smart spending

Energy savings: Get the most for your money

One of the easiest energy-saving improvements involves light bulbs. Get rid of those incandescent bulbs and replace them with compact florescent light bulbs, or CFLs. CFLs, costing around $1 or $5 a piece, can pay for themselves in a year and a half, Fryburg says.

If you own a furnace, save money by cleaning or replacing your filters every three months or sooner if they tend to clog, says Fryburg. Clogged filters are a huge energy waster.

If it's time for a new washer, dryer or kitchen appliance, look for the Energy Star logo. That shows the appliance meets or exceeds standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. What's more, you should look for a brand name you trust, says Fryburg.

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 how energy efficient it is.

Perhaps nowhere in the country is the type of roof more important than in the South, where the goal usually is to reflect heat away from the home. A 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 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 won overall because of its "superior ability to cool quickly at night."

The Chicago-based National Roofing Contractors Association says that even in colder areas of the country, people might benefit from lighter roof colors. The cooling season, though it's shorter than the heating season, is often more expensive.

And, finally, 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 summer sun.

When buying a tree, 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 with big-ticket items such as a roof, central air or an appliance, or with small things such as changing light bulbs or installing low-flow shower heads, be sure to check with your utility company for rebates. You might be surprised to see how rewarding energy efficiency can be.

Leslie Hunt contributed to this story.

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