Simple tricks for reducing Colorado energy bills
Special to the Daily
What can I do about reducing my monthly electric bill? I have several friends who have gone solar in the last few years and absolutely love it. Should I invest in solar for my home? Is there anything else in preparation for the long winter I can do to help curb my pricey energy bills? — Katherine, Keystone
Here in the High Country, there’s no disputing the sun’s intensity. In any sunny environment, solar photovoltaic panels will effectively capture that intense radiation and convert it into a readily available and abundantly useful resource for the home (electricity). I would agree, having sold residential solar for a couple years, that solar customers share in the excitement of capturing and utilizing an otherwise underutilized source of energy. Going solar is an exciting endeavor, but, make no mistake, it will not always save you money.
In our unique Summit County environment, our energy expenditures fall heavily within the realm of heating during the winter months. For many utility customers, however, this winter-time energy expenditure is in the form of gas for running boilers, furnaces or other combustion-operated heating appliances. For the most part, our winter-time energy expenditure is billed to us in the unit of therms, rather than kWh (electricity). This is one reason why going solar may make sense for your friends but, oftentimes, takes a back seat to other home energy renovations here in Summit County.
When we think home energy efficiency, our minds often jump to major solutions. We make out the inefficiencies of our home to be so vast, so complex and too difficult to assess. We, oftentimes, look to advanced technologies and the latest and greatest equipment to solve our personal energy crisis. When our homes feel drafty and cold, we look to replacing expensive items like windows, doors or even mechanical systems like our boilers or furnaces. While I’m not suggesting these aren’t solutions, I’m simply saying we can slow down and approach the complex system that is our home from a holistic perspective.
We need to understand first how a home operates and how the many interconnected components of the building interact with each other and its occupants. More often than not, the most common solutions to home comfort and energy efficiency are simple. They include proper air sealing and insulation, proper thermostat programming and effective ventilation. While solar can help reduce your electric bill and even accelerate your return on investment by selling excess power back to your utility, it should be looked at as a secondary measure. One must first address how efficiently your home retains its heat or conserves the electricity it currently consumes. A solar system on a poorly lit, leaky and inadequately insulated home can be a lot like throwing a new fuel tank on a truck with a terribly inefficient engine.
If you’re seriously considering an energy-efficiency improvement for your home, or even if you want to learn more about what can be done to reduce your energy bills and improve comfort, you should start with an energy audit of your property. Have a certified building analyst audit your home for both potential safety concerns and energy efficiency. Visit coloradoenergysmart.com to request a home energy audit starting at $100. You’ll receive a comprehensive report outlining areas for potential improvement as well as expected annual savings. The most important first step in home energy efficiency is education. Know what it is your home truly needs — maybe it is a solar system, or maybe it’s something simpler, something you never knew your home was even lacking.
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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