Skip the diet, resolve in 2010 to turn off Xbox, plant a tree and save some money

By Mark Williams, AP
Friday, December 11, 2009

New Year’s energy resolutions that really pay off

COLUMBUS, Ohio — These New Year’s resolutions won’t make you look fabulous in time for swimsuit season or add 10 years to your life. Instead, your reward will be a fatter wallet and maybe a cleaner conscience, because this is about saving energy.

You can pay for the bubbly next year with all the money you save.

The average household uses about 20 percent more electricity than it did 20 years ago. Flat-screen televisions, cell phones, video games and iPods can really add up, not to mention much bigger houses.

Here’s how to can tame the energy beast in your home.

1. Get junior to shut off that Xbox when he’s not riding a virtual half pipe or racing through downtown streets in a Formula 1 car.

Video game consoles collectively use as much power as the city of San Diego each year, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ecos Consulting.

Researchers came to that result on the assumption that half of all users leave their consoles on all the time. And the latest machines are big power sponges.

A Sony PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 left on 24 hours a day, seven day per week will use as much electricity as two new refrigerators. The Nintendo Wii is a relative power sipper, however.

The study estimates that the annual electricity cost for a PlayStation 3 bought in 2006 that is shut off after use is $15; it’s $160 if the console is left on.

2. Get into the spirit and replace those incandescent holiday lights with a string of LED lights. You’ll save 71 cents for a string that remains lit 10 hours a day for 30 days, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

It doesn’t sound like much, but throw in 10 or 12 strings of lights to put on your house or a few trees, and the savings add up. What’s more, LED lights last much longer, so there is less waste and less investment year over year.

3. Replace the five most used light bulbs in your house with Energy Star compact fluorescent bulbs and you’ll save $60 per year. Energy Star is the government’s rating program that shows you the appliances and electronics that are most efficient.

4. Kill the vampires. Energy vampires are devises that use energy even when they are turned off. Even if you shut off every computer, television, DVD player and appliance in your house, they are still using power to run features such as clocks and remote controls. One study said standby power can suck up as much as 10 percent of your electricity bill.

Plug the devices into power strips or buy electronics that have standby power usage near zero. The savings could be $50 or more a year.

5. Turn down the thermostat when you aren’t home or snoozing. Better yet, buy a programmable thermostat that will cover you in case you forget. For every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter, you can cut your heating bill by 5 percent, depending on where you live. Savings potential: $100 a year, according to ASE.

6. Plant a tree. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall can help cool your house in the summer and let sun and warmth in during the winter. Plant your own Christmas tree outside as a windbreak. ASE says smart landscaping can save $100 to $250 per year in energy costs.

7. Buy appliances only with Energy Star ratings. A new clothes washer with an Energy Star rating, for example, can save $50 a year over one that isn’t, according to the Energy Star program.

A new Energy Star dishwasher can save $40 a year over a pre-1994 model; a new Energy Star refrigerator, $50.

8. New heating and cooling systems can slash your energy costs. Replacing a central air conditioner that is at least 12 years old can cut cooling costs by more than 30 percent, or more than $100 depending on where you live.

9. Seal air leaks and add insulation to block heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. That can shave up to 20 percent off your heating and cooling costs.

10. Finally, enjoy your savings. Buy tickets to the theater or a ball game, get a new outfit or bring the champagne to next year’s New Year Eve’s party. After all, what’s the point of saving all this money if you can’t flaunt it?

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