How much money do you spend every month on utility bills? If it seems too expensive to keep the lights on and the water running, maybe it’s time to look at ways to save. Depending on your budget, you have plenty of options to cut energy costs at your disposal  -- from minor tweaks to major renovations. Rather than continuing to throw money at the utility companies, consider these ways to lower your bills. (For related reading, see article: Ways To Slash Your Home Energy Bill.)

#1. Look at installing a cool roof.

A cool roof design helps to deflect sunlight and decreases the temperature of your roof as a whole, which in turn lowers the temperature in your home. Roofing installers will use certain types of materials when installing a cool roof. The EPA lists about 3,000 materials that are compliant with Energy Star regulations, and there are federal tax credits for cool materials -- including those made from asphalt shingles and metals. Some benefits include:

  • A reduction of energy use by 15%
  • A decrease in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  • A means of cooling one's house without air conditioning
  • Reduction of carbon emissions

You could save almost 50 cents per square foot on cool roofing, which can really add up, given your home’s square footage. While it might be an expensive venture, it will pay back quickly. It also helps to reduce your cooling bill during the summer by better regulating the temperature of your home.

#2. Add a skylight.

Skylights can also increase the efficiency of your home, improving your heating, interior lighting and air ventilation. Depending on the design of your home, however, it might be hard to incorporate a skylight. Consult with a professional before you think about cutting out a piece of your ceiling and putting in a window. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that a skylight be:

  • No bigger than five percent of the floor area in a room with many windows.
  • No bigger than 15 percent of the floor area in a room with almost no windows.

#3. Use your window treatments.

While some of your window treatments may have been installed for decor, they can help reduce energy costs in your home as well. Depending on the type of window treatments you have, you can use them to reduce how much air you’re losing or keep cool air inside your home. Window treatments also help prevent the sun from heating up rooms, allowing you to use the air conditioner less on sunny days. Some choices you have include:

  • blinds
  • shutters
  • curtains
  • drapes

To optimize your reduction of energy costs, you should lean toward hard window treatments -- shutters and blinds -- versus soft window treatments. These usually are more effective at keeping heat and air inside than fabric curtains and drapes. You can, however, layer window treatments. For example, you could have blinds closed and then also have a curtain covering the blinds.

#4. Replace kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

Kitchen and bathroom appliances and lighting fixtures use a lot of energy. These are two of the most frequently used rooms in the home, so you should optimize the energy efficiency of these areas. If you have the budget, consider replacing your kitchen appliances with Energy Star alternatives. Did you know that:

  • Energy Star refrigerators are 20% more efficient.
  • Energy Star dishwashers are about 10% more efficient.
  • Energy Star washing machines use 50% less water and 30% less energy, which can save about $50 per year.
  • Energy Star fans used in bathrooms and above stoves use 70% less energy.

You should also look at replacing all bulbs with their CFL and LED alternatives to increase efficiency. LED and CFL bulbs last longer and consume less energy than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. They burn just as brightly, and they don’t give off as much heat or make a buzzing noise when they’re on.

#5. Check your insulation.

Proper insulation is essential for maintaining your home’s temperature during the summer and winter when the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling) system is running. If your attic or wall insulation is inadequate, has holes, or is missing entirely, you need to have it replaced. There are various types of insulation available. The right kind for your home will depend on your budget and the best way to trap air and prevent it from leaking out. You’ll need to consult with an insulation contractor to do the installation since some types of insulation -- blown-in insulation in particular -- can be harmful to the lungs.

#6. Install new flooring.

Flooring also helps maintain your home’s temperature and cut energy costs. Carpeting and rugs, for example, trap heat and keep your home warm during the winter. Flooring professionals can help you choose options to cut your energy costs. It’s an inexpensive way to cut costs compared to projects like gutting your siding and replacing it with an energy-efficient alternative.

#7. Landscape to save energy.

You can also save energy with smart landscaping. For example, by planting trees on the side of your home that faces the sun, you can cut cooling costs in the summer. Make sure you maintain landscaping so that it doesn’t become a liability in the winter. You should also practice smart landscaping by planting native and low-maintenance plants that don’t require a lot of watering. Otherwise, your water bill will rise when the frequency of watering increases in the summer. (For related reading, see article: Landscaping On A Budget.)

#8. Hang more ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans help to cut utility costs by acting as an alternative to your HVAC system. While running the fan still requires electricity, it’s far less expensive than using your heating or cooling system. Fans are more economical, using the same amount of energy as a light bulb. You can position your fan to push all the hot air to the ceiling in the summer. In the winter, you can change the rotation so that all the cool air goes towards the ceiling and warm air is pushed towards the room. This can help you save around 40 percent on your cooling bill in the summer and about 10 percent on your heating costs in the winter. The cost to install a ceiling fan is around $150 to $300, depending on how many you install and the electrical wiring involved. (For related reading, see article: 9 Ways To Save On Winter Bills.)

The Bottom Line

 By applying a range of techniques in the home-- some involving just minor adjustments-- you can achieve significant savings in energy costs.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed are those of Home Advisor and are subject to change at any time due to changes in market or economic conditions. The comments should not be construed as a recommendation of any individual holdings or market sectors. This material does not constitute any specific legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with qualified professionals for this type of advice.

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