Celebrate Earth Day by keeping money in your pocket - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Celebrate Earth Day by keeping money in your pocket

© iStockphoto.com / Julie Askins © iStockphoto.com / Julie Askins

By Andrew Housser

Earth Day 2017 is Saturday, April 22. The annual recognition started in 1970, when President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, people can honor the day by making changes that are kind to the planet – and their wallets.

One simple place to put smart Earth Day practices to work is at home. The date falls in the midst of the season for spring cleaning and sprucing up the home. Making a few household improvements this time of year will reap financial rewards for months or years to come.

Switch on LED bulbs. Over the past few years, regulations and industry trends have encouraged people to use more energy-efficient light bulbs. Hardware and other retail stores have swapped most incandescent bulbs for CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) and LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. LEDs, the most efficient bulbs, come in a range of styles and colors, and produce light at a fraction of the cost of old-style bulbs. Replacing 20 household incandescent bulbs with LEDs could save more than $1,400 over 13 years, or $110 per year. The Energy Star calculator can help you estimate your savings.

Request an energy audit. Many utility companies offer free or inexpensive energy audits. An inspector will come to your home and look for air leaks, poor insulation and other energy-saving opportunities. Based on the findings, the inspector will recommend ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Some fixes are easy and affordable, such as caulking around windows. Others, such as adding insulation to an attic, require a larger investment. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that making recommended changes could reduce many homes’ energy bills by 5 to 30 percent. An average household might save $110 to $660 per year.

Consider updating appliances. Appliances that are more than 10 years old use more energy than newer models. Replacing an old refrigerator might save as much as $90 per year in energy use. A 25-year-old gas furnace might be only 65 percent efficient, meaning it only uses 65 percent of the gas you pay for. Updating to a model with 95 percent efficiency could slash gas bills by 40 percent. An average household could save $400 per year. To boost savings even more, look for rebates from your city or utility company.

Cool your water heater costs. Water heating choices can affect your budget. With any water heater, you can set the temperature to 120 degrees and still have comfortably warm water. The lower temperature will save about $5 a month compared to a 140-degree setting. New water heaters available today could save $48 per year in energy costs over an older heater. Tankless water heaters work on demand, so they can save $100 in energy costs per year. These heaters work best for households that use no more than 41 gallons of hot water per day. If a solar water heater is an option, you could save on energy costs and also take advantage of federal income tax credits.

Bask in the glow of solar energy. Solar (photovoltaic, or PV) panels can power your home with the sun’s help and significantly reduce your energy bills. In sunny regions, solar panels may generate enough power to cover all of a home’s electricity usage. Through 2019, a federal income tax credit is available for up to 30 percent of solar panel expenses.

Make transit choices that keep money in your wallet. Many cities offer public transportation, ride sharing and bike lanes. Choosing a commute that does not involve driving alone can save money on gas, parking and vehicle maintenance costs, and reduce pollution. If your employer offers a transit pass, you may be eligible for pre-tax savings up to $255 per month. If your company reimburses for bicycle commuting, federal tax laws do not require you to count that reimbursement as income. Ask a tax advisor how these policies affect you.

What will you do with your “green” savings? Smart consumers will make a conscious decision about how to spend the amount they save. Consider using the money you free up to get out of debt or to add to your emergency fund. That way, you will help both the planet and your future.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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