It's no surprise that energy costs money, yet some people greet their bills each month with shock when they see precisely how much their power consumption is costing them. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the average family spends some $1,600 per year on utility bills alone. Anything you can do to conserve energy puts some of that money back in your pocket.

Let's take a look at 10 painless ways to reduce consumption and cut your expenses.

1. Use Your Thermostat

Turning up the temperature during the summer and turning it down during the winter are great ways of putting your thermostat to work for your wallet. The DOE recommends setting the air conditioner to 74 degrees and the furnace to 68 to keep your house comfortable while reducing your energy costs and decreasing the demand on the energy grid. A programmable thermostat lets you make the house hotter or cooler during periods when you aren't home. This reduces the temperature difference between the exterior and interior of your house, which in turn reduces energy loss. If you don't have a programmable thermostat, you can manually adjust your existing unit.

2. Ceiling Fans

If you have ceiling fans in your house, turn them on and use them properly. According to Energy Star, a voluntary labeling program sponsored by the DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ceiling fans should be set to spin counter-clockwise in the summer, which pulls hot air up to the ceiling and away from the living space. In the winter, reverse the setting so the fans blow the hot air down.

3. Energy Star Appliances

Energy Star also identifies energy-efficient appliances, including washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, room air conditioners, computers, and more. When shopping for new appliances, look for the Energy Star label, and rest assured that the items you are purchasing will go a long way toward saving you some cash. Of course, you wouldn't want to increase the use of these items just because they save energy. This is similar to the potential moral hazard of low-fat food: consuming more defeats the purpose.

4. Home Electronics

Stereos, DVD players, televisions, kitchen appliances, and any other plugged-in appliances draw a small amount of power even when turned off. Per the BBC, Large LCD and plasma televisions consume up to 400 watts of energy when in use and about four watts when not in use. Use the surge suppressor to turn them completely off when not in use, or unplug these items until you really need them.

5. Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

A quick and easy way to reduce your energy use is to replace existing incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent ones. According to General Electric (NYSE:GE), compact fluorescent bulbs "use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs, and last up to 10 times longer." GE reports that using a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb in place of a 60-watt incandescent one will result in a $30 savings in energy costs over the life of the bulb. Regardless of the bulbs you use, turn them off when you leave the room. For laundry rooms, garages, basements, and other little-used areas, consider the installation of timers that automatically turn off the lights after a preset amount of time – just in case you forget to shut them off.

6. Conserve water

Low-flow fixtures that conserve water are available for your shower, faucets and toilets. In addition to installing these items, be sure to replace faucets that drip, fix toilets that leak, and turn off the spigot when brushing your teeth or scrubbing dishes. Every drop of water you save contributes to the conservation of this valuable resource – and we're talking water here, not just money.

7. Seal and Insulate

A well-insulated house reduces the amount of money you will spend on heating and cooling. Start by checking your attic. If your attic is unfinished, you shouldn't be able to see the floor joists. If you can see them, add more insulation.

Also, be sure to fill in and seal any holes in your exterior walls, such as where pipes come into the house, and around windows and doors. Wrap your boiler and exposed pipes with insulation to help them maintain the proper temperature.

8. Change/Empty Your Filters

Change the filter on your furnace on a frequent basis. Many furnace manufacturers recommend doing it quarterly or even monthly to keep the unit operating at peak efficiency. Similarly, empty the lint filter in your dryer after every use. Even a small amount of lint reduces energy efficiency.

9. Close the Doors and More

Don't waste energy. Close the doors on your refrigerator and house as quickly as possible. Keep fireplace dampers shut when not in use. Close the curtains to cover your windows at night. All of these little efforts help to conserve energy by preventing heat loss.

10. Use Your Surroundings

Strategically placed trees can help reduce your heating and cooling costs. During the summer, trees provide shade. During the winter, trees provide a windbreak. Positioning large deciduous trees in the right places can reduce cooling costs by up to 25%, according to the DOE. These deciduous trees should be planted on the south and west sides of your home, and strategically positioned to shade hard surfaces, including driveways and patios, to maximize their impact. Because they lose their leaves in winter, they allow the sun to warm your house. Evergreen trees planted on the north side of your home will help to shield the house from cold winds in every season.

Small Steps Lead to Big Savings

Saving energy conserves valuable resources and saves money. Do your part to make energy conservation a habit; it's a move with positive implications for both the environment and your wallet.

For more on going green, check out our Green Investing Feature.

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