En español | The squeeze on homeowners shows no signs of easing. Heating-oil prices will rise 12 percent this winter, and your electric bill will likely jump again in 2011, state energy regulators predict. "There were a lot of rate freezes in the past 5 to 10 years, and many have now ended," says Ed Legge, spokesperson for Edison Electric Institute, which represents the nation's larger, investor-owned utilities. "Companies are playing catch-up."
See also: Save at the supermarket.
That leaves homeowners wondering whether to invest in energy-saving improvements, even though federal tax credits have ended for upgrading insulation, windows, and heating and cooling equipment. Just one home in five built before 1980 started out with adequate insulation, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. Adding fresh insulation to walls, ceilings, attics, and basements would bring immediate energy savings of 10 to 20 percent, says Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which works with state and federal officials on energy-saving programs for low-income families.
But your house probably doesn't need a complete overhaul. Cheap and simple tweaks can quickly pay for themselves. "The best bang for your buck is to seal up and insulate your house," says Ronnie Kweller of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.