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10 Energy-smart home improvements

Although older homes may give you more opportunities for improving energy efficiency, many of these suggestions may work for any home. And some of them may save you money on state or federal taxes (check with your tax advisor) or qualify for assistance from your local utility.

1. Seal and insulate heating and cooling ducts

If ducts run through unheated areas of your home, such as attics and crawl spaces, you could be wasting up to 30 percent of your heating and cooling dollars. Use foil-faced tape (not duct tape) to seal the crimped-metal joints between duct sections, and consider an insulation wrap for ducts that run through spaces that are not heated or cooled.

2. Plug air leaks throughout your home

Replace worn weather-strips around windows and doors and caulk around openings where utility lines enter the house. Also, add foam gaskets under the cover plates of outlets and switches on exterior walls.

3. Beef up attic insulation

If your attic has exposed floor joists and you're able to see them, you may need more insulation. Your local utility server can tell you the recommended insulation ratings for your area.

4. Upgrade an older furnace and air conditioner

An ENERGY STAR-qualified model could reduce your heating and cooling costs. Regardless of the efficiency of your equipment, make sure it's serviced regularly to stay in peak operating condition.

5. Buy energy-efficient appliances

If you're not ready to replace an aging refrigerator, check the door seals to make sure they're still tight. When you close a door on a dollar bill and it's easily pulled out, it's time to replace the seal.

6. Insulate your water heater and hot water pipes

Installing an insulated tank jacket and wrapping hot water pipes with foam insulation may let you lower your heater's temperature by 10 degrees and still get hot water from the tap sooner than you did before.

7. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents

The cost of compact fluorescent bulbs continues to decline, but they still outlast incandescent bulbs 10-to-1 while using about 75 percent less energy and generating 75 percent less heat. Because they take a little longer to get up to full illumination, they're best for high-use areas of the house or anywhere you typically leave a light on for more than five minutes.

8. Install a programmable thermostat

These thermostats let you control the times that your furnace and air conditioner run, potentially saving you money on your utility bills.

9. Improve ventilation

A roof-mounted whole-house fan draws cool air into the house in the evening hours. Even if you don't want to install one, be sure that your attic has plenty of ventilation to prevent the buildup of hot air on warm days.

10. Landscape to save energy

If you are planning to landscape, consider how the choices you make will impact your home's comfort and energy usage. For example, deciduous trees on the south side of your home provide shade in summer; in winter, they drop their leaves to let in sunshine. If you live in a cooler climate, consider adding evergreens on the north side of your home to reduce energy losses caused by cold north winds.

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