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Energy Efficiency: Pick Upgrades that (Actually) Drive Down Costs

A new study says home owners won’t see their utility bills drop until they’ve conducted four or more energy upgrades. Here are projects that will give you the greatest bang for your energy buck.

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I’ve long suspected that saving energy is like saving calories: Small measures add up, until a Thanksgiving pecan pie — or a dazzling holiday light display — wrecks a year’s worth of small though consistent efforts.

Evidently I’m right, according to a new study claiming that doing a couple of small, energy-saving measures actually increase utility bills. And that a home owner must perform at least four energy upgrades before their utility bill drops.

The 450-page study, conducted by the eco-curious Shelton Group, found that energy-efficient home owners think they should replace water heaters and install a higher-efficiency HVAC system, though they actually replace windows and add insulation.

We think they’re half right: Adding insulation, especially in the attic, is a low-cost way to reduce utility bills. But replacing windows requires a huge upfront cost, which you probably won’t live long enough to earn back.

To see net-net savings — in your lifetime — select upgrades that reduce energy consumption by 5% and require modest initial investments. We suggest:

  • Seal and insulate ductwork through unfinished and unheated areas, such as the attic, garage, and crawl spaces.
  • Seal air leaks around windows, doors, attic access, and recessed lights.

How many energy-efficient improvements did you make last year? Did you see a drop or increase in your utility bills?

lisa-kaplan-gordon Lisa Kaplan Gordon

is an avid gardener, a member of the Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association, and a builder of luxury homes in McLean, Va. She’s been a Homes editor for Gannett News Service and has reviewed home improvement products for AOL. Follow Lisa on Google+.

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