7 Ways to 'Green' Your Home, Slash Your Utility Bills

It's not easy being green -- or is it? While you may not be able to afford a home built entirely from sustainable or eco-conscious products, there are myriad ways to transform your living space into an environmental-friendly haven that are easy on your budget.

WalletPop spoke recently with Bob Harris, CEO of WhiteFence.com, a website devoted to helping consumers shop for savings on everything from electricity to cell phones and cable TV. Here, Harris offers seven "green" tips to help you trim your utility bills.1. Shop around for a renewable energy plan.
renewable energy plansGreen energy plans used to be rather pricey, but that's all changed, Harris told WalletPop. "Prices have come down over the past few years," says Harris, "and are now comparable in cost to traditional electricity plans in many markets."

And in states where electricity is deregulated, consumers now have a choice when it comes to selecting their electricity company. "This forces the providers to compete based on price and helps drive prices even lower," Harris explains.

Check out WhiteFence to compare rates in your area and to see if your state offers you a choice of electricity providers.

2. Invest in a home energy audit.
According to Harris, a professional home energy audit is the best way to determine just where you can cut your electricity bill.

"The auditor will check your entire home, looking at insulation, drafts, appliances, shade and other keys to electricity efficiency."

Before paying for a home energy audit, however, Harris suggests checking with your electricity company to see if it offers this service for free.

3. Practice money-saving laundry habits.
Laundry room energy saving"Washing your clothes in cold water can slash your power bill by dramatically lowering the amount of energy required for each load of laundry," Harris says. Why? Because the energy required to run the washing machine combined with the energy needed to heat the water often results in "staggering" costs, he says.

By contrast, Harris explains, "Using cold water makes the process much more efficient, and you'll notice it in your bills, but not your clothes."

4. Unplug and save.
Even when they're turned off, appliances eat up electrical power. So Harris suggests unplugging cell phone chargers, hair dryers, televisions and other appliances when you aren't using them. "It can all add up to a smaller electricity bill," he says.

You might also want to consider buying a few, new "smart" power strips, which allow you to turn multiple devices off at once, he suggests.

5. Dress your water heater.
water heater insulationWrap your water heater in an insulated blanket to cut down on heating loss, says Harris, "which will allow you enjoy hot showers without the guilt."
For older water heaters, insulation jackets can help reduce standby heat losses by 25–45%. The US Department of Energy recommends covering your water heater with a jacket if the insulation value of your water heater is less than R-24. If you don't know the R-Value, touch the outside of your water heater. If it's hot, you should insulate it.

6. Keep appliances away from your A/C thermostat.
Keep heat-generating appliances such as televisions and lamps away from your thermostat. "The thermostat can be fooled by the heat these appliances put off and run your air conditioning more than necessary," Harris says.

7. Shade your outdoor A/C equipment.
air conditioning unitPlant trees and shrubbery to shade your outdoor air-conditioning unit, which can boost its efficiency by as much as 10%, Harris says. Just be sure you don't block the air flow.
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