Back in the 1970s, efficiency was about turning out the lights. Today, says Paul Scheckel, author of The Home Energy Diet, “it’s about taking advantage of technology to do the same things better.” Largely as a result of technological advances, the U.S. now uses 47 percent less energy per dollar of economic output than it did 30 years ago. Unfortunately, because of supply-side inefficiences, a lot of the energy we make is wasted by the time it reaches our homes and offices. Consumers can’t do much about that, but it’s easy to make an effort at home-and to see it pay off in lower bills. “I call it â€negawatts,’ ” says Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “There’s no cheaper or cleaner power than the power you don’t produce.”

Change the Bulbs

Upfront Cost $9 for a high-quality bulb
Payoff A 66-percent reduction in lighting-energy consumption
Your Plan The economics of replacing old bulbs with the new smaller, brighter, compact fluorescents are impressive: Assuming you pay the national average of 9.78 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity, a compact fluorescent will save you $50 in electricity over its seven-year lifetime. That´s $1,250 for a 25-bulb house. If you multiply this savings by all 25 lightbulbs in the average house, you´ve just put $2,125 in your pocket.

Buy Energy Star Appliances

Upfront Cost Slightly more expensive than equivalent products Payoff Average electricity reduction of 30 percent Your Plan When your windows or appliances near the end of their life, buy Energy Star products, which typically use 30 to 50 percent less electricity. And consider whether you have anything you don´t need. Junking that 20-year-old second fridge that´s keeping a single six-pack cold could net you $100 a year–enough to buy beer for the whole block.****

Lighten “Phantom” Power Loads

Upfront Cost $7 per power strip
Payoff Shave 5 percent off your electric bill
Your Plan The “phantom” power loads drawn by idle appliances can account for up to 5 percent of home-electricity consumption. Eliminate the waste of unused energy by plugging appliances into a power strip that you turn off when not in use and installing programmable thermostats that turn down the heat when you’re out.

Get an Energy Audit

Upfront Cost $0âa’¬$400
Payoff You´ll discover hidden opportunities to save money–and probably recoup your investment within a few months.
Your Plan Your state energy office can refer you to a certified home-energy auditor who will go through your house with meters and infrared cameras, compiling an action list. In some states, electric utilities will dispatch an auditor free of charge.

Take Care of Dirty Laundry

Upfront Cost Free
Payoff Shave Longer-lasting clothes and petite-size energy bills
Your Plan Hot-water heating uses up to 11 percent of your home-energy budget. Since the new generation of detergents clean well in cold water, laundry is an easy way to cut back on your energy suck. A few more: Run full loads, use a clothesline if you can, and when you need a new washer, look for a high-efficiency front-loading model.