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Slash Your Energy Bills

These 6 simple home improvements could save you up to $1,000 a year

4. Blanket your water heater

Spend: Less than $30

Save: Up to $200 a year

Your water heater eats about 20 percent of your energy. Insulating exposed hot-water pipes with foam or fiberglass sleeves can raise water temps at the tap 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower your water heater's thermostat and shave roughly 1 percent off your total energy costs. An insulating blanket around the heater tank can chop another 9 percent. Pipe sleeves start at $2 for 12 feet; blankets run about $20.

5. Seal and wrap ductwork

Spend: Less than $100

Save: Up to $400 a year

As much as 30 percent of the air from the furnace or air conditioner escapes through ductwork, which expands and shrinks as temperatures change. If ducts are accessible — as in the basement, in the attic, and at the furnace connection — seal joints with brush-on mastic (a waterproof, flexible sealant) and wrap ductwork with HVAC insulation. A gallon of mastic costs about $30 and will close up to 40 joints. (Avoid duct tape; it doesn't seal.) HVAC insulation "wrap" — a self-adhesive foam with foil backing — costs about $1 per foot at home-improvement centers.

6. Dress the hearth

Spend: $50 to $200

Save: $50 to $200 a year

A roaring fireplace burns more than just wood: One fire a week can boost winter heating costs about 10 percent, because the flames suck warm air out of the house and send it up the chimney. For $200, a glass screen or a heat exchanger can keep cold air out and reduce heat loss. For summer savings, inflatable fireplace draft-stoppers (starting at $50) prevent cooled air from escaping in older homes with leaky metal dampers.

Sid Kirchheimer covers consumer issues for AARP. His latest project was installing high-efficiency 1.28-gallon-per-flush toilets in his house.

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