This is the time of year that makes even seasoned Houstonians want to hide from the heat in an air conditioned cocoon; and as temperatures soar, our electric bills do, too. In fact, thanks to our sultry summers, Houstonians have among the highest utility bills in the country.Luckily, there are things you can do to ease the pain - and that doesn't mean packing up to move north. (You don't want to live there come winter anyway.) With changes to your home big and small, you can slash your energy bills, help the environment - and use local and federal rebates to help pick up the tab.Fix Those Leaks and InsulateRegardless of what new, energy-saving technology might be out there, much of our home's energy efficiency comes down to simple and low-tech - how well our home keeps the heat (or cold) out and the cold (or heat) in. And that means simple fixes like caulking, weatherstripping and insulation.The best way to identify leaks in your home is to get an energy audit; in fact, some Houston residential energy providers, like Reliant, offer low-cost or free home audits. Or, if you want to do it yourself, energysavers.gov has some good tips.Check up on your insulation, too, as it tends to settle over time. The amount you need depends on the type you're using, but a good rule of thumb is, if you can see your floor joists, you probably need more. (Energystar.gov's Insulation DIY guide has more details.) While you might want to wait for cooler weather to climb up in the attic, you'll want to do this by the end of the year; through December 31, 2011, weatherizing and insulation materials qualify for a federal tax credit of 10% of the costs, up to $500. (That's a lot of caulk.) Local energy providers like CenterPoint provide weatherization rebates to some customers, too.Upgrade the A/CPerhaps the best invention for sweat-soaked Houstonians, A/C is also our biggest energy hog, so it pays to go as energy-efficient as possible. An important note, though: it won't matter how efficient your A/C is if you don't also fix the leaks in your home. Installing a high-efficiency A/C unit in a leaky house just makes you pay twice, so seal it up first. Also, keep your A/C happy with regular maintenance, as that helps it perform most efficiently. If you are ready to replace it, though, going with an energy-efficient model will generally cost more up-front - anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand more. But keep in mind, those costs will be recouped in energy savings, on average, within 4 to 6 years and will continue past that - not to mention saving $300 through the federal rebate program. Get a Cool RoofOn a hot summer day in Texas, a traditional roof can get as hot as 185 degrees. Not only does this increase energy bills, hot roofs contribute to the urban "heat island" effect, where temperatures in cities are warmer than surrounding areas. One solution is cool roofs, which use materials that reflect heat and stay cooler, keeping peak temperatures to about 120 degrees.Again, there is a cost differential - cool roof materials add anywhere from 5 to 20 cents per square foot to the price of the roof. If you're planning to stay in your home for more than a few years, though, it could be a worthy investment; in fact, one study found that cool roof owners saved almost 50 cents per square foot over the life of the roof. And again, there's a federal tax credit of up to $500 for cool roof materials through the end of the year.Going SolarIf you really want to go big, think solar. There's no rush here - generous federal tax rebates of 30% for home solar panels are in place through 2016. And, since solar panel component costs went down 15% just in the first quarter of this year, and are expected to continue to drop as technology matures, it might not be a bad idea to wait. But, even solar technology on a smaller scale like solar-powered water heaters are becoming more affordable and common with Houston homeowners. Most Houston solar energy rebates focus on commercial buildings, but across Texas, residential solar energy rebates are becoming more common and will undoubtedly make their way to Houston. Some customers are even making money, selling their solar power back to the energy companies.Between high utility bills, the threats of rolling blackouts this summer, and climate change, it makes sense to make our homes as energy-efficient as possible. And with federal and local utility rebates, taking the first step - big or small - is a little easier.
read more: Making Your Houston Home Energy-Efficient can be Easy Peasy Money Squeezy