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Save some energy (and cash) this winter

Winter energy costs can soar in no time. But with the help of some online resources, you can quickly find ways to be more efficient.

The winter months are on their way. Soon, we'll be continually running our heaters and leaving the lights on longer. During these months, energy bills soar.

But there are online resources that can ease the pain. They probably won't chop your bills in half, but they do offer suggestions that will help.

Energy Savers
The U.S. government's Energy Savers Web site provides some of the finest resources on energy efficiency of any tool in this roundup.

When you go to Energy Savers, you can learn all about energy conservation. The site has content on renewable energy, ways to reduce your energy consumption, and more. It also has information on how to perform home-energy audits to see what you could do to reduce your energy bill. All in all, Energy Savers is an extremely useful site if you plan to reduce your energy bill.

Energy Savers
Energy Savers helps you find energy-efficient products. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Energy Star
Energy Star has quickly become a buzzword in the home-energy space, but its Web site is one of the most useful in this roundup.

When you get to Energy Star, you can do quite a bit. I used the site to find information on energy-efficient appliances. The content it provided was outstanding. Aside from that, Energy Star features tips on how to address some inefficient energy issues in your home. One of the site's best resources is its list of potential tax credits that you can get by acquiring Energy Star products. The page provides several links for you to find the products that help you qualify for the credit. I really liked Energy Star. If you're looking to find appliances that match your financial goals, this site is for you.

Energy Star
Energy Star lists all the tax credits you can qualify for. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Home Energy Saver
The U.S. government's Home Energy Saver tool is a great way to determine if your home is up to par when it comes to energy efficiency.

When you get to the page, you'll need to enter your zip code. From there, the app calculates the average energy cost in your area. It also displays what an energy-efficient home would cost in that location. Next, you'll need to input information about your house, including its square footage, how many windows it has, what kind of heat you have, and more. It takes a little while to fill out the form, but once you do, the audit tool helps you find several ways to maximize your energy efficiency. If I completed all the tasks that were required of me, I could have saved $800 per year in energy costs. Definitely try it out.

Home Energy Audit
Fill out this Home Energy Audit to be more efficient. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Low Impact Living
Low Impact Living provides several tools for you to figure out just how efficient your energy use is. It also offers tips on how to improve.

Low Impact Living has one of the best calculators in this roundup. Its use of Web 2.0-like design and slide bars helps maximize your ability to choose exactly what's going on in your house. When it's complete, the quiz spits out a slew of ideas for you to reduce your energy bill. For me, those suggestions included replacing my dishwasher, relandscaping my yard, and using low-flow showerheads. If I followed all the suggestions the site offered, I would have saved well over $1,000 per year.

Low Impact Living
Low Impact Living tries to help you save some cash. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Lowe's Home Audit
Lowe's Home Improvement has a fantastic home-audit tool that will help you determine how energy-efficient your home is. It also helps you determine how you can acquire the products you need to improve it.

As you work your way through Lowe's Home Audit tool, you'll be asked several questions, like how many rooms are in your home, what kind of heating you have, and more. They all aim to determine exactly how energy-efficient your home is. As you work your way through the tool, you'll see a running tally to the top right. There, you can see how much money you can save per year if you follow the recommendations Lowe's lists at the end of the process. I learned that I could save more than $2,000 per year in home-energy costs just by following Lowe's suggestions. At the end, Lowe's provides links to products it sells if you want to pick up the items that will make your home more energy efficient. It's a nice feature. Check it out.

Lowe's helps you maximize your savings. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Microsoft Hohm
Microsoft might not seem like the most obvious choice for a company that will help you reduce your energy costs, but its Hohm service will do just that.

When you sign up for Hohm, you'll be asked to fill out an energy profile, detailing how you're using up energy each month. Once complete, the service spits out a full evaluation of your energy efficiency. It also gives you tips on how to improve. Thanks to formation of the Hohm Community, you can also connect with others to share your best practices. It's an active community. I liked Microsoft Hohm. It's worth trying out.

Microsoft Hohm has an active community. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Oak Ridge National Laboratory
If you're wondering how much insulation your home needs, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory has a page that will help you find out.

When you get to the site, you'll need to fill out some basic information about your home, including your zip code, whether it's new or existing, and what kind of insulation you currently have. From there, the site will determine what kind of insulation you should install in your house to make it more efficient. It's a neat tool. Check it out.

If you want to find out how much insulation you need, use this. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Home Energy Saver: If you're looking for the most comprehensive home-audit tool, Home Energy Saver has it.

2. Lowe's Home Audit: Thanks to a great design and its handy running tally, Lowe's Home Audit tool is a fine choice.

3. Energy Savers: If you want to save some cash on energy this winter, Energy Savers will certainly help you do it.