Ask Eartha: How to save money on your winter energy bills
I’m always shocked this time of year when my energy bills skyrocket. I do not want to face another season of high bills and a drafty home. Is there anything I can do so my house stays warm and my bills stay low?
It’s that time of year. When the first dusting of snow appears on the peaks of the Tenmile Range, it not only announces a change in seasons, but also fosters an uptick in calls regarding energy efficiency. Luckily, for most locals, satisfying their need for a warm, low-cost home is our specialty. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned over the years living and working on homes across the county.
An efficient and cozy mountain home
It’s a universal truth that we want to feel comfortable in our homes. And for those who aren’t — whether it’s too cold or drafty — it can be hard to know where to start. You might not realize that you can do something to fix the situation! And more often than not, the friends and neighbors I chat with think that improving their home’s efficiency means expensive upgrades to mechanical systems or replacing windows. Fear not! Energy conservation and comfort are pursuits that should never begin with these pricey fixes. Instead, the energy pros like to focus on the simple and affordable projects we call low-hanging fruit.
What are some of these common projects? Finding and sealing air leaks, places where the warm indoor air escapes outside, is a common one. All those tiny gaps and cracks add up. A typical home can leak over half its air every hour under normal midwinter living conditions. It’s not uncommon for these leaks that account for nearly half a homeowner’s total energy costs.
More easy fixes include properly using a programmable thermostat and installing LED bulbs. After you’ve tackled these projects, you’ll want to consider insulation improvements and, potentially, new appliances or mechanical systems. Finally, after you’ve done everything else to make your home efficient, then you can consider windows, doors and renewable energy.
If you think of home energy efficiency like a pyramid, these projects are at the very top because you need a solid foundation for them to rest upon. After all, what’s the point of putting solar panels on an inefficient house?
Evaluating your home’s efficiency
How will you know what your home needs? With a home energy assessment, of course! When you sign up for an assessment, a certified building scientist will inspect your home for energy performance and potential safety concerns. Afterward, you’ll get a report that outlines all the steps you can take to maximize efficiency.
If you think your home could benefit from an assessment, check out the Energy Smart Colorado program offered by the High Country Conservation Center. To encourage you and other Summit County locals to be more efficient, the nonprofit subsidizes the cost of these assessments. Most people pay just $99 after rebates, and you’ll also get freebies like LED bulbs. Getting the assessment qualifies you for even more rebates once you start making improvements. Some residents are eligible to receive free energy assessment and improvement work, so it’s worth giving the conservation center a call.
And remember, energy efficiency at home doesn’t just impact your wallet. There are a number of added benefits, like creating a healthier indoor environment and making your home more durable.
Do it yourself
For the DIYers out there, here are a few simple projects to get you started:
- Program your thermostat to drop a few degrees while you’re sleeping and while you’re away at work. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one so you have more control over your heating system. If you have baseboard electric heat, call the conservation center for advice before purchasing.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater. If your shower is scalding or you have to add cold water to reach an ideal temperature, your water heater is set too high. Dial it back a few degrees, and you’ll save energy and your skin.
- Install heavy curtains or insulating blinds over windows.
- Inspect your doors for bad weather stripping. If the door is closed and you see daylight coming through, it’s time to replace the weather stripping.
It’s a good thing you’re thinking about being more energy efficient before cold temperatures (and high energy bills) really set in. There’s still time to sign up for a home energy assessment, so you can stay warm and cozy at home without donning a beanie and puffy indoors.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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