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Conservation can help reduce energy costs as fuel prices rise

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) OPEC's decision Wednesday to cut crude oil production comes at a bad time for consumers just at the start of the winter home-heating season.

A shortage of natural gas has been pushing up the cost of electricity and threatening bigger winter heating bills for those with gas-fired furnaces. With OPEC's move, home heating oil costs likely will rise more, too, along with gasoline prices.

''This isn't going to help the nation's economic recovery,'' said Mark Hopkins of the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. ''People are most aware of energy costs when they deal with their heating bill or stop at a gas station. But the fact is, energy costs are imbedded in every product we buy.''

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided Wednesday to lower its output by 900,000 barrels a day to 24.5 million barrels starting in November. The 3.5 percent cut startled the energy market, and oil futures jumped more than $1 a barrel.

Consumers concerned about higher prices should consider taking steps sooner rather than later to try to reduce fuel consumption and save money, Hopkins said.

Car owners can hold down gasoline use with a few simple steps, Hopkins said.

Getting the car's engine tuned, cleaning the air filter and making sure the tires are properly inflated can result in a 10 percent to 15 percent improvement in gas consumption, he said.

''And two- and three-car families should pay attention to which car they're going to drive,'' he added. ''Using the smaller, more-fuel efficient car whenever possible instead of taking the SUV can cut fuel consumption.''

When it comes to home heating, Hopkins suggests that families ''take a Saturday before winter starts to go around and tighten up your house.''

That can include installing storm windows, removing or covering air conditioners and replacing weather stripping around doors, he said.

''Be conscious of the damper on your fireplace,'' he added. ''It it's open when you're not using the fireplace, the hot air in your house is going right up the chimney.''

It has always paid to lower the thermostat: A single degree setback can reduce a family's energy bill by 3 percent.

One way to make sure that happens is to invest in a programmable thermostat.

''That way, you can set back the temperature during the night, and have it programmed to turn the furnace up before you get up in the morning,'' Hopkins said. ''You can also have it hold the temperature down during the day while people are out, then turn it up an hour or so before they get home so they return to a nice warm house.''

In the longer term, families should probably consider investing in newer, more fuel efficient furnaces.

''A lot of people who use natural gas have furnaces that were made 20 or 30 years ago,'' Hopkins said. ''New high-efficiency furnaces can save 30 percent on home-heating bills.''

The alliance, which was formed after the 1970s oil crisis to encourage energy efficiency, offers a variety of fuel-saving tips on its Web site at www.ase.org.

The Department of Energy estimates the average homeowner spends about $1,300 a year on energy. Of that, about 44 percent goes for heating and cooling; 14 percent for water heating; 9 percent for the refrigerator; and 33 percent for lighting, cooking and running appliances.

The DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy operates a Web site at www.eere.energy.gov that includes an ''Energy Savers'' guide to doing a home energy audit along with steps families can take to improve fuel efficiency.

Energy conservation tips for homeowners also are available at a number of utility company sites, including ConEdison's www.coned.com and Pacific Gas and Electric's www.pge.com.



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