The federal government is doing its part to help Americans become more energy-conscious. By entering your ZIP code into the Department of Energy website http://hes.lbl.gov/consumer, you'll get a snapshot of annual energy usage by a typical home in your neighborhood compared to what an efficient residence would use. Filling in your own home information gets you an informal, customized energy audit. If you're buying a new appliance, the DOE's Energy Star program (www.energystar.gov) can help you find more efficient products to save money.
The government is also offering incentives to encourage energy-saving household upgrades. You can follow a link on the Energy Star website to see if you're eligible for a tax credit representing 30 percent of the cost of your upgrades, with an overall maximum of $1,500. The credit covers specific products installed between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, including biomass stoves; some heating and cooling systems; insulation material; gas, oil, propane, and electric water heaters; and other items. Additional credits for geothermal heat pumps, solar energy systems, small wind turbines, and fuel cell systems are available through 2016. Getting a handle on your energy guzzlers now can pay off with dividends in the future.