November 4, 2012

Lower your energy costs this winter

Richard L. Gast, Cooperative Extension Program Educator

---- — Rising fuel and electricity prices have become increasingly burdensome, a dilemma that poor and middle class Americans are faced with nationwide. We’ve watched the cost of home heating fuel (oil, kerosene, propane, natural gas, even firewood) and electricity double, triple, even quadruple. And it certainly appears that the price is going to continue to redouble as worldwide demand increases.

Most of the folks I talk with are worried that their income will not be enough to assure that they will be able to make ends meet. Some say it’s their number-one concern.

People ask, “What can I do about it?” While it’s true there may be little we can do about the rising cost of energy, there are actually several low-cost and no-cost measures we can take. I’m not talking about sacrificing comfort. I’m talking about becoming more efficient; choosing to make reasonable and lasting reductions in consumption.

Start by taking a walk around your home, inside and out. Note where warm air is being lost through unsealed openings in the walls and ceilings and around windows and doors. Then plug any holes, gaps or cracks you find with caulk, weather stripping or insulating spray foam. Be sure, too, that any existing caulk or weather stripping is not cracked or deteriorated.

Tightly cover windows with plastic, especially if you don’t have storm or thermal windows. Hang drapes or blinds and keep them closed at night and on cold days.

Remove air conditioners whenever possible. If removal is not possible, tightly cover them to reduce drafts and minimize leakage. Reduce energy consumption even more by installing foam draft sealers behind exterior wall electrical switch and outlet faceplates.

Make sure that your home is adequately insulated. Replacing or upgrading your attic insulation to R-30 or more could be the single most important thing you do to reduce heating costs. In homes with crawl spaces, upgrade floor insulation to R-19 and be sure that a vapor barrier is installed to lock humidity and moisture out.

Set your furnace thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting. You can lower heating costs by 3 percent or more for every one degree that you lower your thermostat. Better yet, install programmable thermostats that automatically adjust temperature settings while you’re asleep or away. And get into the habit of wearing a sweater and turning the heat down even farther at night and when the house is unoccupied. Have your furnace serviced annually, clean or replace furnace filters regularly and be careful not to block registers and return vents with furniture or rugs.

Using hot water consumes tremendous amounts of energy, too. Fixing dripping faucets and repairing any in-line leaks can save a bundle. Lowering the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees F. or less (water hotter than 120 degrees can cause serious scalds and burns, anyway) and installing low-flow or flow-control shower heads and faucet aerators are easy ways to significantly cut your energy and hot water use.

Insulating older hot water heaters, turning your hot water heater off at night, and leaving it off if you are going to be away for several days will also save energy. Get used to taking cooler, shorter showers, especially in preference to baths. And don’t leave the water running when you’re washing, shaving or brushing your teeth.

Whenever possible, wash clothes in cold water. Wash only full loads of clothing and dishes. Hang dry your clothes and air dry your dishes.

When replacing light bulbs, buy energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Although CFLs cost more, their life expectancy is 10 to 12 times that of comparable incandescent bulbs and they consume only about one quarter of the electricity. Replacing just one 100-watt incandescent light bulb with a 23-watt CFL can save as much as $77 over the lifetime of the bulb. Whenever possible, maximize lighting effectiveness by using task lighting for reading etc., as opposed to illuminating the entire room, and by keeping lighting fixtures and bulbs clean.

Turn lights and appliances off when they are not in use. And keep in mind that many appliances never turn completely off unless they are unplugged.

For a limited time, comprehensive home and small-business energy assessments are being offered in New York without charge or obligation for most residential utility customers. Low-interest unsecured loan options, tax credits and possibly additional cash incentives, all of which can help you pay for energy efficiency improvements and upgrades, may be available as well.

An energy assessment will enable you to evaluate building and energy systems efficiency and safety by targeting problem areas and providing cost-effective solutions for reducing energy consumption. Once your assessment has been completed, you will receive a detailed report describing energy loss along with customized solutions, cost of implementation and projected return on investment.

Contact me by email or by phone to receive an application. I’ll also send you a half-dozen exterior wall switch and outlet faceplate draft sealers absolutely free.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, horticulture, natural resources, energy; agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, N.Y., 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email