When engineer James Dulley bought his Cincinnati house 17 years ago, his utility bills averaged $460 a month. Today, he's down to just $50 using an arsenal of energy-saving tips he documents on his website and in a syndicated column. To capture some of Dulley's success, use incense to check for leaks from windows, doors, walls, ducts, pipes, and electrical outlets, and then caulk, seal, and weatherstrip. You can also check out the new $500 tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements.
The attic: Insulation can drift, creating thin or bare spots. Rake it even. Reinsulate if you have less than 8 to 12 inches. Seal and insulate the attic door.
The basement: Hot water can account for 15 percent of the heating bill. Dial the temperature down to 100 or 120 degrees to save 10 percent or more. Service your furnace at the start of winter, and replace filters monthly. Check ductwork for leaks--seal seams with Gorilla Tape or aluminum tape. Wrap an older hot-water heater with insulation.
The living quarters: At under $100, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself in a year. Easy to install, it powers the furnace down at night to 63 degrees or less but warms it up to 68 degrees before your feet touch ground in the morning. Lighting claims 20 percent of electric costs. Replacing five fixtures with Energy Star-rated compact fluorescent bulbs will save $60 a year. Inexpensive, insulating window films keep heat in during winter and reflect the summer sun. Easily installed pellet stoves, which run on a variety of renewable resources like corn, cherry pits, or compressed sawdust, cost from $1,000 to $3,000.
Outside: Three trees can save $100 to $250 annually on heating and cooling. Plant trees that lose their leaves on the south to block summer sun, and evergreens on the north to block winter winds.
Audit: For larger investments or problem homes, consider a home energy audit. Utility companies may offer discounted services. Or look for accredited auditors who can help calculate the costs and benefits of installing room-programmable thermostats, replacing oversize furnaces, or using alternate energy sources like solar panels and geothermal heat pumps.
This story appears in the December 19, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.