Ask Eartha: Reduce winter home energy costs
September 9, 2016
With the weather now growing colder, I've already received a higher energy bill. What can I do about reducing my monthly energy costs?
— Brandi, Silverthorne
It's that time of year when we all begin receiving higher energy bills. Subsequently, it's the same time of year the High Country Conservation Center (HC3) begins fielding loads of calls regarding what to do about it. For some of us, the added seasonal energy charges creep up on us and grow steadily into a higher winter energy expense. For others, the first high bill of the year slaps us in the face, rocking the financial progress we've made throughout the prior warmer months. Either way, every year around this time, we end up dipping into our income a bit more to keep the heat running and lights shining in our mountain homes. With all of this in mind, a proactive approach to energy conservation and efficiency in this climate will always pay off in more ways than one.
The goal with improving the energy efficiency at your home is to address a number of building concerns. When we make weatherization improvements to a property, it yields results beyond lower energy costs. We are creating a healthier home, a more durable home and a home that is more comfortable to live in. The bottom line is doing something will pay off, and we've seen it pay off for residents time and time again.
After I've completed an energy audit or provided a local homeowner with professional energy advice, I often hear something along the lines of, "Why didn't I do this earlier?" I could easily respond with the same question, "Why didn't you?" The reason is sometimes rooted in fear — fear that they'll be told their only option is to make expensive investments such as windows, doors or new mechanical equipment. Our goal is not to scare anyone or push expensive projects on members of our community. We simply want to see people improving their living conditions and conserving resources. This is why we continue to build a locally supported portfolio of residential energy-efficiency programs. In fact, we've structured our entire residential energy program around giving the best possible advice and tailoring our energy coaching to your specific needs.
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The more homes I audit, the more attics I ascend to and crawl spaces I brave, the more I learn. Our climate here in Summit County is unique, so shouldn't our buildings also be unique? Unfortunately, in many respects this is not the case. But fear not, there is always room for improvement. In our climate zone, oftentimes some of the lower-cost energy improvements yield the greatest return. Roughly 40 percent of our winter heating costs can be attributed to a leaky home. Air leaks in a home are my arch nemesis. They can come from anywhere in your home: window trim, baseboards, attics, basements and crawl spaces. When homes are built, sometimes the small holes are overlooked or concealed behind trim. However, these holes all add up to one big hole — a hole that is wasting your money and creating a less-comfortable home.
Equipped with an infrared camera and a large door-mounted fan, a local energy auditor can pinpoint the air leaks in your home. Then with low-cost products like caulk, spray foam and weather-stripping, an experienced energy auditor can often weatherize your entire home for a reasonable price. That's the "one-two" punch. Adding insulation to your walls, crawl space or attic are great ways to further capitalize on your air-sealing project. Of course a comprehensive energy audit will also point out room for improvement with inefficient home appliances, heating systems and indoor lighting. Sometimes, a quick project such as swapping out your lighting to modern LED technology can pay for itself within one year.
As for all improvements recommended in an energy audit, the High Country Conservation Center has secured local funding to help offset the costs of these projects. In short, HC3 is excited to position ourselves as a one-stop shop for all your residential energy needs. Now more than ever, HC3 is capable of offering energy assistance to a greater number of members in our community. It's officially project season, so get the ball rolling on home energy efficiency. Give us a call to determine if your household qualifies for a complimentary home energy audit to kick things off. We eagerly await your calls and urge you to continue asking us these great home energy questions.
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.