Whether you're building a new home or upgrading an older home, it's always wise to think about energy efficiency before you make any major decisions. The reason is that whenever you make a new purchase of an appliance, water heater or central heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit (HVAC) system, there are two costs to consider. The first is the price to buy and install your equipment. The second is the cost of operating the equipment over the years. The following are some tips to help you make decisions that can cut down on both of those costs.

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1. Choose an Energy-Efficient Appliance

According to the Department of Energy, the average home spends about $2,200 each year in energy costs. Of course, if you make some improvements, like sealing the air leaks in your home, you can bring that number down. But the best thing to do is to start out with equipment that's specifically designed to be more energy-efficient. So look for the ENERGY STAR® label. It's estimated that by simply upgrading to ENERGY STAR® products, you'll save 10% to 50% on energy and water costs.

2. Know When to Replace Your Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning Unit

As a general rule, consider replacing your HVAC system if it's over 10 to 15 years old, if it requires frequent repairs, if your energy bills are going up or if you begin to notice that your home is hotter or colder than before. A good way to know for sure is to hire a professional and get a professional opinion. That way, you can get a complete inspection and find out whether your equipment needs to be replaced or simply needs maintenance.

3. Find the Right Contractor

Finding the right professionals to provide installation is just as important as finding the right product. That's why TXU Energy offers two lists of recommended companies that provide a consistent level of quality in both their products and services. For HVAC systems, energy-efficient windows and insulation, visit our list of professionals. For comprehensive home energy audits, attic ventilation and radiant barrier work, visit our Preferred Provider Network.

4. See if You Qualify for Tax Credits

Federal tax credits of up to 30% are available for the purchase of energy-efficient products as well as renewable energy systems. So if you're in the market to upgrade, find out if you qualify beforehand, learn the details and be sure to save your receipts and the Manufacturer's Certification Statement for your records. You could save up to $1,500 on your energy-efficient purchases and even more on a renewable energy system.