4 Easy Entry Points Into Energy Savings

Everybody wants to go green and save money, but how exactly do you do it if it's all new to you? Try these four approaches.

1. Start simple.

For most of us, a good, basic starting point is changing your light bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) or the even-more-energy-stingy LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. They may cost more upfront, but they'll save you a lot over time.

Another basic entry point to savings is your windows. Don't change them thinking that you'll get a payback; caulk them instead. Weather-stripping will also make a big difference.

2. Get a smart programmable thermostat.

Programmable thermostats can reduce heating and cooling costs in your home by 25 to 30 percent. But it's hard to get excited by this device that your dad probably loves.

Enter the Nest Learning Thermostat, which was designed by a former Apple executive and borrows the clean, minimalist design of the classic iPod click wheel. The Nest uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to learn your living patterns and figure out when to bump the temperature down a few degrees to save you money.

It can be self-installed if you have technical ability, or you can hire a local installer who will also sell you the unit. Retailers carrying the Nest, which sells for around $250, include Amazon, Best Buy, and Lowe's, among others.

I've now tried the Nest at my home and am very happy with its performance. I've found it reduces my energy bill by about 20 percent. Visit Nest.com for more info.

3. Reduce your water consumption.

I had a low-flow toilet put into my house that took us from 3.5 gallons a flush to 1.1 gallons a flush. The toilet actually has two buttons -- one that delivers 1.1 gallons and another that delivers 1.6 gallons. This is a G-rated article, so use your imagination to understand when to use which button!

Consumer Reports gave its vaunted "Best Buy" checkmark to two toilets that both sell for about $100: the single-flush Aquasource AT1203-00 (available at Lowe's) and the Glacier Bay Dual Flush N2316 (available at Home Depot).

In addition, try installing a low-flow showerhead that uses a blast of air to simulate a strong stream of water. You may qualify for a rebate if you outfit your home with water-efficient devices. Check with your municipality to see if they participate.

4. Insulate your attic.

If you have an attic, be sure to insulate it. You can either pay a professional to do blown-in insulation or do it yourself. But be sure to wear proper gloves and a mask if you do the latter.

Joel Larsgaard, the associate producer on my radio show, recently did it himself at his new house. He got free rental of an insulation blower with the purchase of 20 bags of insulation ($11 a bag) at a local big-box home improvement store. Then he grabbed a friend to help him.

"It took us roughly an hour and 15 minutes to blow 23 bags of cellulose insulation into my attic, and it was actually kind of fun doing it," Joel told me. "And bonus: I looked like the Snuggles Bear afterwards, with a thick coat of lint all over me!"

The real bonus is that Joel got a reimbursement from his local power company. So they covered half of his $274 total bill for the job! Visit DSIREUSA.org (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) to see similar incentives that may be available where you live.

For more money-saving tips, visit ClarkHoward.com. Money in Your Pocket. Advice You Can Trust.