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The exterior of a home in Seattle. - 


Tess Vigeland: If you've been thinking about making your house a little more energy efficient, you might want to wait a bit longer. Or depending on Congress -- a lot longer. A new energy bill in the Senate contains $5 billion for the government's Home Star program including up to $8,000 for homeowners who make energy-efficient retrofits. But if you don't want to wait, there are things you can do now to reduce energy use and bills. Marketplace Sustainability reporter Adriene Hill joins us. Hi Adriene,

Adriene Hill: Hi Tess.

Vigland: So the Home Star program, might help people who are looking to make some more expensive energy changes like you're fridge or dryer. But what can the rest of us do to figure out where our homes are using all that power? Where they're sucking it up?

Hill: Well it can be a little bit tricky. I called Celia Lehrman from Consumer Reports for her advice. One recommendation she had for homeowners was a little device called a watt meter.

Vigeland: What is that?

Hill: Well, a watt meter's pretty neat. You can basically, it's a small device. You take it, you attach it to your appliance and you plug it into the wall. You let your appliance run, so your television, you leave it on as your normally would. You turn it off when you would. At the end of 24 hours, at the end of the testing period, it will tell you how much electricity your TV used.

Vigeland: And then what are you supposed to do with that information?

Hill: Well, you can judge whether you should maybe change out your appliance. Maybe you know just to consider unplugging things. There's some things like your refrigerator -- you got no choice. You can't pull that off the wall and let your salmon rot. But, there's some appliances you can consider unplugging and some maybe it's time to consider upgrading to something more energy efficient.

Vigeland: Alright, so it's called the watt meter. That's one little device that you can buy. Any other gizmos that people are using to monitor their energy use?

Hill: Well, on a bigger scale, there's something called a smart meter.

Vigeland: Yeah, I've heard of those.

Hill: Basically this is going to help all of us control our electricity use. The idea here with a smart meter is that it's almost real time back and forth communication with the user and the utility company about how much electricity you're using. As much as hour by hour.

Vigeland: Is it a general rule that if you use energy on off hours that it's going to be cheaper?

Hill: No, I think that's just in some markets and I think smart meters are helping people move in that direction, but I think that might be part of the problem, that it's a new way to think about energy use.

Vigeland: So that would be like, run your dishwasher in the middle of the night and maybe you get a discount. You know, one of my biggest energy bills is always when the warm weather hits and I start cranking up the A.C. Is there anyway to figure out a way save myself money when I do that? I mean I know I could just turn it off, but I'm not gonna.

Hill: Well you know, this gets back to how do you judge how your home is using this. Is your home letting the air conditioning seep out? Is it all going up to your basement or crawl space? Where is it going? And that is something that can be a little bit trickier to figure out by yourself. You could actually walk around the house and feel for leaks. Maybe look for blowing windows.

Vigeland: I actually did that because we have french doors in the back of the house and I know that there's hot air coming in and out of there when I have the A.C. on.

Hill: And so that's one place to start, but then you might actually consider an energy audit.

Vigeland: And how expensive is that?

Hill: Well, that all depends. In a lot of markets, a lot of utility companies will actually do it for free. And then the Department of Energy actually has a DIY energy audit that I've put up on the website for people to check out. it's a place to start. None of those things are working for you, you can call in a pro.

Vigeland: Thanks so much Adriene.

Hill: Thank you Tess.