Looking to save money? Before you think about cutting back on dinners out or skimping on your next family vacation, you may want to look right inside your own home to discover where you may be wasting resources—and consequently, money.

For instance, electricity powers dozens of machines in our homes, including our HVAC systems, cooking appliances, refrigerators, dishwashers, and an ever-growing number of home entertainment and rechargeable devices. Although many new appliances are covered by federal efficiency standards or voluntary programs like ENERGY STAR, increases in both the percentage of homes with those devices and, in the case of electronics like televisions and computers, the number of devices per household have offset efficiency gains in residential electricity use.

Making a conscious effort to decrease your monthly utility bills use won't just save you money, it will also help decrease your home's environmental impact. Additionally, with energy costs on the rise, energy efficient upgrades to your home will also make your home more attractive to future buyers.

Assess Your Energy Usage with a Home Energy Meter

To reduce your overall energy consumption you need to do two things. First, inspect areas like attics, ceilings, floors, and crawl spaces to make sure they are properly insulated. According to the Department of Energy, 30% of your heating and air can escape your home through leaky windows and poor insulation. Next, you'll want to make sure that your HVAC and lighting systems are working efficiently, while also monitoring which appliances are using the most energy. One of the best ways to do this is by purchasing a home energy meter like Aeotec's Z-Wave Home Energy Meter. Installed in an electricity box, the energy meter will monitor the total consumption of electricity used throughout your home. It reports energy use back to you in real time so you can see how much electricity you really use and when you use it. The data that you collect from your home energy meter can help you plan smart purchases and home improvements that will maximize your energy efficiency and save you the most money.

Decrease Your Heating and Cooling Costs with a Programmable Thermostat

You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling costs by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. You can do this automatically by using a programmable thermostat that enables you to schedule when you turn on the heating or air conditioning. As a result, your HVAC system doesn't work as hard when you are asleep or not at home. Programmable thermostats, like the VisionPro Z-Wave, can store multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.

Turn on the Lights Only When You Need Them with Indoor Motion Sensor Lighting

While you have probably seen motion sensors used for outdoor lighting, they are also great for reducing energy waste and enhancing safety inside your home. Motion sensor lighting provides an automated, hands-free way to turn on lights when you need them, and off when you don't. Illuminate your way through the hallway when you—and perhaps more importantly, out-of-town guests who may be unfamiliar with your home—get up in the middle of the night and turn on lamps when entering a room. In addition to preventing bumps and bruises, motion sensor lighting will also help reduce your monthly energy costs due to lighting. You no longer have to worry about hitting the light switch every time you leave the room. Instead, motion sensor lights reliably turn themselves off after you've left a room. Additionally, light-sensing diodes prevent them from switching on during daylight hours.

Don't Forget About Water Conservation—Smart Home Devices Can Help With that, Too!

If you're concerned about your water consumption, the FortrezZ Water Shut-Off Valve is a fantastic tool for you. Combined with a flow meter plumbed on the water main and integrated into a Z-Wave compatible network, it allows homeowners to monitor their water consumption in the same way that they manage electrical usage, providing detailed information about when they are using the most water and how much exactly. Additionally, homeowners can create automation scenarios to turn their water supply on and off according to usage parameters. This new integration fills a much-needed gap in smart metering technology that consumers have been asking for, especially in the drought-ridden west. As homeowners grow more aware of their water consumption habits, behavior changes toward conservation are inevitable.

An energy-efficient home will keep your family comfortable while saving you money. Whether you take simple steps or make larger investments (like solar technology) to make your home more efficient, you'll see lower utility bills. Over time, those savings will typically pay for the cost of improvements and put money back in your pocket. You can also feel good that you're doing your part to live a more eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle. For more information on how smart home technology (like Z-Wave) can benefit you, your family and your home, visit www.Z-Wave.com.

Bryn Huntpalmer is a mother of two young children living in Austin, Texas where she currently works as an Editor forModernize. In addition to regularly contributing to Home Remodeling and Design websites around the web, her writing can be found on Lifehacker and About.com.