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Smart Buying

Save Green by Going Green

Follow these tips to lower your energy bills at home.

Using less energy in your house is the green, environmentally friendly thing to do. But it's also the financially savvy thing to do because you'll save "green" (meaning dollars). The average family spends $1,600 a year on home utility bills. But you can lower your own bills by following these tips.

1. Replace high-wattage light bulbs

If you replace four 75-watt or 100-watt standard light bulbs in your home with four 23-watt compact fluorescent bulbs, you will get as much light as with the higher-wattage bulbs, but you'll burn up 69% less in electricity costs. You'll save roughly $200 on your electricity bills over the life of the bulbs, assuming your lights burn four or more hours a day.

2. Plug the power leaks

Consumer electronics devices, such as PCs, and kitchen appliances, such as toasters, continue to draw power while they're plugged in -- even if you're not using them. Consider plugging the devices into a Smart Strip Power Strip. The strip, which costs about $30 (www.smarthomeusa.com), notices when a device hasn't been used within past hour or so, and responds by shutting off the device. One warning: Don't plug your alarm clock or home stereo into the Smart Strip Power Strip or else you'll need to repeatedly reset their electronic clocks (and you might wake up late for work).

An alternative power strip is the Isoleacute; IDP-3050 Plug Load Control power strip ($90; www.wattstopper.com), which detects motion and will turn off gizmos after you leave the area. This device works best for people who don't have toddlers or pets roaming the house.

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You'll save enough money on your typical electricity bill within two to four months to pay for the cost of these power strips.

3. Pinpoint stealth energy drains

Still have a high electricity bill? Another device to consider is the Kill-A-Watt ($28 at Amazon.com), which measures the electricity usage of any appliance or electronic device. You can tot up your energy drains by the day, week or month, and then act to cut the most wasteful devices.

4. Adjust your water heater

Some water heaters are preset by their manufacturers to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. But 120 degrees is enough for comfortable showers and safe dishwashing. You'll save up to 10% on your utility bills with this strategy.

Consult your owner's manual for instructions on how to turn down the temperature. Note that some heaters have a second thermostat that must also be reset. Lost your manual? Many manufacturers offer electronic copies of manuals on their Web sites.

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Be aware that some dishwashers have booster heaters that raise temperatures to about 160 degrees in the final rinse cycle. If your dishwasher falls into that category, you may lose the energy benefits of turning down your heater because the dishwasher will have to work harder to raise the water temperature. The solution: use the "energy saver" cycle feature on your dishwasher, which is a common feature on today's machines.

5. Automate your thermostat

Install a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature depending on your schedule. Even novices can install these devices, which are available at hardware stores nationwide for $30 to $120. The device will automatically adjust the thermostat at night and when you're away, cutting your heating and cooling bill by 10% to 20%.