One of the most fun things I get to do in my work in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is go to exciting public events to help get some of our best educational resources into the hands of the public. These outreach events run the gamut from sustainability expos and Earth Day celebrations to home shows and energy-efficient building showcases. It's great to get out of the office and get some real face time with the people of all ages who visit our booth – and it never ceases to amaze me how knowledgeable and interested most consumers are in improving the ways they use energy in their homes and businesses.

Visitors to the Solar Decathlon in Washington D.C. last year might have seen a fantastic exhibit called Anatomy of a House, which we feature at some of the larger events we attend. It's an interactive house that visitors can walk through to learn more about all sorts of energy efficiency technologies that can help them save energy and money, including high-efficiency insulation, windows, lighting, heating and cooling systems, and home appliances. The hands-on experience inspires people to learn more about these everyday products, which they start to see in a new light—and it often stimulates them to start asking more questions.

Some of most frequent questions we get at these outreach events are:

  • How can I learn more about things I can do right away to start saving money on my energy bill?
  • What are the tax incentives I can use to help finance my home improvements?
  • Are there still incentives available for purchasing Energy Star appliances in my state?
  • How can I learn more about installing solar panels on my house?

The first resource I always direct people toward to help them start saving money today on their energy bill is our Energy Savers Booklet (PDF 3.5 MB). Just in the first few pages it provides everything a smart consumer needs to know to get started on the road to energy efficiency. Some of the tips on low-cost and no-cost ways to save energy include installing programmable thermostats, ENERGY STAR CFLs, and power strips. After following the initial no-brainers, the Booklet goes on to recommend doing a home energy assessment to evaluate your individual home to target the best ways to upgrade its energy efficiency.

On the tax question, the federal government offers energy efficiency tax credits through the IRS, and we promote these credits to encourage people to get smart about energy savings. The incentive credits you 30% of the cost of eligible energy-efficient products (up to a $1,500 total credit) or renewable energy systems (with no upper limit) toward your income taxes. Since it's July, you have plenty of time to select the money-saving consumer energy products that make the most sense for your home. But don't wait too long; currently the energy efficiency credits are set to expire at the end of the year. Consult with a tax expert when planning your purchases.

Another common question we get at events is about rebates on ENERGY STAR® appliances available through state programs. Although many states have already fully subscribed their programs due to strong consumer interest, many states still have great rebate programs open for business.

Finally, lots of people want to find out more about putting photovoltaic solar panels on their homes. Our Energy Savers website has some good tips for homeowners thinking about taking that next step toward energy independence with a solar energy system. EERE also puts out A Homebuilder's Guide to Going Solar (PDF 1.6 MB), as well as Own Your Power! A Consumer Guide to Solar Electricity for the Home (PDF 3.4 MB). These are great resources to help homeowners to educate themselves on the economics of solar, finding an installer, and planning a project.

Working on energy efficiency at home and in the community couldn't be more rewarding, and we'll hope to see you out there doing the same!

Eric Barendsen is a communications specialist and Presidential Management Fellow with EERE's Technology Advancement and Outreach office in Washington, D.C.