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Simple changes like adjusting your thermostat and adding weather stripping to doors and windows help save natural resources — and cash.

Many people are interested in greening their homes to conserve energy and save money. The good news is you don’t have go to extremes to make your home more energy-efficient. Sure, you can go all out and invest in brand new energy-efficient appliances, but small inexpensive changes can still offer up big results.

Cheap and Simple Energy-Efficient Changes

Focusing on creating an energy-efficient, green home is one of the best and easiest ways to conserve energy and save money on home utility bills, according to Emily R. Hickey, program coordinator for the Renewable Energy Program at the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation in Madison.

Hickey suggests these simple green changes that require little investment but offer significant returns in financial savings and energy conservation:

Swap light bulbs. “Lighting accounts for 5 to 10 percent of overall energy use in a typical home,” says Hickey, and switching from incandescent to compact fluorescents — those light bulbs that are often spiral-shaped — can make a big difference. “Replace bulbs in your five most frequently used fixtures, and you can save $65 or more each year.” If you gave compact fluorescent bulbs a shot years ago and just didn’t like the way they looked or how long they took to brighten up, give them another try. The technology has come a long way, says Hickey, and she encourages people to try them again as part of their overall effort to create a green home.

Seal doors and windows. Leaking air can account for as much as 40 percent of the energy required to heat and cool your home, says Hickey. Add weather stripping or apply a sealant around windows, doors, chimneys, and anywhere else that warm or cool air can escape from your home, she suggests. This will better insulate your home and thus reduce your energy usage and lower heating and cooling costs.

Change your furnace filter. Yes, you really do need to change it as often as the instructions tell you to. Having a fresh furnace filter really does reduce the load on your heating and cooling system, making it more energy efficient and saving you money.

Get a programmable thermostat. These sophisticated thermostats can be set to automatically shut off the heat in the winter or the air conditioning in the summer, when your home reaches a certain temperature. This way, you’ll save a lot of energy while you’re at work or asleep, Hickey says. Also, making some minor temperature adjustments when you’re home, like turning up the thermostat a few degrees so air conditioning isn’t continually running, or dropping the target temperature a couple of notches once you’ve reached a comfortable temperature in the winter, can really save on energy.

Wash only full loads of dishes or clothing. Instead of washing just the outfit you need for tomorrow or just tonight’s dinner dishes, wait until you can run an entire load of dishes or laundry.

Unplug “phantom” loads. Many electronics in your home draw electricity when they’re not even being used. Televisions, VCR and DVD players, cell phone chargers — anything with a clock, a big battery pack, or an LED light on it is drawing unnecessary electricity, says Hickey. So unplug them when they’re not in use to conserve energy; plug several devices into one power strip to make it easier to turn them all off with one click.

Energy Efficient Home Technologies

If you’re willing to make a bit of an investment for greater energy efficiency (and if you need some new appliances anyway), you can save a lot of money and resources by choosing models that conserve energy:

Upgrade to Energy Star. Most appliances are available with the Energy Star label. This designation is given by the government to indicate that an appliance or product typically exceeds federal energy-efficiency guidelines. In fact, the highest rated Energy Star appliances use 40 percent less energy than other appliances in their category, says Hickey. Air conditioners, furnaces, washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, and ovens are all available with Energy Star ratings.

Update the fridge. “We recommend that people replace a refrigerator if it was purchased before 1990,” says Hickey, because that’s when higher efficiency standards were put in place. Look for a high-efficiency, Energy Star refrigerator.

Replace your water heater. There are all kinds of Energy Star-rated water heaters that will save energy, but tankless, “on demand” water heaters, says Hickey, offer the greatest energy efficiency. These water heaters don’t store and heat water all the time; they heat it as you need it. This means you never run out of hot water and you use less energy, though Hickey cautions consumers not to use more hot water than they need just because there’s an endless supply.

Call Your Utility Company for Advice

Your utility company can help you find even more ways to save energy and money on your bills. Many utility companies, says Hickey, offer a service where they inspect your home and appliances and perform an “energy audit.” They will tell you where you could get the most bang for your buck, and save the most money and energy with the least expense.

Making several small energy-efficiency changes — and even a few big ones if you can afford it — will save energy and money over the course of a year. And all those savings quickly add up over several years, making a significant impact on your bank account and the environment.

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