It’s mild for winter, but it’s so warm in the Elrods’ home that you don’t even need a sweater. So it’s surprising when Tonia says she hasn’t even turned the heat on that day – just the fireplace for about an hour that morning.

Tonia and Adam Elrod, both P&G employees, are part of a growing trend toward living in more energy efficient homes.

The renewed talk lately about energy conservation has been mostly in relation to global warming. However, you don’t have to be an environmentalist to be interested in reducing power consumption. Simply opening your utility bill this time of year will have you looking at ways to make your home more energy efficient, whether you want to make a few changes and upgrades to your existing home or are looking to buy new.

“It’s a good choice for the environment and a good choice for our pocketbook,” Tonia Elrod says of their decision to build a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified home in Mount Lookout.

LEED, the rating system used by the U.S. Green Building Council (, takes more into account than just a home’s energy efficiency. It also considers factors such as the environmental impact of the home’s construction and the health of its inhabitants.

Along with a plethora of energy saving systems and features, the Elrod home includes an air purification system that Tonia and Adam say has alleviated the allergy symptoms they had in their previous home, as well as a system that ensures the home is free of radon, a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that can enter the home through soil or water.

All that is in addition to the benefit of energy bills that are less than half those of their average neighbors in similarly-sized homes, says Andy Hueber of John Hueber homes.

If you’re interested in building a new home, you may also want to check out Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy ( that espouses energy efficient practices and products, including homes and appliances.

Gene Kopaygorodsky, the general manager of KHomes, a West Chester-based Energy Star homebuilder, says that building a new home offers unique opportunities for energy savings. That is because many energy-saving modifications, such as installing insulation and sealing HVC cracks, are finished before the drywall goes on.

Owners of new energy efficient homes also qualify for energy efficient mortgages and tax credits, he says.

However, there are plenty of ways for existing homeowners to cut down on their energy use. A good place to start is with the simple change of a light bulb. “Probably the easiest thing to do is to install energy-efficient lighting,” says Duke Energy spokesman Steve Brash. “(That means) CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs). These bulbs operate at a much lower wattage for the equivalent amount of light, and they last much longer than the conventional incandescent bulb.” A standard 100-watt light bulb, for example, can be replaced by a 25- to 30-watt CFL, and the new bulb will last up to five years. Great tip, but why is the power company interested in us using less energy? Won’t they make less money?

“What we’re looking at is the most effective way to meet changes in customer demand,” explains Brash. “We believe that with many of the new technologies that are available we can meet units of demand growth about 10 percent more effectively through energy efficiency than if we were to build new (power plants).”

If the easiest way to conserve energy is to change lighting, what is the best thing you can do to conserve? Schedule a home energy audit, says Brash. Duke offers a program that recommends personalized upgrades for your home. The suggestions can run from the simple to the more complex, such as replacing furnaces and air conditioning units. Some of the complex changes can be a bit pricey on the front end, but the long-term savings may make them worthwhile investments.

Both heating and cooling technologies have come a long way over the years. “Back in the late ’70s it was experimental with what people called condensing furnaces, which is the high-efficiency furnace that is commonplace today,” says Neil Arlinghaus, a sales manager with Recker and Boerger. “Also, the efficiency of the heat pump and the air conditioning has improved greatly.” Furnaces now have efficiency ratings of up to 95 percent, which means only 5 percent of the energy used to power the furnace is not converted to heat.

A popular set-up now is the so-called hybrid system, which is a heat pump on a gas or oil furnace. “You’re taking advantage of the efficiencies of both the gas furnace and the heat pump,” Arlinghaus explains. The heat pump does the work until the temperature drops below about 30 degrees, and then the furnace kicks in. Adding a heat pump to your furnace can use up to 35 percent less energy, he says.

The sometimes-forgotten upgrade in energy-saving technology these days is insulation. If your house was built before 1975, you likely have no insulation in your walls, says Steve Cikach, president of Columbus-based USA Insulation. Insulation comes in three basic forms: cellulose, fiberglass and foam. Foam is the newest technology and is used to fill walls. All insulation is measured in R-values, which gauge thermal resistance (hence the R). The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. “Typically R-38 is the norm,” says Cikach, “but now I’m starting to hear 49 and up to 66 Rs.”

Cikach’s company also does window replacement, but he feels insulation is more important. “As far as energy savings, windows are usually around 10 percent. Insulation can go up to 50 percent energy savings if you do a combination of walls and attics.” The starting point for efficiency should be the rest of the exterior of the house, where most the heat is lost, he says. Of course, it’s best to pay attention to both walls and windows.

Exotic upgrades, like solar, are still a few years off. “I looked into solar panels for my own home,” says Anne Mitchell, corporate communications director for Drees Homes, “but we just don’t have enough sunshine around here to make it viable. Maybe in a place like Arizona.”

Making a few upgrades in energy efficiency may make it feel like Arizona in your home, and for a lot less money. Also, don’t forget, if you made any such improvements in 2007, dig up those receipts and give them to your tax preparer. Nothing can quite warm you like a lower tax bill!