Cut Your Energy Costs, Go Green and Save Green

Posted January 13, 2011 in Consumer Law by Heather McGowan

National Cut Your Energy Costs Day comes around in early January, usually before many of us receive our highest winter utility bill. The focus is on easing the burden on your wallet and the environment by making smart energy choices.

It goes beyond caulking, insulation and shutting off the lights. Consumer contracts, tax rules and government programs are all part of staying green. Where do you start?

Be Smart for the Season

No matter where you live, make sure your home and its heating, cooling and utility systems are ready each season. Start with the basics and home maintenance:

  • Do pay for regular service for your HVAC systems. Ask about adjustments to keep you comfortable and costs down
  • Keep up with home maintenance. Inspecting and fixing caulk, paint, weather seals and changing out screens for storms makes a big difference in money going out the window
  • Monitor energy use. Use a programmable thermostat, and decide on settings. No cranking the temperature when you’re a bit chilly or warm. Turn off anything not in use, from lights to electronics
 
  • Go green and help your budget starting with National Cut Your Energy Costs Day
  • Tax breaks, rebates and government programs help
  • Smart shopping and your efforts can return a big payback

 

If you think you’ll have problems paying your utility bills, check out the shut-off rules with your public utility commission. There are financial assistance programs available, including grants and payment plans. Know rules for cold weather shut-offs and protection for consumers with young children or medical conditions.

Shopping for Energy

In some areas, you may have a choice in buying electricity and heating fuels. It’s painful to fill an oil tank or face skyrocketing natural gas market rates during a record cold winter, but not every contract for fuel is a good deal. Use state consumer shopping resources, read any proposed contract and understand what you’re getting and the price you’ll pay. Aim for the best price you can find, and avoid charges such as emergency fills if your fuel tank runs dry.

Some utilities allow you to buy your power, or a portion of it, from green sources. Power from green sources may cost more per kilowatt, but some consumers will pay the premium, much like organic produce.

"Smart meters" are gaining use for residential consumers. A smart meter can track energy use by time of day, and you may pay less for energy during off-peak times. Depending on your utility provider, you may have to pay for this type of meter and service, or your utility may install it system-wide.

Tax, Rebate and Government Incentives

The tax man, utilities and local governments offer financial help and other services to save you money and go green. Keep an eye out and use these programs to cut your costs and increase home value. Watch for:

Federal energy tax credits. While tax credits expired at the end of 2010 for many home components, such as HVAC, windows and doors, roofing and water heaters, some credits are open until 2016 such as geothermal heat pump and solar energy systems. Do watch for credits to be offered again, and plan for improvements when the time is right. Other federal programs can include special mortgage and home improvement financing and rebates.

Utility and trade group rebates add to your savings. Check to see if your utility offers a rebate for energy efficient equipment. Your HVAC dealer or contractor may surprise you with another bonus: a rebate for labor costs for installation from the local union.

Your city or utility may offer energy audits and grants for green improvements. A lottery may be used to select participants, so your income or property value may not matter.

Review all the paperwork, rules and requirements, so going green and getting your green stays hassle-free. While it’s good to look for green certifications such as Energy Star labels, Department of Energy and tax sites have all the details to confirm equipment and materials are truly green. It’s worth the effort when you get help with almost half the bill for a major purchase such as a furnace.

Any one or a combo of these strategies can make a big impact on your bottom line and the environment.

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