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SAVING ENERGY AND PENNIES

Energy experts have preached taking a few small eco-steps for years, but do they really help? "In this economy, people are looking for easy things to do," says Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the federal government's Energy Star program, which puts its seal on select energy-efficient products and guides consumers on home improvements. - Here are a few small steps that can help:

Dialing back dryer use

Why it helps: The average electric dryer is an energy hog, consuming about 970 kwh a year, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. While newer models are more efficient and shut off when clothes are dry, there are ways you can save more. Try an indoor drying rack.

Cost: $32 at Amazon.com for a chrome Polder folding dry rack; $96 for a retractable line unit at breezedryer.com.

Savings: Cutting out 50 percent of electric drying saves about $52 a year. Bonus cost cut: Switching from hot to warm water can cut laundry energy usage in half, according to the Department of Energy.

Get unplugged

Why it helps: There's a hidden price tag to the DVRs, iPods and cell phones proliferating at home. Even when fully charged or in off or standby mode, many plugged-in devices still draw, or "leak," power to operate remote controls, clocks and other needs. That costs the average household about $100 each year. The worst offenders: TVs and computer printers, according to Dan Kammen, professor in the energy-resources group at University of California, Berkeley. His solution: Unplug when possible and use power-strip surge protectors to make it easier. An inexpensive "electricity meter" can help pinpoint energy-guzzling appliances.

Cost: PowerSquid surge protector, $49.95 at powersquid.com; Kill A Watt Electricity Power Meter, $29.95 at cableorganizer.com.

Savings: Eliminating "leaking" could save 9 percent to 12 percent on monthly electricity bills, according to Kammen.

Lose incandescent lighting

Why it helps: Thomas Edison's incandescent invention turns 90 percent of the energy used into heat and only 10 percent into light. The new winners: compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and certain halogens. Energy Star CFLs use 75 percent less energythan incandescents, while LEDs use up to 90 percent less electricity.

Cost: CFL prices range from $2 to $15 at most lighting retailers.

Savings: Lighting costs $50 to $150 a year in energy bills for the average U.S. household, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. The Department of Energy estimates newer technologies can cut lighting-energy usage by 50 percent to 75 percent.

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