Monday, November 10, 2008

Saving Energy (and Money!) This Winter

When I woke up this morning, I wasn't prepared to be so cold. Like typical Ohio weather, last week was beautiful and the week ahead will be freezing cold. I swear Ohio is bipolar.

As I start bringing out the winter clothing, the heavy blankets and firing up the fireplace, I've been thinking a lot about home energy costs for winter. Thanks to the Hurricane Ike wind storm that tore through Ohio earlier this fall, our local electric company wants to raise our rates 45% over the next three years to recover some of the money they had to spend on fixing the power lines. Natural gas is also expected to be higher this winter, too. And while Aaron has a contract job at the moment, it could be over as early as December, meaning we need to save as much money as we can, and home energy is a good place to start.

Home Depot recently e-mailed me some tips on how to save energy at home, and in the process reduce your energy bills. They also asked if I would like to install some new energy-saving gadgets in my home on their dime, too. I had already been thinking about this topic, so of course I agreed.

Our house is only four years old, so I know it has Energy Star appliances, a programmable thermostat and good windows. But just like any house, there are always areas to improve on.

I went shopping at Home Depot with my good friend Lisa from Condo Blues - she's kind of an expert on home improvement stuff and has great ideas on making a home more energy efficient. Together we picked up a hot water heater blanket, some weatherstripping, foil tape, dimmer switches, insulation for the areas behind light switches and electrical outlets, lots of caulk, CFL lightbulbs, and a cover for my air-conditioner.

I knew that CFL bulbs helped save energy, and I've been slowly trying to make the conversion each time a light burns out. I was surprised to learn that they make ones that are "daylight" bright - Lisa pointed out that these are great for the bathroom or wherever you put on makeup!

The hot water heater blanket was something I've wanted for awhile. Our utility room is actually out in the (uninsulated) garage, so I'm sure a lot of energy is lost from the cold air on the tank. I also didn't realize that cold air can come in through your air-conditioner unit, even when off, so hopefully the insulated cover will help reduce that influx of cold air.

Lisa was the one to recommend the insulated "sealers" that go underneath the light-switch and electrical outlet plates. If you have a plate that is on an outside wall, it can let a lot of outside air in. (Try it - take off the cover plate and see how cold it is.)

The dimmer switch was for Cordy's room. She doesn't like having her overhead light off at night, and even if I turn it off after she goes to sleep, she'll wake up and turn it back on again. She already uses only a 40 watt bulb, but that's still a lot of light at night, so with the dimmer I can reduce the amount of light (and energy) while still giving her some light overhead at night.

I'll post an update in two months to see how much energy we're saving with these new items. I'm excited at the thought of cheaper utility bills without having to wear several layers in the house!

Here are a few more tips from Home Depot:

Top 10 ways to save energy – and money - in your home.

1. Install a programmable thermostat. You can save up to $180 a year by installing a programmable thermostat that controls the temperature of your home while you're at work or asleep.

2. Change to CFL light bulbs. Americans could save close to $8 billion in energy costs by replacing each home's five most frequently used light fixtures with CFL bulbs. CFL Bulbs use up to 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and are now available in dimmable and spot light bulbs.

3. Choose ENERGY STAR appliances. Save money and the environment by replacing standard model appliances with ones that are ENERGY STAR-qualified. ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances use 10-50 percent less energy and water than standard models.

4. Install a storm door. Storm doors can help conserve energy by keeping cold air out during the winter and heat out during the summer.

5. Update your windows. ENERGY STAR-qualified windows can reduce your energy costs by $126-$465 per year when replacing single-pane windows or $27-$111 a year when replacing double-pane, clear glass windows. For a quick fix, add heat control window film to your windows and save up to 50 percent on your cooling costs.

6. Install dimmer switches and motion detectors. Dim the lights by 25 percent and save an average of 15 percent a year on energy costs, and extend the bulb life by four times. By adding motion-sensitive exterior lighting and adding dimmer switches indoors where appropriate, you can control the wattage, saving you on your energy bills.

7. Install a ceiling fan – and learn to correctly rotate it. Ceiling fans aren't just for when it's hot outside. Ceiling fans can save you $10 a year on utility bills, plus the additional air conditioning or heating savings gained when a fan is operated properly. ENERGY STAR-qualified ceiling fans use 50 percent less energy than standard fans and circulate 25 percent more air.

8. Regularly maintain your furnace and water heater. Regular maintenance on your furnace and water heater will increase energy efficiency in your home. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy use for heating and cooling, and reduce environmental emissions, from 20 percent to 50 percent. Regular maintenance will help make these investments in your home last longer and be more energy efficient.

9. Seal your home from heat and cold. Allowing air to escape through gaps and cracks is like throwing your money away. By sealing your home with caulk, sealant and weather-stripping, you can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs.

10. Install insulation. According to the Department of Energy, the leading cause of energy waste in the home is inadequate insulation and air leakage. Homeowners typically can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent by sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces and accessible basement rim joists.

If you're looking for more information on energy savings projects and products, just visit homedepot.com/energy .

PS - Stay tuned - I have an AWESOME contest coming very soon!

2 comments:

Condo Blues said...

Thanks for the shoutout!

Linda said...

Great job on all of the improvements. I believe you are ready for winter!