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Help in finding energy savings around house

These days, the consensus on climate change suggests that, contrary to the old saying, we're all doing something about the weather, however unintentionally.

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These days, the consensus on climate change suggests that, contrary to the old saying, we're all doing something about the weather, however unintentionally.

For homeowners, the indictment is even harsher. The potential environmental damage from most vehicles pales in comparison with the energy and resources consumed by the typical American house.

To keep us and our belongings dry, well-lighted, and within the fairly narrow temperature range required for comfort, our houses consume fossil fuels and emit pollutants virtually around the clock, and are otherwise hard on the environment.

Plenty of thoughtful owners realize this and would like to leave a smaller footprint.

You want to do your part, but aren't prepared for a radical new adventure that jettisons electricity or heat? Two renewable-energy experts, Dave Bonta and Stephen Snyder, have summed up a host of practical strategies in their book, New Green Home Solutions: Renewable Household Energy and Sustainable Living (Gibbs Smith Publishers, $24.99).

The authors specialize in solar-energy systems, but their approach here is deliberately broader, expanded to include approaches ranging from simple conservation measures to wind-turbine generators and entire new home designs.

The silver lining to the dark cloud of home-energy use, the authors explain, is that there's so much potential for meaningful improvement. Common inefficiencies allow corrective measures that can reduce energy consumption of the typical home by as much as 60 percent, largely without circumscribing the comforts and convenience of modern life.

Like most energy-use auditors, they suggest starting with the low-hanging fruit. Drafty doors and windows, insufficient insulation, old appliances, and our own bad habits are all targets for improvement.

Together, these factors increase the biggest energy loads in our homes - lighting, heating and cooling space, and heating water. Some common-sense suggestions include installing window-wrap kits and weather-stripping, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, and arranging for your local utility company to perform an energy audit to pinpoint the biggest energy losses.

There's nothing cutting-edge about those ideas, but other details are not so self-evident. Roof-mounted solar sky tubes, for example, bring in as much daylight as a conventional skylight, but don't allow as much heat loss or gain.

There's plenty of information about low-emissivity glass, major remodeling to include a sunspace addition or new south-facing windows, and adding thermal mass to a home's interior.

But the options don't stop there. Extended roof overhangs and strategic landscaping and tree placement can be just as effective in taming solar heat gain in the summer, however low-tech they seem.

This is the value of the authors' comprehensive treatment of the topic. Not every solution is right for every home or homeowner, but the a la carte approach lets you look at individual options to find a good mix.