With U.S. consumers facing higher heating costs this winter, a new government Web site gives homeowners specific, customized recommendations on how to cut their energy use and save on utility bills.
Using the Environmental Protection Agency's new Energy Star Home Advisor can help homeowners reduce their energy bills by up to 25 percent.
At the Web site, homeowners enter their zip code, how their homes are heated and cooled, and the type of water heater they have.
Next comes a list of energy savings steps, tailored to the homeowner's region of the country, to cut energy use, such as sealing air leaks, adding more insulation or installing a programmable thermostat.
"A lot of times, people don't know where to start," said Maria Vargas, with the EPA program that puts the government's blue "Energy Star" label on light bulbs, appliances and other products that save energy.
She said most people think that buying energy-saving appliances is the best way to cut energy use.
"The reality is you can install the most energy efficient heating system or cooling system, but if your home isn't sealed --- that is if you don't have the right amount of insulation in the attic or if you haven't sealed the cracks around your windows and doors -- that air is going to escape, and so that's just a waste," Vargas said.
The Web site does provide information on the many energy-saving appliances and products available and their related tax credits. For example, homeowners can save up to $200 on their tax bill by installing certain storm windows and $500 with new insulation.
Homeowners can also see how much money they could save on their energy bills and how much their global warming emissions would be reduced from the upgrades.
The EPA estimates that the typical homeowner can save up to 10 percent on the yearly energy bill by sealing air leaks and adding insulation.
The savings should come in handy this winter as the Energy Department forecasts the costs for all heating fuels will be higher compared to last winter.
Household expenses for heating will be up 22 percent this winter, propane up 16 percent, natural gas up 10 percent and residential electric bills up 4 percent.
The Web site also has a list of things you should look for in a contractor to make the energy-efficiency upgrades, but does not provide specific names of local contractors.
"If you're handy enough, a lot of this stuff you can do yourself," said Vargas, who pointed out the Web site has detailed step-by-step instructions and photos explaining the energy-saving improvements. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to be as efficient as possible in their homes."