10/4/07

Saving energy, saving money??

Little changes can have a huge impact on energy costs

By Tanya Berkebile, Cadillac News
Jeff Broddle | Cadillac News


Phil Cornelius purchases heating ducts at the Cadillac Home Depot. Many times when a person buys a product to conserve energy, the energy savings exceed the cost of the product.
The average family spends more than $1,600 a year on home utility bills. Imagine how you would feel if you could reduce that bill by a quarter, which is a savings of $400.

What could you do with that $400? It may pay a month of rent, cover car repairs or go into a savings account where it can accumulate even more money.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make that 25 percent savings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, since a large portion of that energy is wasted.

It might be as easy as adding some caulk or weather stripping to a door or window, or changing to fluorescent light bulbs.

In many cases, reduced utility bills can more than make up the high cost of investing in a energy-efficient appliance, according to John Putvin, Jr. of Pell’s Appliance and TV.

Programmable thermostat

Roughly half of the typical home’s energy bill goes for heating and cooling, according to the Department of Energy. Lowering a home’s temperature five to 10 degrees at night and when no one is home can slash your heating costs up to 20 percent a year. Just make sure you know how to use the thermostat — some models are confusing and might discourage savings. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, roughly 50 percent of homeowners don’t change temperature settings at night.

With the cost of programmable thermostats at about $100, a unit can pay for itself in a year.

Save money on water

Spend less for hot water. Set the water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or the low setting, which is hot enough for most needs. Lowering the water heater temperature from 130 degrees to 120 degrees can save up to 5 percent on heating bills. Also, wrap a water heater with insulation or a blanket if it feels warm to conserve energy.

To help conserve the water’s heat on its way to the faucets, insulate the plumbing with pipe sleeves. With these, you can raise the end-use temperature by 2 to 4 degrees.

Ceiling fan

Ceiling fans are not only for summer — they are just as useful in the winter. Fans have a switch that reverses the motor. This causes the blade to spin clockwise, which pushes warm air from the ceiling back to the living space.

This can help keep heating bills down and possibly knock off $10 to $20 a year.

Fireplace insert

Many people think a fireplace is the way to keep home-heating costs down during the winter. But an open fireplace can send up to 80 percent of the fire’s heat up the chimney and depletes warm air from surrounding rooms. To keep this from happening, Dave Nederhoed, owner of Positive Chimney & Fireplace of Cadillac, suggests having a fireplace insert installed.

What exactly is a fireplace insert? It’s a self-containing stove that sits partially inside the fireplace and is equipped with an outer shell to deliver heated air into the room and minimize heat loss to the masonry. It is more than five times as efficient as an open fireplace and distributes warm air throughout the home.

“A gas, pellet or wood insert is an efficient upgrade that adds not only another source of heat, but additional value to your home,” Nederhoed said.

Energy Star products

Energy Star is a U.S. government program to promote energy efficient products. According to the program, Americans who used Energy Star appliances had savings of $14 billion on their utility bills.

Since 1992, when the program began, products have continually been added to the list.

“There are Energy Star dishwashers, refrigerators, dehumidifiers, laundry products — the list keeps growing,” said John Putvin Jr. of Pell’s Appliance and TV. “They are becoming more and more popular.”

For those who have older appliances, Putvin, Jr. said there is no doubt people will see a drop on their electricity bill with Energy Star products.

Sources: Consumer Reports, U.S. Department of Energy, Consumers Energy


Your local connection

Free ways to save energy... and money

  • Wash clothes in cold water. About 90 percent of energy is spent heating the water for the load. You can save substantially by washing and rinsing at cooler temperatures. Warm water helps the suds to get at the dirt, but cold-water detergents will work effectively for just about everything in the hamper.
  • Hang it up. With clotheslines, you spare the energy a dryer would use, and your clothes will smell as fresh as all outdoors. You’ll also get more useful life out of clothes dried on indoor or outdoor clotheslines — after all, dryer lint is nothing but your wardrobe in the process of wearing out.
  • Let the dishwasher do the work. Don’t bother prerinsing dishes with the idea that your dishwasher will work less hard. Consumer Reports has found that this added step can waste 20 gallons of heated water a day. All you need to do is scrape off leftover food. Enzyme-based detergents will help make sure the dishes emerge spotless.
  • Put your PC to sleep. Keep your computer and its monitor in sleep mode rather than leaving them on around the clock. You stand to use 80 percent less electricity.
  • Think twice before turning on the oven. Heating food in the microwave uses only 20 percent of the energy required by a full-sized oven.
  • Use the right pan. When cooking on the stovetop, pick your pan, then put it on an element or burner that’s roughly the same size. You’ll use much less energy than you would with a mismatched burner and pan. Steam foods instead of boiling. If you do boil, be sure to put a lid on the pot to make the water come to a boil faster.
  • Dust off the Crock-Pot. Slow cooking in a Crock-Pot uses a lot less energy than simmering on the stove.
Source: Consumer Reports


Energy-saving investments

If you don’t mind spending a few dollars, here are some ways to conserve energy—and save money.
  • A tighter home is a toastier home. Insulation is your home’s first line of defense against the weather, right? Wrong. Before you bulk up with fiberglass blankets, seal the leaks. Inexpensive foam strips and caulking can cut your heating and cooling bills by 5 to 30 percent.
  • Try do-it-yourself low-E windows. If your windows don’t have a low-E coating, consider applying a self-adhesive film on the glass. This treatment is a lot cheaper than replacing the units, and better-quality films are quite durable.
  • Use a programmable thermostat. Roughly half of the typical home’s energy bill goes for heating and cooling, according to the Department of Energy. The easiest way to save is to use programmable thermostats. They can pay for themselves in about a year.
  • Switch to those funny-looking fluorescents. You may not be familiar with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), but give them a try. A single bulb can save from $25 to $45 over its life. And it’s a long life: Manufacturers claim that CFLs last between 5 and 13 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs.
Source: Consumer Reports

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