame a new definition of going green.

Promoting them is one job assigned to the recently created Partnership for Home Energy Efficiency, a joint effort among the U.S. departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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This federal effort puts the emphasis on going green while saving greenbacks. The idea is to reduce average household energy costs by 10 percent over the next 10 years.

Passive ways to participate
The partnership endorses the same energy-saving practices as any number of green advocates, among them the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the U.S. Green Building Council and Southface, an Atlanta-based nonprofit working to promote sustainable homes. And most of these approaches are relatively cheap and simple.

For example, Harvey M. Sachs, building program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says that to trim utility bills "it's relatively inexpensive to have more fiberglass or other types of insulation blown into the walls of your home. And while you're at it, check the attic insulation, too. If it's black at the edges, that's where air is getting in."

In the same spirit, Howard Katzman, technical project manager at Southface Energy Institute, says "if you insulate and don't air-seal your home, air can go around it, so there's no improvement. The biggest leaks are not inside a house, but in attics, crawl spaces and basements."

James B. Hackler with the U.S. Green Building Council says getting a contractor to look at a home can pay off. Hackler is manager of the council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes program, an effort to develop a national rating system that would show just how green a given dwelling is.

"A home-energy rating test," Hackler says, "would amount to a great diagnostic tool to show if a house is overly expensive to heat and cool. Even in new homes, you can lose 15 percent to 30 percent of your air conditioning as a result of leaky ductwork."

Making sure air conditioning and heating equipment are the right size is another green tactic within easy reach of most homeowners. "Having the right-sized equipment is as important as getting the right-sized shoes," Sachs says. "The great American tendency is to oversize. Oversized furnaces don't run long enough to be efficient, and oversized air conditioners aren't good at getting rid of humidity."

"If you live in a dry climate such as Arizona," Hackler says, "you can use landscaping that encourages low water use. That doesn't have to mean a yard of rocks and cactuses. Azaleas, for example, are very drought-tolerant and good for low-maintenance, low-water landscaping."

In a similar vein, Energystar.gov, the Web site maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, lists home-performance products that can save the consumer money by being more energy-efficient.

Advocates say consumers can also support green energy through their buying patterns. Bolding says, to date, the Center for Resource Solutions and Green-e have certified 114 products labeled as manufactured using renewable energy.

"It's a trend that's becoming really popular," Bolding says. "It's the next generation of environmental awareness."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Oct. 18, 2005
 
 
More stories by Cliff Bowden
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