With the chill of winter approaching, help your customers improve their homes' comfort, plus save energy and money, while also doing the right thing for the environment. By using energy more efficiently, they help prevent air pollution from power plants along with keeping more dollars in their pockets. Pass along these simple recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Energy Star program:

1. Know the facts - The average family spends $1,400 a year on energy bills, with nearly half of that spent on heating and cooling. Energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment, sized and installed correctly, with properly sealed ducts, can save homeowners as much as 20 percent on their annual energy costs.

2. Keep it clean - A dirty air filter can increase energy costs and lead to early equipment failure. Clean or change the air filter in a heating and cooling system monthly. Some filters only need to be changed every three months. Also, have the equipment checked seasonally to make sure it's operating efficiently and safely; check-ups can identify problems early. Dirt and neglect are the No. 1 causes of system failure.

3. Bundle up your home - Hidden gaps and cracks in a home can add up to as much airflow as an open window. The more heat that escapes, the more cold air enters, causing the system to work harder and use more energy. Home sealing can improve the home envelope - the outer walls, ceiling, windows, and floors - and can save up to 10 percent in energy costs. Start by sealing air leaks and adding insulation. Pay special attention to the attic and basement, where the biggest gaps and cracks are often found. If replacing windows, choose Energy Star-qualified ones.

4. Tighten your ducts - Leaky ducts can reduce a system's overall efficiency by 20 percent. Sealing ducts can save up to $140 annually on energy bills and help consistently heat every room.

5. Don't oversize - If replacing old equipment, make sure the new equipment is properly sized for the home. An oversized system will cost more to buy and operate, and will cycle on and off too frequently, reducing comfort and leading to early system failures and repair costs. Correct size and proper airflow will ensure that the equipment works efficiently and saves money.

6. Put your home to the test - Energy Star has online tools to evaluate a home's energy performance and offer solutions to increase comfort and energy efficiency. Homeowners should visit www.energystar.gov/homeimprovement and have their utility bills handy for savings calculations.

7. Consult a professional - Use an experienced, licensed contractor for any heating and cooling overhaul. The contractor will properly size the equipment, test airflow, and perform a quality installation.

8. Cash in on special offers - Check with the local utility or visit the rebate finder at www.energystar.gov/rebatefinder to see if there are any special deals on high-efficiency heating equipment. Manufacturer rebates are usually offered in the fall and early spring.

9. Shop smart - If heating equipment has been poorly maintained and is 15 years old or older, it's probably time for a more efficient replacement. Homeowners should ask for an Energy Star unit when buying the following equipment:

  • Furnaces - One in four furnaces in U.S. homes is more than 20 years old. Old furnaces cost more to operate per year than new Energy Star-qualified models that are 15 percent more efficient than standard models.

  • Heat pumps - Today's electric and geothermal heat pumps are much more efficient than those installed just 10 years ago. When installed in a home with a well-sealed home envelope, heat pumps will provide significant value and comfort for the homeowner¿s energy dollar. An Energy Star-qualified geothermal heat pump is 30 percent more efficient than comparable new equipment and can save the homeowner as much as $200 annually. A qualified electric heat pump is 20 percent more efficient and can save about $130 annually.

  • Boilers - An Energy Star-qualified boiler uses features like electric ignition and new combustion technologies that extract more heat from the same amount of fuel, to be 7 percent more energy efficient.

  • Programmable thermostats - Regulate the home's temperature with four programmable settings and the homeowner can save about $100 annually on energy bills.

    For more information, visit www.energystar.gov.

    Publication date: 10/06/2003