Smart Ways To Cut Energy Costs At Home
Those costly winter heating bills might be out of sight momentarily, but they are never really out of mind.
If the thought of opening an electric bill this summer has you sweating even more than the heat itself, consider some ways to cut costs while simultaneously shrinking your carbon footprint.
Choosing energy-efficient products, making a few small repairs and adjusting some behavior can help consumers keep dollars from pouring out their often-drafty windows.
Those familiar ENERGY STARlabels might be blue, but the products they represent have been helping consumers go green, and save green, since 1992.
A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy, ENERGY STAR offers thousands of models on products in 60 different categories for the home and office.
Delivering the same or better performance as comparable models, the products use less energy which helps consumers save money and protect the environment, says Maria Vargas, ENERGY STAR’s brand manager.
In 2010 alone, with the help of ENERGY STAR products, Americans saved $18 billion and greenhouse-gas-emissions equivalent to that of 33 million cars, according to the program.
“I think there’s a little bit of a cognitive disconnect for many consumers,” says Vargas. “I don’t think most consumers realize that their home causes twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car.”
The annual energy bill for a typical single-family home is approximately $2,200, according to ENERGY STAR, with nearly half that amount going toward heating and cooling costs.
“I think the biggest change we can potentially make for people is to get them to rethink how they heat and cool their home and the efficiencies they can derive from paying attention to that,” says Vargas.
One of the most important things consumers can do to reduce their bills and become more energy efficient is to utilize a programmable thermostat, she says. ENERGY STAR no longer offers a label on the product because its mere installation does not guarantee energy savings.
“It can be huge in terms of saving energy but only if you program it and use it,” she says. With the help of a programmable thermostat used correctly, consumers can save approximately $180 annually, Vargas notes.
Phillip Gigante, an attorney from Airmont, New York, agrees with Vargas and says that after expanding his home from its original 2,500 square feet to 4,400 square feet, he has seen very little change in his heating bill thanks, in part, to using a programmable thermostat.
“I reran all the plumbing to turn the house from one-zone heat to three-zone heat, and the current programmable thermostats allow me to schedule when the heat comes on and shuts off,” says Gigante. “Now the parts of the house we don’t usually stay in aren’t unnecessarily heated.”
Gigante also credits a few other important improvements with making his home, built in 1962, more comfortable and energy efficient.
“During our renovations, we replaced all our insulation,” he says. “It’s not that old insulation is bad, but they used to use a lot thinner insulation before than they do now. Most important is to insulate is the attic. We had three-inch insulation up there, now it’s over one foot thick,” says Gigante.
Replacing old windows also helped. “Now all of our windows are double pane with Low-E (Low-emissivity) glass.”
Low-E coatings on glazing or glass control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Windows manufactured with Low-E coatings typically cost about 10–15 percent more than regular windows, but they reduce energy loss by as much as 30–50 percent, according to the DOE.
“We know that the average home has enough leaks and cracks in its exterior and parts of the inside workings of your home that it’s the equivalent to leaving a window open," says Vargas. If you don’t seal up those cracks, even though you have the most efficient HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) unit on the planet, it’s just leaking out of your house like a sieve.”