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FRED THORNHILL

My husband recently suggested to me that if I really want to trim our family budget, I should start by turning off the lights when I leave a room. In response, I gently reminded him to set our digital thermostat so that the heat isn't on as high during the day when we're at work or at night when we're asleep. Forget Copenhagen and the great climate debate. In my home, conserving energy is all about saving money.

There are some sizeable incentives available if you commit to making your home more energy efficient. National Resources Canada (NRCan) is offering up to $5,000 in grants to homeowners who invest in improvements to reduce their energy consumption. Several provinces have committed to match the program, bringing the total rebate available to up to $10,000.

The grants can be applied to projects such as replacing your furnace or air conditioner with more fuel efficient versions. The average homeowner could reduce their energy use by about 30 per cent and save $700 on a $2,000 heating bill, according to NRCan.

To be eligible for the grants, though, you'll need to do an energy audit with a certified advisor before you start any work. Find an approved advisor in your neighbourhood through NRCan's online search tool. The energy advisor will evaluate your home from basement to attic and give you a checklist of recommended retrofits.

A typical evaluation costs approximately $300, but many provinces will rebate as much as $150 of that. To get the grants, you will need to complete the energy retrofits, along with a post-retrofit evaluation, by March 31, 2011.

There are many free and low-cost ways to cut your home's energy costs. The City of Edmonton, recognized as a municipal leader in environmental initiatives throughout North America, has the following tips to conserve energy and I'm looking forward to trying several of them.

• Turn down the thermostat at night. Each 1 degree Celsius set back overnight done regularly can reduce your annual heating bill by one to two per cent.

• Open the curtains during the day in the winter to take advantage of passive heating from the sun. Close them once the sun goes down to help insulate.

• Move furniture away from heating vents and towards interior walls. A blocked heater has to work harder to heat your home. Moving away from windows and doors means that you are not sitting in a draft.

• Install storm windows to increase the insulation value. Storm windows can be installed inside or outside. There are even kits that you can buy to build your own storm windows out of plastic and double-sided tape.

• Help prevent the warm air that you have heated from escaping by weatherstripping and caulking your home.

• Changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs will save you money at any time during the year. Ten per cent of the average electric energy use in the home goes to lighting and fluorescent bulbs use 75 per cent less energy.

• For Christmas lights change to LED strings which are 90 per cent more efficient than standard strings.

• Reduce the power usage of your fridge (on average it uses 22 per cent of home electricity) by thawing frozen foods in the fridge.

• Keep a bottle of ice in your refrigerator. Take advantage of the colder temperatures outside by filling a 2 L plastic pop bottle three quarters full of water and setting it outside until it freezes. Then store it in your fridge until it thaws. The thawing water helps keep your fridge cold so the motor runs less often.

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