Steps To Lower Utility Bills

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If you wince every time a gas or electric bill arrives in your mailbox, take heart. You can easily reduce energy use in your property. And we don’t mean by wearing three sweaters, taking cold showers and shuttering the windows. Energy efficiency and a pleasant indoor environment work hand-in-hand. You’ll not only reduce the drain on your bank account but also find your home more comfortable.

Big energy savings aren’t as easy to get today as they were 30 years ago. During the energy crunch of the 1970s, many owners added insulation and caulked around windows and doors to capture the biggest savings. And since then, new homes have been built to higher energy-efficiency standards. Still, if you follow these simple steps, you’ll find plenty of savings still out there.

Step 1: Reduce Air Leakage  Think of the warm air leaking out through gaps, cracks and holes in your home’s walls and ceilings as your energy dollars floating away. Sealing these openings is one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy.

Stopping air leaks in the attic is usually enough. You don’t have to work your way through every room caulking every crack, inside and out. Just get the largest and worst offenders, which are almost always in the attic.

You’ll notice that your house feels more comfortable too, because you’ll have fewer drafts. The less warm air that leaks out, the less cold air that leaks in to replace it.

Step 2: Conserve Energy  There are hundreds of energy saving steps that cost little or nothing. Some ideas involve a small investment of time and money, for example, installing a programmable thermostat or caulking around windows. Others involve a small investment of energy—yours. These simple steps include lowering the temperature setting on your water heater and closing the curtains.

Step 3: Buy High-Efficiency Windows (when it’s time to replace them)  Windows are the weakest link in your property’s outer defenses against heat loss. But windows are also expensive, so it isn’t cost effective to replace them just to save energy. If they’re worn out, however, it’s cost effective in all but the southernmost regions to upgrade to double-pane windows with low-E coatings. Your window specialist will help you choose the type of coating that works best, depending on whether you mostly need to slow heat loss or reduce solar gain.

Step 4: Add Insulation  Add 6 in. of insulation to an uninsulated attic and you’ll reap substantial energy savings. Add 6 more inches and you’ll get additional energy savings, but to a lesser degree. The recommended values are based on climate, fuel costs and other factors. Adding more than the suggested amounts will result in a longer payback period for your investment.About half of the energy consumed goes to heating and/or air conditioning. But all areas are targets for energy improvements, especially as energy costs rise.

Step 5: Shade Your Property  Shading is the best way you can save energy dollars in the summertime with your own sweat equity. Shading saves energy because it blocks out the direct sunlight that is responsible for about 50 percent of the heat gain in your home. Most of it strikes the roof and works its way through the attic, then down through the ceiling; the rest comes in mainly through windows. If you upgrade your attic insulation to at least 12 in. thick (about R-36) and make sure to buy light-colored roofing next time you re-roof, you’ll stop most of that roof heat. And steps like planting trees, attaching awnings and extending roof overhangs will shade the most vulnerable south-facing windows as well as those facing east and west. Most of these are low-cost, do-it-yourself strategies.

Step 6: Stop air conditioner duct leakage  Your duct systems is most likely loosing cool air through gaps in the duct joints. This cooling is wasted when the ducts run outside the interior conditioned space, in an attic or a crawlspace. While sealing ducts is a common practice now in newer building, few building over 10 years old have had this done.

Step 7: Protect Your Health And The Health Of Your Property  Watch your windows for excessive condensation. Most energy-saving measures reduce air leakage, allowing excessive moisture to build up inside. This moisture can cause mold and rot and an unhealthy indoor environment. Condensation on windows is common at the beginning of the heating season but should largely disappear except during cold snaps. Usually the best prevention strategy is to find the moisture sources and eliminate them or improve ventilation.

The Top 14 Energy Saving Projects

(rated by Break-Even in years)

When it comes to property improvements, there are many schools of thought out there concerning the average ballpark numbers on cost versus benefit.  Much of the energy efficient choices out there are a lot easier than once was expected … so these days a lot of it can be done at an easy to intermediate skill level.  Below you will find an average of how long it could take you to recoup your investment.

Deciding which energy saving improvements to make first (or at all) can be a daunting task.  But knowing a few facts … especially regarding your Return On Investment (ROI) … will make all the difference between success and failure when surfing the waves of what to do and what not to do.

Return on Investment (ROI) is your break-even point.  The cost of doing nothing is to continue to be a slave of the utility company – in light of that fact that for the first time in many many decades … you now have a choice.  So the question on everyone’s mind with respect to Green Improvements is … what is my ROI or how long will it take me to get my money back … or simply stated how many years it typically takes to recoup your investment in a project as compared to utility bill savings.

Inflation, utility costs, age, habits, and other factors can greatly affect ROI, but in general terms, the shorter the payback period, the smarter the investment.  Inflation, and utility cost increases are estimated to rise at least 25-50% over the next ten years.

Job Number One:           Install Energy Saving Light Bulbs

Compact Fluorescent (CFL) or Light Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

  • Complexity:                       Easy
  • Avg. Price:                        $2.00 per bulb
  • Break-even Payback:        0.5 – 1.0 years

Job Number Two:           Install a Programmable Thermostat

  • Complexity:                       Intermediate
  • Avg. Price:                        $30 – 100
  • Break-even Payback:        0.5 – 2.0 years

Job Number Three:          Seal Large and small Ceiling Air Leaks

  • Complexity:                       Easy to intermediate
  • Avg. Price:                        less than $200
  • Break-even Payback:        1-2 years

Job Number Four:           Seal Air Ducts Leaks

  • Complexity:                       Easy
  • Avg. Price:                        less than $25.00
  • Break-even Payback:        1-2 years

Job Number Five:           Install a Water Saving Showerhead

  • Complexity:                       Easy
  • Avg. Price:                        $10 and up
  • Break-even Payback:        1-2 years

Job Number Six:              Insulate Your Water Heater (You could even put a timer on your water heater)

  • Complexity:                       Easy
  • Avg. Price:                        $8-20
  • Break-even Payback:        1-2 years

Job Number Seven:         Weatherstrip Windows and Doors (Sliding Glass, Garage Doors Especially)

  • Complexity:                       Easy to intermediate
  • Avg. Price:                        $10-15 per opening
  • Break-even Payback:        1.0 – 2.5 years

Job Number Eight:           Tune Up Furnace or Other Heating Equipment (replace inefficient space heaters)

  • Complexity:                       Professional
  • Avg. Price:                        $100 and up
  • Break-even Payback:        1-3 years

Job Number Nine:             Install Ceiling and/or Floor Insulation (When space below floor is unheated)

  • Complexity:                       Intermediate
  • Avg. Price:                        $0.30 – 0.42 per sq. ft. (based on 6” fiberglass batts)
  • Break-even Payback:        2-5 years

Job Number Ten:        Install Solar Electric Panels (Photovoltaic Modules to reduce or eliminate your electric bill)

  • Complexity:                       Professional
  • Avg. Price:                        $20,000 after rebates and tax credits (fully installed)
  • Break-even Payback:        7-8 years

Job Number Eleven:        Landscaping (Trees for windbreaks and sun screening)

  • Complexity:                       Intermediate
  • Avg. Price:                        $30 and up per tree
  • Break-even Payback:        5-12 years … varies greatly

Job Number Twelve:      Blown-in Wall Insulation

  • Complexity:                       Advanced to Professional
  • Avg. Price:                        $1.00 – 2.00 per sq. ft. of wall (fully installed)
  • Break-even Payback:        6-12 years

Job Number Thirteen:     Replace Heating System

  • Complexity:                       Professional
  • Avg. Price:                        Varies greatly
  • Break-even Payback:        6-20 years

Job Number Fourteen:        Window replacement

  • Complexity:                       Advanced
  • Avg. Price:                        $300 – $800 per window … higher for professional installation
  • Break-even Payback:        15-30 years

21 Weekend Energy-Saving Tips

(Save fuel, electricity and cold hard cash)

1.  Install and use an automatic setback thermostat: You can reduce your heating and cooling costs by 5 to 15 percent.

2.  Replace worn-out thresholds: and weather-stripping around windows and doors.

3.  Seal the joints: of heating and cooling ducts that run through attics and basements, and save 10 percent on your heating and cooling bills.

4.  Replace light bulbs: used more than two to three hours per day with compact fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs last longer and use only one-third as much energy as standard bulbs.

5.  Shade your windows with trees, awnings, overhangs, shutters or other devices to keep direct sunlight from entering your home. Add window tint film.

6.  Wrap the tank: of your gas-burning water heater in a special fiberglass blanket to decrease heat loss. Check your owner’s manual to make sure that a blanket is a viable option for your model.

7.  Change furnace filters: every month, more often if needed.

8.  Install light controls: like motion sensors, photocell switches and timers to shut off lights automatically when they’re not needed.

9.  Clean the air conditioner condenser coils and fins when you see grass and airborne debris collected on them.

10.  Insulate pipes, especially if they pass through an area you don’t want heated or cooled.

11.  Reduce hot water usage by replacing high-volume shower- heads with low-flow heads (2 to 3 gallons per minute). Save up to $40 per year.

12.  Have a furnace tune-up to clean and adjust burners and improve fuel-burning efficiency.

13.  Fix leaky faucets; dripping hot water can cost $35 per year.

14.  Replace recessed light fixtures with air tight models when you remodel.

15. Have your air conditioner serviced to clean hard-to-reach evaporator coils and adjust coolant pressure to achieve maxi mum efficiency.

16.  Indoor motion-sensing light adapter and aim the sensing unit straight down the wall inside the top of the door. The light automatically turns on when it senses that someone is after a can of tuna or wants that special T-shirt out of the wash, and then turns off.

17.  Close off unused rooms and lower the temperatures by adjusting the registers and dampers.

18.  Clean your furnace’s blower fan with a soft brush and vacuum cleaner.

19.  Ventilate and cool your with window or fans during the cooler hours of the day.

20. In warm weather, set the thermostat higher (75 to 78 degrees F) and rely more on ceiling and table fans for cooling, even when the air conditioner is running.

21. Lower your water heater setting to 120 degrees F for both energy savings and safety. (Measure hot water temperature at a faucet with a cooking thermometer if the water heater setting isn’t calibrated in degrees.).

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