This article originally appeared in DTE Energy’s EnergySmarts of Michigan, a free publication for our customers.

Whether you’re an energy efficiency novice or a seasoned veteran, exploring energy alternatives can yield financial rewards and an improved lifestyle. Life is about discovery. Since time immemorial, mankind has explored and advanced. From new lands to new science, discovery has improved our lot.

The same holds true in everyday life. We discover a faster commute or an easier way to do our job, and life gets better. One discovery that has benefited many is the realization that painless lifestyle changes, simple strategies and modest home upgrades can conserve energy, save dollars, increase comfort and add value to the family home.

Since you’re reading this, you probably already know how beneficial energy efficiency can be, but if you don’t know, you’re about to find out! Whether your interest is new or if you’ve been on the energy efficiency journey for years, there’s much you can do to move forward.

A great place to start

There are many ways to save energy, but the easiest, most efficient way is home lighting improvement. For years, we read by the glow of incandescent bulbs. No more. Early adapters replaced incandescent bulbs with CFLs years ago and began saving. Now, energy conscious consumers are installing LEDs for additional savings.

According to energy.gov, a 60W incandescent costs $4.80 a year to operate and lasts 1,000 hours. An equally bright 15W CFL costs $1.20 to operate and lasts 10,000 hours. But the champ, the LED, can burn all year on $1.00 and can last an astounding 25,000 hours. Multiply that by the number of lights in your home and calculate out to 20 years from now. That’s a lot of energy conserved and money saved.

Big savings are yours as well if you replace T12 fluorescents with efficient lighting. A few years ago, that meant installing high efficiency T8 fixtures. But technology has advanced, and LED tube lighting is quickly becoming available as a fluorescent replacement.

Dial down and save

Home heating is a major expense, but you can ease the burden. The quickest and most inexpensive way is by installing a programmable thermostat that allows you to set different temperatures for night, day and when you’re away – AND THEN USING IT!

Far too many of us who have a programmable thermostat set it and forget it. Even if we have a lucid moment and set it to maintain high temps during off hours of air conditioning season, we might forget to reset it for winter and heat the house to a whopping 76° or more! With newer thermostats that have summer and winter programs, that’s not likely, but many older programmable thermostats have to be manually reset for the change of seasons.

Experiment with nighttime temperatures. We know of one DTE Energy employee who keeps his house at 55° on winter nights while remaining cozy under the down. And he likes it! At the least, we can all tolerate a temperature of 62°. Just set your thermostat to warm things up to a toasty 68° when you get up. You’ll conserve energy and save a lot of cash.

The programmable thermostat is a great first step for those who are thinking about reducing energy consumption. Veterans who have mastered their thermostat might want to invest in an advanced unit that can determine when you’re not home and can be programmed remotely should the need arise. Some can be linked to home management systems. A lot of smart tools are out there. Just search the web for programmable thermostats.

Seal it and stuff it

No furnace or air conditioner can operate at optimum efficiency if the house isn’t well sealed and insulated. To get the most out of every heating dollar, create a heat retaining barrier with insulation, caulk areas where warm air can escape and make sure doors and windows seal tightly.

Explore the brave new world of high-efficiency heating

You’re an energy efficiency veteran, your home is well sealed and fully insulated and you’ve mastered that programmable thermostat, but there’s a monster in your basement.

Nothing wastes more energy than an inefficient furnace. If yours is more than 12 years old, replace it before it fails, and start saving. If your current furnace is rated at less than 80% efficiency and your natural gas bills add up to about $2,000 a year, you could save one-third of your home’s heating costs annually by replacing that relic with a high-efficiency furnace. Remember too, an efficient heating system can maintain consistent temperatures and make your home more comfortable.