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Originally published Friday, January 17, 2014 at 8:00 PM

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Cut energy use and stay warm and save money | HomeWork

The average energy bill for a typical single-family American home is approximately $2,200 per year, but by following these tips, many local homeowners can come very close to eliminating their home-energy bills.

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Q: What steps do you recommend taking to lower home-energy costs?

A: The Puget Sound area’s mild, maritime climate makes it an ideal spot for drastically lowering your power consumption at home.

According to a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average energy bill for a typical single-family American home is approximately $2,200 per year.

But by following these tips and making smart choices, many local homeowners can come very close to eliminating their home-energy bills.

The first step is to lower your home’s requirements for heating, cooling and lighting. This means carefully sealing and insulating the “shell” of your home.

A typical house leaks 475 cubic feet of air per minute (CFM) — enough to fill a hot-air balloon in less than three hours. Today’s most-efficient homes leak only 68 CFM.

Properly placed high-performance windows let in the warming rays of the sun in the winter, are shaded in the summer and can provide natural ventilation.

Another energy-saving choice is to install water-saving appliances and ultralow showerheads. Hot water equals energy down the drain, so this is important for reducing energy usage.

Once you have lowered your energy usage as much as is practical for your family and your lifestyle, the next step is install efficient equipment and systems.

While it may not be feasible to replace everything at once, you can make small changes that help.

Next-generation LED bulbs are 75 percent more efficient and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

As for home appliances, it’s important to keep in mind that not all refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines are created equal — even those bearing the Energy Star label. Compare models and brands carefully to find the most efficient models to meet your needs. It really does pay to be picky.

Saving energy generally costs less than generating energy, but only up to a point. For your home to reach true energy independence, you’ll need to generate your own energy. This is not as daunting as it might sound.

While home-brewed energy comes in many forms, solar is the most practical in the Pacific Northwest — even with the region’s frequent gray skies.

Prices for solar panels have come down in recent years. As for the gray skies, Seattle City Light notes that Seattle receives more sunlight on average than Germany, which is the world’s leading solar market.

A great way to learn even more about energy-saving features is to see them in person, so mark your calendar for the Northwest Green Home Tour on April 26.

Visitors can walk through newly constructed and retrofitted homes that have undergone extreme energy makeovers. The tour, presented by Built Green and the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, is free to the public.

At least two homes on this year’s tour are net-zero energy, meaning that they produce more renewable solar energy than they use over the course of a year. One home on the tour generates enough surplus solar energy to power the owner’s electric car.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to


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