Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A hot way to reduce bills

Solar water heaters, compact fluorescents can help you save


This solar hot water system lowers the pool heating costs and extends the swimming season for several months in this upstate New York home. Photo courtesy of

Creators Syndicate

Many of us have watched our utility bills triple in the past few years. This can be a real problem, especially for seniors and those living on fixed incomes. But there are ways you can level off your utility bills and green your home at the same time.

"About 30-35 percent of your home's utility bill goes to maintaining a standing tank of hot water that you use only a few times a day," notes Patrick Gallagher of Gallagher Solar Thermal. "Solar hot water eliminates up to 70 percent of that part of your energy bill."

Recent incentives and tax credits eliminate about half the upfront costs of a solar hot water system, putting it squarely within any homeowner's reach. Unlike solar electric panels, you do not have to have an energy audit or upgrade your appliances to take advantage of solar hot water. It is the simplest and least expensive green energy upgrade you can make.

Warwick, N.Y., residents Jerry and Lucy Fischetti had Gallagher install a typical two-panel solar hot water system on their beautiful Victorian home. The system cost about $9,000, but more than half the cost was defrayed by tax credits and incentives. The installed price was closer to $4,000. If this cost were paid by a low-interest loan over a 10-year period, the savings on the Fischettis' monthly utility bill would be greater than the cost to pay back the loan.

A solar hot water system could have you pocketing part of the money you would have paid your utility company. "We are already paying for the cost of a solar hot water system through the recent increase in our utility bills," notes Gallagher. "Why not do the planet and your bank account a favor and have the installation?"

Summer heat is upon us, and the last thing you want to do is waste your money adding more heat to your home through inefficient lighting. If you have traditional incandescent light bulbs, 90 percent of the energy you are paying for is heat, warming your house rather than lighting it. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are the brightest idea since Thomas Edison's electric candle. These are the squiggly tubular bulbs, which last up to 10 times longer than their egg-shaped counterparts. If you replace every light bulb in your house that you turn on for an average of five hours a day or more with a CFL, you will save about $45 per bulb on your yearly electric bill, equaling about $50 per month for the average household.

If all the households in America replaced even just one highly used incandescent light bulb with a CFL, we would save 20 percent of our energy consumption and be able to close down many coal-burning plants. "Lighting a whole room so you can see what you're doing is similar to refrigerating a whole house to preserve perishable food," notes energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Our food system is a highly subsidized network of environmental disasters. The average bite of food we eat has traveled 1,500 miles from the farm to our fork, according to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" author Barbara Kingsolver. Those "food miles" add up to about 18 percent of our carbon emissions as a nation and about 20 percent of our families' budgets. Eating locally, especially if you convert your perfectly manicured lawn into an edible garden, can save you money on your food bills, doctors' bills, and the costs of maintaining the perfect lawn.

If you are an apartment dweller, eating locally means buying in season from the farmers market and preserving part of the harvest for the winter. Local food purchased in season is always less expensive and is of higher quality than its mass-produced counterparts trucked from commercial farms across the country.

Doing these three green things right now will help your family weather the recession and better the environment at the same time.

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