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August 2, 2013

Make summer the season for saving energy

Whether replacing light bulbs or unplugging your unused cellphone charger, small changes can make a big impact on your electricity bill this summer and beyond.

Kristinn Leonhart, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, said the average home has about 30 light fixtures, together consuming more electricity than a home's washer and dryer, refrigerator and dishwasher combined.

And because regular incandescent light bulbs emit heat, she said, using more-energy-efficient bulbs in your home's most-used fixtures makes a significant difference.

"Replace them with more-energy-efficient bulbs, which use less energy and produce about 75 percent less heat," Leonhart said. "They're good for cooling bills."

The two kinds of energy-efficient bulbs Energy Star certifies are compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED), both of which have longer life spans than conventional incandescent bulbs.

Another small change with major impact? Resetting the thermostat.

Cindy Olson, vice president of the green energy consulting firm Eco-Coach, said air conditioners are often left on when no one is home and set to temperatures lower than is necessary for comfort.

"It is something that is very personal," Olson said. "A lot of times, simply air movement is enough to be comfortable, even with just a ceiling fan."

Test how you and your family feel by adjusting the temperature up by one or two degrees at a time. Every degree of change, she said, can make a 2 percent difference on your utility bill. An air-conditioning system can account for 30 percent of an energy bill in the summer, according to power company data.

Updates in technology have made new central air systems, often with programmable thermostats, at least 15 percent more efficient than older models. If you aren't ready to replace your central air-conditioning unit altogether — the EPA suggests doing so if it is more than 10 years old — regular maintenance will ensure your unit is running as efficiently as it can. A dirty air filter, for example, can damage equipment and cause early breakdown.

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