Homeowners can find many places to cut energy costs

You know the old saying: You have to spend money to make money.

It might not be the message you want to hear in the middle of a recession, when dollars are tight, but experts say it's the best advice for consumers who want to reap major savings on their power bills as summer approaches.

From changing out the air-conditioner to investing in new windows, it seems the biggest ideas require the steepest initial investment.

But energy-efficiency consultants say consumers can take plenty of smaller, less-expensive steps to rein in power costs year-round.

Knowing where to begin requires understanding where homes generally gobble up the most power.

Sixty percent of all energy used in the average local home in a year goes to summertime air-conditioning, said Greg Kern, director of customer renewable generation and energy efficiency for NV Energy. So consider anything that reduces cooling costs a low-hanging fruit, ripe for attention.

After air-conditioning, refrigerators and pools consume the most power.

For Brandon Irvin, chief executive officer of BMI Thermal Imaging in North Las Vegas, a home's points of contact -- corners, ducts, windows and doors -- create the biggest energy drain. Those areas let indoor air sneak out and outdoor air come in. Seal those spots for maximum efficiency.

Steve Rypka, owner of Henderson consulting business Green Dream, tells clients they'll find the quickest paybacks in changes relating to refrigerators, light bulbs and air leaks.

Making a more energy-efficient home isn't just about saving on power bills, though. Nevada is one of a handful of states that requires its power companies to obtain a certain share of their electricity from renewable resources. Conservation counts in the renewable portfolio; so when consumers save, they help NV Energy meet state criteria covering sustainable energy.

For consumers who need help deciding where best to save, several businesses offer energy audits. BMI Thermal Imaging will pinpoint a home's air leaks for around 10 cents per square foot.

Home Energy Connection conducts full audits starting around $450, though implementing the company's ideas could save consumers up to 70 percent on power bills, "depending on how aggressive they get," said owner Les Lazareck.

NV Energy also offers an online energy audit at its Web site.

If it all seems a little intimidating, start small, Rypka suggested. "A lot of this stuff is cumulative, so the more you do, the better the benefits. It's usually a whole bunch of little things that can make a big difference."

A full-page graphic on Page 20A of today's Review-Journal offers some energy-saving ideas, ranging from the cheapest solutions with fast paybacks to pricier improvements that can take years to recoup.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.