Straight Talk Articles
Start the New Year Right with Energy Savings
Dear Pat and Brad:
A neighbor claims they have cut their energy bill almost in half. Is that possible? What would I have to do to get there? It sounds like it would take a lot of time and money.
The story you heard is not far-fetched. We’ve been involved with programs that have achieved those kinds of results. Let’s talk about some energy saving measures you could do right away and how you can come up with a plan for much greater savings down the road.
1. Dial in Savings
NOW: The first place to start is your home thermostat. In most homes the largest piece of the energy bill goes toward heating and cooling.(1) Setting back your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day can save you up to 10% a year on heating and cooling(2). In the winter you could aim for 56 °F at night and when no one is at home, and 68°F when you’re up and around(3). If you’re used to a warmer house, it may mean throwing on a sweater or pair of slippers. This tactic is not as effective for some homes with radiant heat systems.
LATER: If you have air conditioning, make sure to adjust your settings next summer. If you have a manual thermostat and don’t always remember to adjust it, look into purchasing a smart thermostat, or at least one that’s programmable.
2. … then Dial in More
NOW: Make sure your refrigerator and freezer aren’t set colder than needed. The fridge should be at 38 to 40°F and the freezer compartment should be 5°F(4) . If you have a separate chest freezer, set it to 0°F(5). Then check your water heater. You should get by fine at a setting of 120°F(6).
LATER: Old refrigerators and freezers can use a lot of energy. If yours was made before 1993, you can save upwards of $65 a year with a new ENERGYSTAR model.(7) If you eliminate a second refrigerator or freezer you can save even more, especially if they are in your garage.
3. Maximize the heat you’ve got
NOW: Look around each room and make sure the vents and radiators aren’t blocked by furniture. If the floors feel cold even when the room is warm, put down area rugs and wear slippers. Open curtains and blinds and let the sun shine in and close them at night.
LATER: Bring in an Energy Auditor or HVAC specialist to test for duct leakage, seal leaks, and make sure the whole system is balanced and running efficiently.
4. Make bright moves with your lights
NOW: The obvious first step is to make sure lights are off when they’re not in use. You can do this manually or employ one of many automated strategies. (See our column last month on smart lighting.) If you’re still using incandescents you could switch the five bulbs you use the most to LEDs and save about $75 per year.(8) LEDs last at least three times as long, and use about one fourth as much energy.(9) Prices on LED bulbs have taken a big drop in the past few years, especially if you buy them in big packs.
LATER: Over time, plan to replace all your old Incandescent bulbs and look into smart lighting or switches that can be programmed to turn off when a room is not in use.
5. Eliminate drafts
NOW: Look carefully around your house for signs of air leakage. If you have a gap under an exterior door, you can block it with a towel or install some weatherstripping. Make sure windows are completely closed. Seal up around plumbing and wiring penetrations.
LATER: Have an energy auditor do a blower door test, which is the only accurate way to identify all the air leaks.
Taking some of these easy steps now should give you some quick savings. To get the really big savings, you’ll need a plan that includes the “later” steps we’ve shared above. A good energy audit will help you come up with a much better plan. Your energy co-op may be able to provide an audit or recommend a good local auditor.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on starting the year right with energy savings, go to the January 2020 More Information Page.