Spring is a season of sunshine, flowers and most importantly, home improvement projects. If you've found your way to this article, it's likely that you have big plans around the house. Maybe it's time to build that deck or clean your garage. Maybe you're not sure what to do, and you're just ready to do something.

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No matter your plans, consider optimizing your home's energy efficiency. With time and strategy on your side, your projects can help you trim the baggage off your bills. Here are some ideas to get you started:

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1. Buy an energy use monitor.
While surprises are nice, it's pretty terrible when you get a surprise on your energy bill. As much as you may try to save money by turning off the lights, the task is tough if you're not setting concrete goals for yourself. So, figure out how much you're spending, and set goals to reduce those costs over time. You'll be in a better position to save if you can see the numbers in action.

2. Replace your power strips.
Even when you're not using your computers, televisions, and other appliances, they are still using energy - what a waste! Don't let your zombie appliances cost you more money than you need to spend. A smart power strip can be purchased for as little as $30, but keeps your vampire appliances from sucking you dry all year long.

3. Rethink your water bottle.
Many people buying bottled water for its convenience and clean taste. Instead, opt for a water bottle with a self-filtering mechanism so you can filter the water that comes from your tap and enjoy it for pennies a glass.

4. Be smarter about your utilities.
If your utility bills are climbing the best way to cut those costs is to find out what's causing them. Use an online electric, gas and water monitor to keep track of how you're spending. Start out with Google PowerMeter, which is available for free.

5. Replace your light bulbs.
Take a moment to count the number of light bulbs in your home. You've probably never thought about your ceiling and floor lamps from that perspective, have you? Now, imagine how much energy you might be wasting. Next time your bulb reaches the end of its lifespan, upgrade it with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent model. In addition, utility companies occasionally offer rebates for energy efficiency projects. Contact your provider directly, and check to see if any programs are available in your area.

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6. Install low-flow shower heads.
From sprinkler systems to showers, it's easy to run up a water bill. A low-flow shower head is an affordable way to cut down your home's water use. In a nutshell, these work by reducing the pressure on flowing water. Less pressure means less flowing water that ultimately costs you money. If you don't want to spend $40 on a new shower head, you can start by making an effort to stop using water at full blast.

7. Use a fan.
Even though springtime means sunshine, the weather doesn't necessitate an air conditioner. Save the luxury for the summer when you really need it and stick to a fan this spring. If you're revamping your home's climate system, consider investing in a programmable thermostat. This will help you monitor your home's energy use when those air conditioning expenses start to grow.

The Bottom Line
Plan your goals before delving into a home improvement project. Do you want to save money? Do you want a more environmentally efficient home? How about both? Once you answer these big questions, you'll be ready to work through the small details. Even if a project is easy and inexpensive, the investment will take you further when you have the big picture in mind.

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