In these days when energy costs are rising faster than incomes, many of us are faced with lowering our costs to remain within our budgets. Whether salaried or hourly, it is difficult to increase our income without impacting our lifestyle. Therefore, we look to other areas where savings are possible.
In most things, several small changes in our habits can yield significant results. One of the best things a consumer can do is utilize the many services offered by their energy provider. Many electric companies and EMC’s offer free energy audits. These audits are conducted by employees of the energy company who are trained to evaluate existing and potential sources of losses of energy. These auditors will look at many aspects of one’s home, from attic and crawl space or basement insulation to energy escaping through doors and windows. After the evaluation, the auditor will compile suggestions for the customer that will aid in conserving energy. Some of these suggestions are free or inexpensive, such as outlet cover insulators, fluorescent light bulbs rather than incandescent, raising thermostat settings in the summer and lowering settings in the winter, vacuuming the coils behind the refrigerator, as well as under and behind appliances and using shades and other window coverings to maximize cool air flow and minimize sunlight heat. Other suggestions will require a larger initial investment but will yield substantial savings over time. In addition, some other these more costly suggestions may be eligible for rebates or tax incentives. Be sure to check with not only your energy provider, but also with your equipment supplier, installers, and tax advisor to maximize these potential savings. These suggestions may include updating to newer, more efficient appliances, replacing outdated air conditioning and heating units, adding or replacing insulation, replacing an old water heater or replacing single-pane windows and doors with more efficient double- or triple-pane windows and doors.
In our case, we decided as a family to make the major investment in updating our windows and doors from early ’70’s single-pane windows and doors to triple-pane windows and double-pane doors. This upgrade was a significant cost, but we anticipate recouping that cost when we eventually sell our home. We have seen a 35-40% savings in our heating and cooling as a result. Because our funds were limited, we instituted a number of simple measures that have resulted in as much as a 50% savings some months. Below are some of these ideas:
Heating-In the winter, we only turn on the heat, which is natural gas, during the coldest nights. We layer quilts and blankets on our bed. We place blankets and throws around the living areas so that we can cover ourselves when watching television or reading. We dress ourselves in layers. We have small space heaters in the bathrooms to heat them just prior to bath times. We also utilize our fireplace in the evenings when the family is gathered in one room. With only several pieces of wood that last a few hours, we enjoy a cozy and pleasant fire. Using the space heaters and purchasing firewood are only a small fraction of what we had been spending on the heating bill. An unexpected benefit of these changes is that we have far fewer visits to the doctor during the winter months.
Cooling-With this year’s increased gasoline expenses, we chose to forego the air conditioner for as long as possible. As I write this, the high’s here in the South are 90?-95?. We have taken note of the sun’s impact on the heat inside our home during the day and have adjusted our behaviors to minimize its discomfort. We use ceiling fans and oscillating fans in every living area. We make sure these fans increase the cool air flow from the cooler night and evening air. During the day, we close shades and curtains as the heat of the sun affects the living areas. We re-open them when the heated times have passed, allowing the natural cooling of the day to cool our living areas. Even with the fans running, we are saving 50% each month we don’t run our air conditioning as our electricity bill typically doubles during its use. Our bodies have adjusted to the heat, and by adjusting our schedules to perform our heavier tasks early in the day and resting or doing light tasks during the hot part of the day, we are avoiding the exhaustion that heat brings. We sometimes visit the library or perform shopping duties during the hottest hours to enjoy the air conditioning there.
Appliances-We limit the number of times we open and close the refrigerator. Sometime in the future we hope to invest in a refrigerator with water and ice in the door, which would eliminate most of the opening and closing of the doors. We choose lighter meals during the summer. This not only lowers introduced heat from the stove and oven, but keeps away the heaviness that often accompanies a large meal. We utilize the outdoor grill, which also has a burner unit, for many of our meals, thereby preventing added indoor heat. We run our washer, dryer and dishwasher early in the morning and after dark. This prevents additional indoor heating and avoids the high demand hours of the day.
Water conservation-We wipe off with a cool rag during the day, which cools us and cuts down on the number of baths and showers. We have placed a bucket in the shower to catch the extra water to water house plants. We shower in the evenings, after high demand hours, allowing us to feel cooler as we go to sleep at night. For the children (and sometimes the adults!), we allow them to run through the sprinklers during approved watering hours. Installing a filter on the kitchen faucet gives is the taste of bottled water without the added expense.
These suggestions are but a few of the many ways we can conserve energy and reduce our expenses during these high cost energy periods. Aside from the monetary savings, these tips become habits that will stick with us, making energy conservation a way of daily life while instilling these habits in our children.