On average, housing costs can run about 32-35% of your gross income, including your mortgage or rent, escrow and utilities.  When I sat down and realized how much money this added up to in my personal budget, I was determined to find every way possible to cut costs.  After much discussion, research and contemplation it came down to making choices. Choices we make every day to waste money --- or should I say, to waste energy! Our choices involved becoming more energy efficient.

According to the U.S. Government, energy efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bills with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort.  I found that heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more dollars than any other system in your home! 

That is, on the average, 43% of your utility bills.  Not to mention the millions of tons of carbon dioxide that goes into our atmosphere each year adding to our global warming dilemma.  Max found out that our heating and cooling systems produce the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that acid rain is composed of.  That alone should motivate us to become more energy efficient!  That's when Max and I decided we were going to become "Energy Stars".   

For long term savings, Max and I assessed our current heating and cooling systems to see if they have the ENERGY STAR rating.  ENERGY STAR is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. These products must meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy.  In 2008 alone, Americans, with the help of ENERGY STAR, saved enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 29 million cars - all while saving $19 billion on their utility bills.  After researching costs and negotiating for the best prices, we ended up replacing our heating and cooling systems with ENERGY STAR models.  In just a few months, we have noticed a significant change in our utility bills.

But it doesn't end there, that was just the beginning.  After upgrading to ENERGY STAR models we took it one step further and increased the insulation in our attic and basement, as well as, sealing every air leak we could find around our home.  It helps to keep us warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. As an added bonus, the new insulation muffles the barking dog noises that we used to hear every morning!

We then began looking at the windows in our home.  Ideally, installing ENERGY STAR windows would be the way to go, but after the purchase of the heating and air systems, it just wasn't in the budget this year,but worth saving for.  We chose to do the next best thing, install tight-fitting window shades on all the windows and weatherize them with plastic during winter months. We also made sure to use storm windows where we had them.  In the summer, we keep the curtains closed on the south and west facing windows.  Conversely, in the winter we keep them open to naturally warm up the house.

Last but not least, we looked at saving energy in any way we can, even the simplest things such as turning off lights, computer equipment, home electronics and small appliances makes a difference.  Some appliances we plugged into power strips so they are easier to switch on and off.  We have become vigilant with any new purchases, and are conditioned now to look for ENERGY STAR products.   Becoming "Energy Stars" started off as a means to save money on housing costs for us, but it really has turned out to be a way for us to be doing our part in saving our beautiful earth.  For more information on how you can become an "Energy Star", go to www.energystar.gov