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Personal Finance > Five Tips
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Keeping your energy costs down
5 Tips: Saving money on your energy needs
August 12, 2004: 1:25 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Crude oil prices just keep setting records. Today prices smashed through the historic highs set last week -- topping out at nearly $45 a gallon, and they could rise even higher.

As per barrel prices continue spiking, what can you do to cut your energy bill? Here are today's five tips.

1. Fill 'er up -- now!

If you're one of the roughly eight million households using heating oil to heat your home, you may want to fill your heating oil tank now.

Higher crude prices mean higher heating oil prices because crude accounts for half of the price of a gallon of heating oil. According to Peter Beutel, President of Cameron Hanover, home heating oil prices are at historic levels for this time of year. And they tend to go higher as winter approaches.

NYMEX Heating Oil for September delivery closed Friday at $1.17/gallon -- and keep in mind we're only about 8 cents shy of the all-time high of $1.25/gallon set on February 28, 2003.

Gary Evans, CEO of oil and gas company Magnum Hunter Resources predicts an expensive winter for home heating oil consumers. He advises filling up your oil tank now before demand jumps and prices spike this winter.

Beutel says if you start filling up now, over the course of the winter, you'll spend about $340 more on heating oil than you did last year. But if you wait, and prices rise, you could be stuck with even higher bills.

2. Seal the envelope.

Cut your costs by making sure your home isn't leaking hot air in the winter or cool air in the summer.

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on how to cut your energy bills even as those prices rise.

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Oliver Strube of SolarAccess.com says, "Efficiency is always the first things to look at. Make sure your home's envelope is sealed."

If your windows and doors are leaking, chances are you're paying more to heat and cool your home. You can find out if your energy use is above average by using the Energy Use Yardstick at www.energystar.gov.

All you need to do is enter some information about where you live, your home's square footage and your yearly energy costs. (If you don't have your old energy bills handy you may need to call your energy provider for this information.)

You can also use the site's Home Energy Advisor to find out what changes you may need to make to save money. Simple do-it-yourself projects include sealing obvious gaps and cracks with spray foam, caulk or weatherstrips. But for more sophisticated tasks like adding insulation, which needs proper air-sealing to work well, you may want to find a home performance contractor.

These contractors can help you determine where less obvious leaks may be and they can diagnose whether your heating and cooling systems are running efficiently.

Central air conditioners, heat pumps and forced air furnaces rely on a system of ducts to circulate air throughout your home. Leaky ducts can waste energy. You can take EnergyStar's "Diagnose You Ducts" quiz to help you figure out if you need them looked over.

If a performance contractor examines your equipment and finds that it's old, outdated or inefficient, he or she may recommend replacing your furnace or central air system with "Energy Star" rated equipment.

To encourage customers to buy energy efficient products, Energy Star partners often sponsor special offers, like sales tax exemptions or credits, or rebates on qualified products. For more tips on sealing your home's envelope, finding a performance contractor and "Energy Star" appliance partner incentive programs visit www.energystar.gov.

3. Find an alternative.

Rising energy prices make it all the more attractive to seek out alternatives -- specifically solar electric power, which has become popular. These systems allow you to power your home using the sun's energy. Sunlight is absorbed by solar panels and converted into electricity.

The systems can be pricey -- in an existing home you can spend $20,000 to $25,000. The good news? Some states like California reward homeowners who install solar systems by offering financial assistance (like rebates on solar electric systems and tax credits). For information on state, local and selected federal incentives programs that promote renewable energy, check out www.dsireusa.org.

Solar hot water systems also harness the sun's energy, but instead of converting it to electricity, the system is used to heat hot water. It can even be used to heat your home via heating tubes encased in the floor.

This technology is cheaper than a solar electric. It costs about $5,000 for a system that heats water. For a system that heats hot water as well as your home, be prepared to pony up $10,000. It may take 5 or 6 years to break even on this investment but you'll save up to 75 or 80 percent of your hot water & heating costs. For more information on solar and other types of renewable energy check out www.solaraccess.com.

4. Dig deep to save.

In a new home construction, geothermal systems can be very practical. Rather than using outside air, geothermal technology takes advantage of the constant air temperatures 6 to 7 feet in the ground. Depending on the time of year, temperatures range typically from 45 to 55 degrees.

To cool a home, heat is drawn away from the home through a heat exchange system and transferred underground. To heat a home, heat from beneath the ground is collected and released inside the home through a series of ducts and vents.

Instead of heating your home from a freezing temperature in the winter or cooling it from 85 degrees in the summer, you start at the mid-point, which is much more energy-efficient. Keep in mind that these systems can cost $10,000 more than a standard low efficiency heating and cooling system.

5. Save at the gas pump.

Gas prices have fallen back slightly in recent weeks, but the average price for regular unleaded gasoline is still up 35 cents from year ago levels.

We've just told you lots about how to save money on energy at home, but why not also save at the pump? Log on to www.gasbuddy.com, where you can link to more than 170 gas price information Web sites covering the U.S. and Canada to find the best deals near you.

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For example if you click on "New York" state, you can connect to sites like BuffaloGasPrices.com, AlbanyGasPrices.com, RochesterGasPrices.com etc. You can also check out charts and graphs about where prices have been, and where they may be going.

Planning a road trip? At www.fuelcostcalculator.com you can figure out how much fuel for your trek will cost. Just enter your starting city, your destination and your car's make and model.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page




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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.