Your behavior is a critical component in energy savings.
You can move into a highly energy-efficient home tomorrow - one with the best windows, a high-SEER air conditioner, the proper attic insulation levels and top-rated energy-efficient appliances - and still have high monthly power bills if you don't do the right thing.
Energy experts tell us that the best thermostat settings for energy efficiency are 78 in summer and 68 in winter. Those settings keep the home comfortable at the optimum temperature settings for using energy the most efficiently.
Look now at where your thermostat is set. If it's several degrees from the recommended setting for the time of the year, you're going to be wasting a lot of energy. Even a degree or two in the wrong direction can mean significant energy waste.
Take a peek into your garage and see whether you have a 20-year-old freezer out there. Lots of people keep old appliances that might still be working, using them in their garages or basements while they replace them in the kitchen.
You probably would be better off financially if you threw that old junk appliance away and bought a new one. Today's appliances are so much more energy-efficient that the savings on the monthly utility bill from getting rid of the old freezer will pay for the total cost of the new one in a few years, giving you many years of savings beyond that.
Do you have a lot of junk stored in your attic? Of course you do. That's what attics are for. But did you notice the last time you went up there that you've been moving boxes around for so long and putting so many things in every part of the attic that the insulation doesn't look as full as it once did?
Your house might have had the recommended insulation levels when it was built, but houses settle, people walk around in the attic and store things up there, and before you know it, the insulation is down a few inches. This gives your home less protection against the elements, helping drive up energy costs.
Or maybe you have a house full of people who like to take long showers. Likely culprits are teen-agers and houseguests, though the luxurious showers in homes being built these days make people want to spend more time in them.
That might not be the worst thing you've ever done, but you're setting up the double whammy of more water use and more energy use to heat that water. Water bills can be expensive in many parts of the country, so saving water is as important as saving energy.
If you want to save energy, lower your power bills and keep your home more comfortable all year long, the starting point is not with a certain product or home feature. It's with you and your family, realizing that the way you use energy might be the key factor in determining what it costs.
Saving energy doesn't mean sacrificing. You can still enjoy amenities such as fireplaces, swimming pools, big windows and skylights and all those other home features that use energy. Just remember: The key to saving energy is the people living in the house.
Ken Sheinkopf is associate director of the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, Fla. Information: www.fsec. ucf.edu.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.