First Person: Our New Home Saves Us Nearly 40% on Energy Bills

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I find that utilities are kind of like toilet paper; they can be costly, and you don't really appreciate them until you don't have them. This doesn't mean however that I don't look for ways to cut our costs when it comes to our energy bills. Over the years, I've discovered a number of tricks and techniques to keep our energy costs low. In fact, I used this knowledge after we sold our last home to help us find a home that provides us with the ability to cut our energy bills by nearly 40 percent, reducing them from an average of about $108 to $66 a month, and allowing us additional comfort in the process.

Home Size

Our previous home consisted of three floors -- a full finished basement, a main living floor, and an upstairs finished attic -- which was almost a full 1,600 square feet of space more than we needed to heat and cool. We ended up only really using the main living floor and occasionally the finished basement. Yet, we still had to maintain the other floors when it came to utilities. And even shutting these spaces off from our main living space during the summer or winter months, when temperatures were more extreme, still left us having to heat and cool them to some extent.

We bore this fact in mind when looking for our current home. We had no desire to have to heat and cool hundreds of extra square feet that we didn't use. Therefore, we purchased a home that was smaller and better fit to our needs. It's a single-floor condo in which we heat and cool only the space we use. We keep this space much more comfortable and yet only spend about half of what we did on the utilities in our previous home.

Southern Exposure

Even with the extra costs involved, we learned some valuable lessons from our prior home regarding utilities. We began to understand just how much difference the sun can make when it came to heating a home. Therefore, when we began looking at new homes, we took direct sunlight and the positioning of the home's windows in relation to the sun into consideration. It might not seem like it would make a significant difference in our heating and cooling costs, but as an example, in the middle of November, when we start off a sunny day with our inside temperature at 70 degrees, we can easily reach 75 by sunset just from opening the windows on the southern side of our condo. This is a temperature that can often carry us well into the night without the heat ever having to come on.

Age of HVAC Unit

It can be critical to the efficiency of a home's heating and cooling to understand not only the type of heating and cooling system the home utilizes, but its age as well. We faltered in this aspect with our first home. The HVAC system was from 1988 -- 20 years old at the time of our purchase -- and showed its age in its inefficiency when it came to our electricity and natural gas costs. Therefore, we made sure to check out our heating and air conditioning system much more closely when we bought our current home. Checking things like its ENERGY STAR™ rating and having our home inspector take a close look at its performance and age helped placate our fears in this area and turned out to be a good decision in helping us cutting our related costs by nearly 40 percent.

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