Saturday, April 19, 2008

Save Money by Changing Some Habits

Save Energy and Money by Simply Adjusting Some Habits
As the price of gasoline continues to skyrocket, more and more people are looking for ways to save some money elsewhere. Face it… the last time you filled your tank, it cost you $*&#@ dollars. Just a few years ago with that same amount, you would have instead taken the family to the movies, bought some things at a local hardware store, and then spent the rest on filling your tank. We are less and less able to help the small business owners and local growers by our patronage. Instead, we are giving a larger and larger share of our income to Arabian countries and to the hugely fat wallets of the oil executives who “earn” tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars each year off the backs of the average hard working American. Here are some simple things each of us can do to lessen our use of energy while at the same time reducing our monthly utility bills, thus giving us a little bit more expendable income. I speak from experience. When I moved into my current home (6 years ago), we were on a monthly level pay plan at around $240 per month. Now… our monthly utility bill (still on level pay) is at $74 per month. Try these things:

1. Adjust your thermostat. In the Summer months: set it to run two degrees warmer than you normally do, and, in the Winter months: set it to run two degrees cooler than you normally do. Your body will adjust in a short time, and you can offset this by wearing slippers or a sweater. You will see an immediate drop in your energy bill.
2. Another thermostat tip: Once set… leave it alone. Constantly adjusting the thermostat can dramatically waste energy and increase your heating and cooling costs. If you get a chill, resist the urge to turn it up a few degrees. The chill will pass and can be fixed by slippers or a sweater. If you increase the thermostat, you will only be turning it back down soon. This up and down temperature adjusting causes your furnace or air conditioner to cycle and does nothing but waste energy.
3. One more thermostat tip: Install an electronic programmable thermostat for your heating and cooling system. This is especially effective if nobody is typically home for much of the day. Program it to turn off a half hour before everyone leaves and to come on a half hour before anyone arrives home. Remember to keep the house above 40 degrees during the winter months to prevent pipes and toilets from freeze damage. An electronic programmable thermostat will, all by itself, reduce your energy bill by at least $10-15 per month. It costs about $180 to install. So, after only one year it will actually pay for itself. Even better… each year thereafter it will save you another $150-$180 per year. This little gem is simply money in the bank. Get one!
4. Say: “Energy Star”. When replacing your stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer, hot water heater, microwave, oven, grill, freezer, furnace, air conditioner, or any other appliance type item, make sure you get one that sports the “Energy Star” sticker. Energy Star rated appliances meet or exceed stringent energy use standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They do indeed cost a bit more, but the energy they save over the long haul makes them well worth it.
5. Get rid of those regular (incandescent) light bulbs! Switch all your bulbs to the compact fluorescent bulbs. Yes, they are more expensive at the cash register. But from that point on… they are a gold mine. They generate a lot less heat than standard bulbs, thus reducing your summer cooling costs. Regular bulbs last for several months or even up to a year or more… but fluorescent bulbs typically last more than 5 years and as long as 7 years. And talk about efficient! A regular 60 watt bulb burns 60 watts of electricity. Most homes have 15-25 bulbs. You could easily burn 1000 watts or more without even realizing it. Compare: The same 60 watt bulb (fluorescent version) only burns 13 watts. That’s right. Four of these fluorescent bulbs combined still burn less energy than does just one of the regular bulbs.
6. Seal energy leaks. Caulk over cracks, seams, and small holes around windows and exterior walls. Look carefully (where they go through the floor) around plumbing pipes, telephone wires, cable TV wires, dryer vents, sink and bathtub drains, and under countertops for holes and gaps and seal them well. A good home inspector with a Thermal Imaging camera (and who is certified in its use) is priceless, because they can literally “see” every location where you are wasting energy.
7. Have an energy audit performed on your home. This will find sources of energy waste in your home. It will also determine what improvements or changes you should make to your home in order to make it more energy efficient. These will be prioritized by cost versus gain, and will estimate how much each modification will cost versus how much each modification will reduce your energy cost by. In other words, allowing you to see how long it would take for each modification to pay for itself. Some energy/power companies do provide energy audits, and sometimes at little or no cost. If they do not use a thermal imager, then find a company that does. OxBow Home Inspections is one such company that does offer home energy audits at low cost and does use a thermal imager (and is certified in its use). OxBow is the only such company in all of Idaho. Their energy audits can be seen here at:
8. Check for tax rebates or incentives whenever you install energy-saving equipment such as Energy Star certified dishwashers, furnaces, air conditioners, etc... Quite often there are these types of incentives offered by individual states and even by the Federal Government. Sometimes these exist even for things such as merely adding insulation. Keep all receipts, and check with you tax advisor.
9. Eliminate the drips. If you have just one sink, or one tub, or one outside water faucet that drips: Have it fixed. Just one drip every second can use 20 kilowatts of energy each month… not to mention hundreds of gallons of water simply wasted. If you’re on a well, this means higher electricity costs for your well pump. If you’re on city water… just watch that monthly bill go up. Either way, you lose.
10. Ask your power company if they have any special energy-saving programs. Some programs shut down electric appliances for short periods of time during peak usage hours. You will hardly notice it at the time, but you will definitely notice it when you get your next utility bill. Idaho Power does indeed have such a program. An added bonus: When you participate, you help reduce the overall electrical demand during those hours of the day when the electrical demand normally spikes.
11. Landscape wisely. Take advantage of the winter sun for heating and use the summer shade for cooling. Selecting the right types of trees and shrubs and planting them in the proper location will do wonders for your utility bills. Consult a landscaping professional for advice.
12. Inspect all of the doors which lead to the exterior, including the one that leads to the garage. I inspect a lot of homes and I can tell you that probably 1/3 of them are losing large amounts of energy around their door weather stripping. The door is something we go through dozens or more times each day. When was the last time you actually stopped and took a good look at your door? Often times, you can make your door seal tightly against the weather stripping merely by adjusting the strike plate!
13. Make sure that the thermostat on your water heater is set at the manufacturer’s recommended setting. Setting it hotter merely wastes energy by keeping the water hot when no one is using it. Do one better… turn it down just a few degrees… just do not go below the minimum setting. Setting it to run a bit cooler will probably not be noticeable, yet it will reduce the amount of energy you spend in the heating of that water. Better yet… install a timer on your water heater. This will heat your water when you are home, but will turn it way down when you are not home or when you are sleeping. Very inexpensive little gold mine, this is.
14. When personal computers first hit the market, most computer experts advised us all to leave the computer on at all times in order to save wear and tear on the hard disk. This is no longer the case with a modern computer. You can now turn it off when you’re not using it, or you can set it up to use the energy-saving “sleep,” “hibernate,” or “standby” modes.
15. Buy a front-loading washing machine. They use 50% less energy and 1/3 less water than conventional models. What’s more: they remove far more water in the rinse and spin cycles which results in big energy savings ($$$) in the dryer. Your dryer will have to work much less in removing the moisture. This translates into a lower utility bill. Even better: It will extend the useful life of your dryer. It will simply last longer.

Times have changed. We can no longer ignore our energy consumption and our impact on the environment. We must all become good stewards of our natural resources. If each of us can reduce our individual carbon footprint by just a little bit… then just imagine the impact when taken collectively by 200 million Americans.

Dappy Jones
OxBow Home Inspections and Radon Testing

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With the price of gas sky rocketing the way that they are and with there being no chance that they will decrease anytime soon, we all need to save money the best and easiest ways possible. This includes cutting down on some of the resources that we use at home. Up above I have noticed that there are many suggestions that are available for us to consider, but there is one thing that I do not see. Oil Heat is something that should also be taken into consideration. It conserves more energy and is biodegradable, it is affordable at cost, and available due to the fact that oil is being produced in over 50 countries. It burns less fuel than other appliances of the past and is much safer, especially if there are kids in the household. Oil Heat is a great source! See how it works wonders during the cold seasons versus a fireplace.