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Get the most out of your energy-saving buck

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Don't underestimate the power of the humble sweater (and other tips)

Rob Klovance
For bchydro.com

Sweaters. Slippers. A more efficient and quieter dishwasher. Smart power bars.

These were among the recommendations offered up by Power Smart experts when asked how they would get the biggest bang for 250 bucks spent on improving energy efficiency and comfort in their homes.

Why $250? That's the amount two lucky winners of February's Team Power Smart Contest will get to spend — in the form of a gift card — at Sears. So whether you win that prize or not, here are some insider picks on how best to spend $250 in the name of energy efficiency.

Not a member of Team Power Smart? Join now and enter the contest.

Staying warm is Power Smart

"I would buy myself a nice colourful sweater or vest," says Arien Korteland, manager of a popular Team Power Smart program that has recruited 340,000 members (and counting). "Maybe some warm socks, and maybe check your collection of slippers."

Korteland, whose focus in Power Smart is low-cost and behavioural change that brings energy use and costs down, is aware that when it comes to cutting energy costs, the easiest place to start is finding ways to turn down the heat while staying comfortable. That's why sweaters and slippers top his list.

But he's just warming up, so to speak.

"Or... I would use the money towards new curtains. And if there's still some money left, I'd buy myself a book to read so I can take a break from watching inane TV shows. Of course, I'd use a task light when reading — why waste money in lighting up the whole room?"

Count Korteland in as a big admirer of National Sweater Day, the annual WWF Canada initiative — set for February 9 this year — that asks Canadians to wear a sweater and turn down the heat to take action on climate change.

Not convinced that a sweater (or slippers) makes a difference? Turning the heat down by just two degrees can reduce your home heating costs by 5 per cent, and if you set your thermostat temperature back by five degrees each night, you could trim your heating bill by 10 per cent.

Take on standby power; choose the right TV

As an expert on electronics, it is not surprising Power Smart engineer Tony Mauro's first suggestion is to target standby power.

"Power bars are a great way to help ensure all unused home entertainment or computer electronics are really off," says Mauro. "They also work great for a central place to plug in chargers."

Mauro suggests splurging a bit on a smart power bar, such as this one offered by Sears. It allows you to designate one item — such as your TV - as the controlling device so that when you turn the TV off, all supplementary devices (DVD, game console, audio) also turn off. And it has a separate circuit that allows you to leave on important always-on items like a PVR.

Not sexy enough for you? Perhaps you could put that $250 towards a new TV.

"Look for a LED TV that is ENERGY STAR qualified," says Mauro. "You can get a 24-inch one for as little as $260 at Sears.

"Make sure to pick a TV that is sized right for the room you want to place it in. Also, remember to recycle the old inefficient TV — instead of adding to the basement rec room — to fully deliver on reduced consumption."

Consider a rug, for winter comfort

OK, so I'm not a certified Power Smart expert. Don't I deserve some cred for being a Team Power Smart member who cut his home electricity use by 15%, 7% and 29% in consecutive years?

Now you're listening.

Aside from wearing slippers and sweaters, one thing that really helped us as we reduced the temperature in our electrically-heated home was to add a wool rug in the living room. We remove it from our hardwood floor each summer, but it's ideal during the winter months.

Sears has a wide assortment of area rugs, so I'd put that $250 toward something that adds so much comfort.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.