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Save Money on Utilities

Here are 15 quick, cheap and easy ways to cut your electricity, heat and water use while also cutting your expenses by hundreds of dollars.

Keeping your home comfortable year round can put the squeeze on your budget. Consumers spend 6% to 12% of their income on utilities, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

We have 15 quick, cheap and easy ways to cut your electricity, heat and water use while also cutting your expenses by hundreds of dollars.

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We've laid out our list in text format below, or you can check them out in our slide show. Plus, you can share your favorite ways to save in our reader comment box at the end of this article.

TAKE A FLIER ON FLUORESCENTS Compact fluorescent bulbs represent one of the brightest ideas for cooling your electric bill. (Not every CFL produces a warm, candlelight glow. To achieve that effect, look for one with a Kelvin temperature of 2,600 to 3,000.)

Don't let the price of CFLs -- as much as $7 each -- turn you off. The lights not only last ten times longer than incandescents but also save up to $60 in electricity per light over their lifetime.

VANQUISH THE VAMPIRES Appliances that include a clock or operate by a remote, as well as chargers, are sucking electricity even when you're not using them. Of the total energy used to run home electronics, 40% is consumed when the appliances are turned off. The obvious way to pull the plug on so-called energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug.

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Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Power Strip ($31 to $44, at www.smarthomeusa.com), which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are off, and pay for itself within a few months.

INSULATE YOUR WATER HEATER Is your coffee mug more insulated than your water heater? The newest electric water heaters have plenty of insulation. But if you have one built before 2004, wrap it in an insulating jacket such as a Thermwell blanket ($20; Amazon.com). You'll save 10% -- about $30 -- annually on your water-heating bill.

SERVICE THE FURNACE Have your furnace tuned every two years, and you'll save about 10% on your heating bills.

TURN DOWN THE HEAT For every degree you lower your home's temperature during the heating season, subtract 5% from your bill, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

An Energy Star programmable thermostat ($70 at www.livingincomfort.com) saves more than twice its price within a year and will adjust the temperature automatically for you when you're away or asleep.

SET THE WASHER TO COLD Use cold water to wash your clothes and save 50% of the energy you would otherwise use for hot water.

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Set your dryer on the moisture sensor, not the timer, and cut energy use by 15%.

STOP DRAFTS As your father would say, don't heat or cool the great outdoors. Put weatherstrip around the frames of your front and back doors and save about $30 per year in energy costs.

LOWER YOUR WATER TEMPERATURESet your water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If your heater does not have a temperature gauge, dial down until the water feels hot, not scalding.

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(Before going too low, make sure your dishwasher has a booster heater, which gets the temperature back to 140 degrees, necessary for proper cleaning.)

USE TIMERS ON LIGHTSInstall occupancy sensors or timers on lights in areas you use only occasionally and for exterior lights, which tend to get left on during the day.

The devices start at $25 per switch at www.homecontrols.com. Anyone with basic wiring skills can install them.

John Boesman

GO LOW-FLOW With a few twists of the wrist, you can save 25% to 60% of the water it takes and 50% of the energy necessary to shower and shampoo you and your family. Install a low-flow shower head, which restricts the water output to no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. The shower heads generally run $10 to $20 a pop (some utility companies give them away) and screw into existing fittings.

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Older shower heads send as many as 5.5 gallons per minute down the drain. The new fixtures go as low as 1.5 gpm, saving 7,300 gallons and $30 to $100 a year over their 2.5-gpm counterparts.

PLUG THE LEAKS A leaky faucet wastes as much as 2,700 gallons in a year -- if it doesn't drive you crazy first. So fix it already.

Test the toilet for leaks, too. Put a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl, your tank is leaking, and you're wasting up to 200 gallons of water a day.

FILL 'ER UP Run full loads of clothes and dishes. Most of the energy used by dishwashers is to heat a set amount of water, so running smaller loads wastes both energy and water.

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Air dry dishes for added energy savings.

TAKE CARE WITH YARD CAREWater your outdoor plants in the early morning, before the sun can burn off moisture. And take care not to over-water. Before starting your sprinkler, step on the grass. If the blades spring back, hold off on watering for a day or two. The average lawn needs only one hour of watering a week.

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Also, raise your mower blades to the 3-inch setting. Shaggy grass holds moisture longer, requiring less watering.

BE A DRIP For gardens, consider installing a drip irrigation system, which maintains moisture in the soil. Drip irrigation can reduce water loss by 50% to 60% when compared with hand-watering or sprinkler systems.

A drip system consists of a tube or hose with holes or emitters along it. It uses a timer to deliver water to plants. By maintaining the moisture level of the soil, less water is lost to the sun and the wind.

RETROFIT YOUR FAUCETS Consider faucet aerators -- doohickeys that screw into your faucet threading and cut the water flow from 3 to 4 gallons per minute to as little as a half-gallon. As their name suggests, aerators blend water and air, reducing the flow without sacrificing pressure. At 50 cents to $3 apiece, the devices are some of the cheapest green gadgets available.

Aerators come in a range of flow rates. A faucet that flows at 1 gpm gets is fine for the bathroom faucet. But for a little more oomph in the kitchen, use an aerator with a flow rate of at least 2 gpm.

MORE WAYS TO SAVE MONEYSave Money on InvestingSave Money on FoodSave Money on TransportationSave Money on TravelSave Money on Phone, Internet and TVSave Money on Credit, Debt & BankingSave Money on Entertainment

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