Energy Saving Ideas and Tips for Under $50

These easy improvements show that saving energy doesn't have to cost a bundle

Saving energy is always in season, and there are many energy saving home improvements you can make that amp up efficiency without costing a bundle. Here are five easy energy saving tips for your home to-do list.

Don't wait to insulate: Most homes in America, even those that are just a few years old, simply don't have enough insulation. The good news is that this energy saving idea is cheap and easy to install yourself. For around $30 a roll, you can add six inches to your attic insulation and see savings from the moment you complete the job. Since most heat loss occurs through the ceiling, this is a fast way to get a quick return on investment.

Gaps, cracks and holes: Homes have been built in pretty much the same inefficient way for the past 200 years. Hollow wood frames are constructed and plugged up by building materials designed to fill those spaces and make the structure energy efficient, but in the process lots of holes are left behind. All those tiny spaces often add up to a 16-square-foot hole or more that needs to be filled in, one small gap at a time!

Energy Saving Ideas and Tips for Under $50Foam sealants ($5), caulk ($2) and weatherstripping ($1 and up) are great ways to get control of the drafts that allow your home's heat to leak out. It's a good idea to run your hand over any electrical outlet or light switch on an exterior wall to feel for the breath of Old Man Winter. If found, then the solution is simple - outlet gaskets, small precut pieces of foam insulation that cost pennies and can be placed behind the switch plate to form a draft-proof seal.

Low-cost lighting: Compact florescent lamps (CFLs) use 25 percent of the energy of an incandescent light bulb and can cut lighting costs by a whopping 75 percent. New advances in CFLs have made them more effective than ever.  CFLs now come in a variety of effects including soft white, bright white and daylight. CFLs can last 10,000 hours and many have a multi-year warranty. CFLs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but the energy savings and convenience of not having to replace them makes these energy savers a very good deal.

Smart thermostats: According to the US Department of Energy, replacing a standard thermostat with a clock setback model can cut heating costs by 10 percent. Clock setback thermostats (around $50) turn your heat down automatically when it is not needed. For example, in the average home, heat needs to be set at a comfortable level for only a small part of the work week. Clock setback thermostats can turn the heat down at night when you go to bed, up an hour before you awake, down again when you leave for work and up again when you come home. Smarter models even know when it's a weekend and can be set to leave the heat up all day. 

Hot water waste: Most water heaters are pretty dumb appliances, heating water to the same temperature 24 hours a day, seven days a week whether you need it or not! While on-demand tankless water heaters are a better option, they also require a large investment. Here's a great tip to cut water heating costs without breaking the bank, install an energy-saving water heater blanket ($10) to lower heat loss and turn the heat down from 120 degrees to 110 degrees, which is plenty hot for creature comforts without any waste.

For electric water heaters, it is also a good idea to install a timer that turns the electricity off when hot water is not needed. Just like the clock setback thermostats mentioned above, water only needs to be fully heated for eight to ten hours of a typical day. Good insulation will keep the tank warm for any uses that occur in between peak hours.  Also, draining a few gallons out of the water heater every three months will reduce sediment on the bottom of the tank and increase efficiency.

Bigger projects: Avoid the hype
Energy Saving Ideas and Tips for Under $50When considering an energy-saving home improvement, it's important to avoid the hype. Some years back, an advertiser for my radio program The Money Pit asked us to record a window commercial that claimed you could save 50 percent on your energy bills by installing their windows. I told the advertiser the only way this might be true is if you had no windows to start with!

Consumers are wise to be wary of bold claims for expensive improvements. Sure, installing modern windows is a smart move, but it's also a big move and one that will deliver payback over a longer period of time than one heating season. Less costly and complicated home improvements can truly deliver a return on your investment that far exceeds the time and expense required.

To get more information on these energy saving home improvements and more, check out the Energy Star website for a wide range of energy-efficient home improvement ideas and tips.

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