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Energy efficiency made easy

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When temperatures decrease outdoors, many people are anxious to kick them up indoors -- but more heat comes at a higher price.

Xcel Energy offers a variety of tips to save money and become more energy efficient, especially as the seasons change.

Spending to save

Sometimes, in order to save money in the long run, initial purchases need to be made, such as buying compact fluorescent light bulbs.

"Replacing old incandescents with CFLs -- that can really add up," said Jean Hammer of Xcel Energy.

Another option is LEDs, or light emitting diodes. Both CFLs and LEDs are more expensive, but use between 75 and 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also last longer, Xcel said, and can result in about a $50 savings over the life of just one bulb.

Another money-saving tip is to regularly replace furnace filters.

"That's generally a pretty low-cost measure that you can do on a monthly basis," Hammer said. Clean filters keep the furnace running more efficiently and lower the average heating bill by about $35.

Bring those heating costs down a little further by buying a programmable thermostat.

"That offers you the comfort you're looking for and the constant set degrees," Hammer explained. "Folks who don't have programmable thermostats tend to turn that dial more often."

By programming a cooler temperature for when residents are out of the house or sleeping, energy costs will be lower. And while people with non-programmable thermostats can manually turn down the heat before heading out, they may not always remember.

"That's the risk you run," Hammer said.

According to Xcel, turning the temperature down five degrees at night or when out of the house for at least an hour can save up to $70 on annual energy costs.

"We encourage customers to do what they can to save energy. But we expect them to keep comfort in mind as well," Hammer said. "There's a balance between comfort and savings."

If it's difficult to sacrifice a toasty warm home, energy can be saved in other aspects to help balance out costs.

Purely savings

Some steps toward energy efficiency come with an initial price, but others can crank out the savings free of charge.

Xcel Energy recommends a few easy options that, when combined, are likely to generate an extra couple hundred dollars in savings over the course of a year.

Simply lowering the temperature of a water heater by 10 degrees can cut heating costs back by three to five percent, equaling about $6 to $10 a year if the temperature can be set around 120 degrees.

"If you're someone who's kept your water heater at 160 degrees, that's going to be a much higher savings," Hammer said with a laugh.

And the savings will be higher still if lower water temperatures are kept in mind while doing laundry. According to ENERGY STAR, washing in cold water will save nearly $40 a year with an electric water heater and about $30 with a gas water heater.

Also consider the savings that can add up from taking advantage of natural sunlight. When the sun is shining, open shades and blinds to let it heat different rooms of the house. Be sure, however, not to leave them open if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

"If the wind's really blowing and you can feel a draft through those windows ... try to contain that cold air in that area," Hammer said.

In addition to window shades, keep doors closed as well -- at least until someone has to leave the house. Locally, that tip is a bit of a no-brainer.

"I think Minnesotans are pretty tuned-in to keeping that door closed in the winter," Hammer joked.

Xcel offers a variety of other suggestions at, as well as information on rebates for different energy-saving purchases.