Save the Planet, Save Your Pennies

Want to be kind to the planet and your portfolio at the same time? The Fool shows you how in our special series on Earth-friendly investing.

Do you consider yourself a certified tree hugger? How about a certifiable penny pincher? Get in touch with your inner hippie and your inner scrooge this Earth Day with these energy conservation tips.

You can accomplish a lot with a few quick and dirty (or is that clean?) changes. To make a lasting impact on the planet and your wallet, consider making an investment of time and a little money in appliances and home improvements. They may cost a little upfront, but they'll save you money in the long run.

Cheap and easy conservation

  • Install a programmable thermostat. Don't heat or cool your house while no one's at home. The Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department estimate you could save $150 a year with one of these gizmos. You can estimate your savings using the Energy Star calculator (found under consumer information). Not a bad investment given that a thermostat, like those manufactured by Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) , can be yours for about $50 to $100.
  • Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescents. This idea has some big backers, such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) . The bulbs use two-thirds the energy of standard light bulbs and last 10 times longer. Change five bulbs and save $60 in energy costs this year. Put them in your hallway, kitchen, and other rooms where the light's always on to get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Turn off lights and appliances when they're not in use. Turn off your computer and monitor overnight, or at least set them to automatically switch to an energy saving mode when they're not in use. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) says the hibernate mode is virtually the same as turning your PC off and can save as much as $90 a year in energy costs.
  • Wash full loads of dishes and clothes, and pay attention to the cycle settings. You can save energy and money just by washing some loads on warm or cold settings, since 80% of the energy used in doing laundry is used to heat the water. (And you thought all the energy went into climbing up and down the basement stairs!) You can also wrap your water heater with an insulating pad to reduce heat loss. Use normal or light wash programs on your dishwasher when it's appropriate. By the same token, leave your clothes in the dryer only as long as it takes to do the job.
  • Seal the air leaks around your windows and doors with weather-stripping. Although we usually think about weatherizing when the winter winds start to blow, it can save you a bundle on your air conditioning bill, too. Caulk and install weather-strip around doors and windows and any place where plumbing, ducts, or wiring penetrates the walls, floors, and ceilings. It's a bigger project, but you can also increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems by as much as 20% by sealing and insulating your ducts.

Home, earth, and energy improvements

  • Add insulation, especially if you live in an older home. To get the biggest energy savings, add insulation to your attic. Make sure, too, to insulate the access panel or door that leads from your living space to your attic.
  • Think energy conservation when you buy new appliances, or when you have to replace your heating or cooling systems. Look for Energy Star products, which must meet certain better-than-minimum energy usage qualifications. Virtually all appliance manufacturers make Energy Star models, whether you're looking at a Sub-Zero refrigerator or a Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR  ) washer. Look at the yellow EnergyGuide labels to compare appliances. The label will display the estimated cost to run the appliance, as well as its energy efficiency compared with other models.
  • If you have single-pane windows, consider replacing them with high-performance double-pane windows. They can reduce heat loss in cold weather and special coatings can minimize heat absorption in hot weather. If you don't want to replace your windows, storm windows can cut your heat loss by up to 50%. You'll also want to install window curtains and shades to keep out or let in the sun.

Just taking a few of these steps can not only save you a bunch of money, but also save the planet from unnecessary emissions and energy waste.

Related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article. She welcomes your feedback. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Inside Value recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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