If you are already making lists of resolutions and priorities for 2013, consider a few energy-efficiency projects around the house.
"We all have ways that we can avoid wasting energy and money," said DuWayne Dunham, an energy counselor at Clark Public Utilities. "Sometimes a small investment can pay off big."
He came up with seven ideas for manageable projects costing less than $500 that could really make a dent in your energy bills.
• Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Yes, you've heard this before. But have you done it? Each bulb costs about $2. "A 60-watt incandescent bulb costs a penny every two hours. You can burn a 15-watt CFL, which would be the equivalent, for eight hours before it costs a penny," Dunham said. Plus, if you bring a burned-out CFL to any of the Clark Public Utilities' offices, you can get a new one to replace it for free. You can get as many as six bulbs per visit.
• Seal air leaks. Little gaps and holes around doors and windows let your heated or air conditioned air flow outside with no resistance. For less than $100, you can put a stop to that.
Dunham recommends caulking around the windows, adding weather stripping around exterior doors, using spray insulation in a can to plug holes under sinks where plumbing enters the house, and installing foam gaskets to electrical switches and plugs on exterior walls.
"Air sealing provides the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to weatherization," Dunham said.
• Get a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat lets you choose separate temperature settings for different times of day, potentially saving $180 on the average $2,200 annual energy bill, according to the federal Energy Star program.
You can probably find a basic unit for $100 at a big-box hardware store, but it's the sort of thing that's best professionally installed, Dunham said. A unit with more features will run closer to $200. For the unit and installation, expect to pay between $300 and $400.
• Install a ceiling fan. True, ceiling fans use electricity, but they use a lot less than air conditioning. A whole-house air conditioner costs about $30 a month to operate. Compare that to 90 cents a month for a ceiling fan.
You can find ceiling fans at home-improvement stores for as little as $30 or as much as several hundred. The price varies depending on the features of the fan.
• Plant a tree. For $35 to $100, you could plant a tree on the south or west side of your house to help keep your house cool in the summer without an electricity-sucking air conditioner. Deciduous trees will drop their leaves in the winter so the sun can warm your house when you need it.
• Seal your ducts. OK, you have to do the math for this one: Hiring a qualified contractor to do the work costs an average of $1,000, but if you have electric heating, you can get a $500 rebate from Clark Public Utilities. Sealing ductwork can save you $100 to $150 a year by ensuring that conditioned air isn't leaking into the crawl space.
• Replace your old television. Older televisions use a lot more power than new ones tagged with the orange Energy Forward label. A 42-inch flat screen TV consumed 188 watts before Energy Forward launched. A 42-inch flat-screen carrying the Energy Forward label consumes only 56 watts. With holiday sales, you could probably find a pretty good deal, on top of the money you'll save every month.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.