By Bruce N. Hahn
President, American Homeowners Foundation
Gasoline isn’t the only cost that has skyrocketed recently. The U.S. Department of Energy predicted that home heating bills increased dramatically in the 2005-06 winter heating season. Natural gas costs rose an estimated 48%, heating oil 32%, propane 30%, and electricity 5%.
Since last winter gas prices have continued to rise. Despite recent softening of gasoline prices, the drop hasn’t been reflected in similar reductions in the price of home heating oil and other crude oil derivatives. When combined with high gasoline price increases, home energy costs are going to put a much bigger dent in many homeowners’ wallets for the foreseeable future.
There are many things homeowners can do to reduce home energy costs. Many of them are related to lifestyle. People dress for the season when they go outside, but many frequently dress the same year around inside their homes. If you wear warmer layered clothing inside your home in the winter you can set the thermostat a few degrees cooler. Wool and cotton are a lot better than most manmade materials at keeping you warmer. You’ll be just as comfortable and will save a lot of money on heating costs.
Wear light and loose fitting garments in the summer and you’ll be able to set the thermostat higher with no discomfort and save on air conditioning costs. Insofar as possible spend more of your summer inside time on the lowest level of the north side of your house where it’s generally coolest. That way you’ll need less air conditioning. The top floor of the south side of a home is usually the warmest – so spend more of your winter inside time there if that’s possible and you’ll need less energy for heating. Try to use electrical appliances during off-peak hours, and don’t forget to raise your refrigerator temperature setting and adjust your house thermostat to a lower winter temperature and higher summer temperature when you go on vacation.
The costs of more expensive energy reduction solutions can be reduced by favorable tax incentives provided in federal energy legislation that became effective in 2006. For example, a homeowner can get tax credits of up to $500 in 2006 and 2007 for expenses to upgrade heating and air conditioning systems, insulation, windows, doors and thermostats, caulk leaks, install pigmented metal roofs and otherwise reduce energy costs. The new law includes tax incentives for builders of energy-efficient houses and manufacturers of more energy-efficient appliances and incentives to encourage the development of both solar and nuclear energy sources. Good news is in the legislation for car buyers too – $2,000 tax credits for buyers of alternate-fuel (hybrid) vehicles, which were scheduled to phase out, have been extended over the next decade.
Homeowners can significantly reduce energy costs through additional simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself steps. To help you save even more money on energy costs, the American Homeowners Foundation (AHF) is has developed a free Ten Minute Home Energy Audit to help homeowners reduce energy consumption costs. AHF is a nonprofit consumer education organization that has been serving the nation’s homeowners since 1984. AHF’s home energy audit will help you focus on the most obvious and cost-effective steps you can take to reduce energy consumption and increase comfort levels in your homes. All it takes is a few simple tools you probably have at home and ten minutes of your time to find ways to reduce energy consumption that can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Plus you’ll be helping to reduce pollution and slow global warming.
To get the audit, all you have to do is send an email with the words “Free Home Energy Audit” in the subject line to [email protected], and the Foundation will email you back the free home energy audit form. The Foundation also has many other tools to help homeowners when they buy, sell, finance or invest in homes. More about the Foundation is at www.AmericanHomeowners.org