by: Michael Kabel

Energy costs play a big part in most families' monthly budget - studies show the typical American family spends almost two thousand dollars each year on utility bills alone. Yet government research suggests most households could trim up almost a third of that - $600 each year - just by taking steps to make their homes more energy efficient.

The seven steps below will set your house on the road to better savings and greater energy efficiency, trimming your utility costs while getting better performance out of your home heating and cooling systems.

 Replace conventional bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lighting.

Compact Fluorescent Lights, or CFL's, are fluorescent lights that last up to fifteen times longer than traditional light bulbs. Many of these bulbs, called integrated CFL's, can be installed into conventional light sockets.

CFL's are an investment. They cost up to ten times more than traditional light bulbs, yet that extra expenditure pays out over time. Studies show one CFL can save up to thirty dollars over its lifespan, and conserve 200 times its weight in greenhouse gases.

Seal leaks around the house that let warm air in and out.

Small or barely visible leaks and drafts around the house can seep hot air in and out of the home, making your heating and cooling systems work that much harder to achieve the same desired temperature. Research shows sealing your home against leaks can save up to $140 each year.

Most drafts will occur around baseboards, doorframes and window panels. Many others can be found in recessed lighting sockets, around pipes leading into the house, around kitchen and attic ventilation shafts, and surrounding attics and crawlspaces.

Insulate your hot water heater.

Hot water heaters give off heat as part of their normal operation, resulting in wasted energy called standby loss. Wrapping the heating unit in a low-cost insulation blanket and sealing pipes will preserve heat usually forfeited to standby loss and increase your water heater's efficiency.

Install a programmable thermostat.

The Consumer Federation of America recommends using programmable thermostats, which automatically anticipate different heating and cooling needs during different times of the week. CFA statistics show programmable thermostats can save up to $100 each year when used properly. 

Keep track of your house's heat pumps and cooling filters.

Clogged or malfunctioning heat pumps and cooling filters make units work harder than they need to, resulting in increased electrical usage. Experts recommend checking your furnace or heat pump once a month, and having the system professionally inspected once a year.

Clean or replace air filters once a month to increase efficiency and help clean your home's air of pollutants such as dust and mold particles. Changing the AC filter just once a month can lower your home cooling costs by 5%.

Use fans to increase air circulation.

Ceiling and space fans create better cooling ventilation around your home without the electrical drain of air conditioning units. Studies show most ceiling fans use only as much energy as a 100-watt bulb but can lower a room's temperature up to four degrees.

For maximum energy efficiency, installing a whole-house fan in the attic helps draw hot air up through the house and disperse it through the attic vents.

Think about the energy you use in everyday life.

Most of us could be more conscious of our energy usage. Practice consuming less electricity by turning off lights when you leave a room and by turning off heating or air conditioning units when you're away from home for a day or more.

Keep your thermostat set to the recommended levels: seventy-eight in the summertime, sixty-eight in winter. Lowering your home's heating temperature by just three degrees can result in $74 savings each heating season.