Small steps can lower energy billadmin
Despite the date on the calendar, autumn weather still hasn’t arrived in Galveston County, and that means more high electric bills.
There are some things you can do, however, to lower your energy bills year-round.
Alan Smith of Bayou Vista is a retired homebuilder and has picked up some tricks to save money on his energy bills.
You might call him an energy savings expert. The electric bills in his 1,115-square-foot house have been less than that of an apartment.
”I’ve never had a bill this summer over $90, and I do just what I’m telling you,” Smith said. ”Blinds do work. It’s saved me a ton of money.
”Another thing I know the electric company doesn’t like, but use gas as much as you can over electricity. That saves you money.”
Smith uses natural gas for his stovetop, hot water heater and even his clothes dryer.
David B. Walker, an energy consultant in Houston who specializes in the Energy Star program, said the whole idea is to cut down on the overall consumption of a house.
Insulation Is Key
Walker said about 80 percent of heat gain in a home comes from the attic and walls.
”Most houses that I find that are older than eight years, they’re not insulated well,” Walker said.
In Galveston County, insulation should be R-30, up from R-19, 20 years ago.
Check insulation in the attic. If it’s packed down or more than 15 years old, you need to add another layer, Smith said.
Smith said homes built off the ground need insulating under them, as well.
”A lot of the problem is these houses have the floor joists that are not insulated down there,” Smith said. ”That is a major savings if you can insulate your living area on your first floor.”
This can be a weekend do-it-yourself project.
As it gets colder, don’t forget to protect your hot water heater that’s in the attic or outside.
”Get a water heater blanket and wrap that thing up,” Smith said. ”You’d be surprised how much energy that will save you.”
You can lose a lot of energy through your windows and sliding glass doors.
Double-paned glass is the best protection against heat loss in the winter and radiant heating in the summer. But Smith said many homes built in the ’70s and ’80s only have single-paned windows.
If you have an old home and can’t afford to replace your windows, Wilson said solar screens will help reduce heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter.
”Windows make a big difference because windows are just a designed hole in the wall,” he said. ”When you put a better window in, you’ll reduce the heat gain on the house.”
Short of replacing your windows, Smith said you can use colored miniblinds with blackout blinds on top of them to provide double insulation during warm months.
In the wintertime, he suggests opening your blinds on the east side of your house each morning and the west side in the afternoons. Smith estimates it will raise your home’s temperature six to eight degrees.
”You’ll be surprised how warm a room can be just by the radiance of the sun through your glass,” Smith said.
Weather stripping around doors, windows and attic openings will help prevent energy leakage, too, Walker said. If you see light coming through a door, it needs weather stripping.
Zone Your Home
The biggest energy consumer in your residence is the heating and air conditioning system, Walker said.
”Energy costs more now than 20 years ago,” he said. ”We didn’t know the way we built homes 20 or 30 years ago. Now, because energy is so high, we’re starting to see the ugly side of it.”
Smith said the best way to lower your heating and air conditioning costs is to close off rooms that are not being used.
Close doors and vents in unused room and rooms with the sun hitting them.
If you live in a two-story dwelling and spend the day downstairs, keep your lower-level air conditioning running and turn off the upstairs unit.
Smith said you can cool down a top story by placing a fan in an opened window facing outward.
”Just blowing that hot air out that one window will suck that hot air out of your top floor,” he said.
Walker suggests examining your air conditioning unit and see if air is blowing out of it. He said the average home leaks 30 percent of air that the unit is putting out.
Walker’s heating and cooling thermostat stays at 74 degrees in the summer and 72 degrees in the winter. It’s better for your unit to run longer and not come on as often, he said.
Walker’s highest bill this summer did not exceed $290 to cool his house and a 950-square-foot building behind it.
Other Easy Ideas
Walker recommends changing out regular light bulbs for compact florescent bulbs. He said they are selling for as low as $4 each now.
While the up-front cost of these bulbs is higher, over the long haul you’ll save money. They use about one-fourth as much electricity as incandescent bulbs and last up to nine years longer, according to the Reliant Energy Web site.
A 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb can replace a 60-watt incandescent light and provide almost the same amount of light.
Items plugged into the wall are using electricity even when turned off. Walker said to take an inventory of what you have plugged in and decide if any of them are unnecessary.
”It’s really being honest with yourself and ask, ”˜Do I really need this thing plugged up,’” he said.
Keeping the refrigerator door open not only uses energy for the light, but also can cause the cool air to leak out, making the unit work harder to keep its temperature.
”You want to keep people from standing at the refrigerator asking themselves do I want grape jelly or strawberry,” Walker said. ”Figure it out before you get there.”
You can hire an energy consultant like Walker to inspect your home. It will cost $450 to $750, but you’ll have to hire someone else to make the repairs or do them yourself at an additional cost.
Lowe’s stores across the county are hosting free energy savings clinics at 1 p.m. every Saturday this month. The classes will focus on winterizing homes and using Energy Star products.
”We don’t get many hard freezes here,” said Mike Gudry, sales manager at the Texas City store. ”What you want to do is make sure your pipes are wrapped in the attic and outside faucets. Also, cover your plants.”
Both Reliant Energy and TXU Energy offer a link to the Home Energy Advisor, which provides a free online energy analysis for your home.
After completing your home profile, you will receive an analysis of your energy usage and personalized recommendations on ways to save on your electric bill.