Energy Savings Q&A

Q:  What are the most important ways to reduce energy costs?

A:  There are a few key principles to keep in mind when looking for ways to cut your energy costs:

  • Pay most attention to the biggest energy users:  heating and cooling represent 60% or more of your utility bill.
  • Keeping cold (or hot) air out of the house is critical so your heated or cooled air will stay inside your home.
  • It all adds up.  Don't leave lights & appliances on when not in use.
  • Get an energy audit.  In the Louisville area, contact LG&E at 589-1444 or see Home Energy Analysis.  In other communities, contact your utility company.

Q:  How can we get substantial savings on the heating part of our energy bill?

A:  There are several measures you can take that will make a real impact on your energy dollar:

  • ENERGY STAR logoWhen buying appliances, insulation, weatherization & building materials look for products that have the ENERGY STAR label to help you find the most energy efficient products.
  • If you are considering adding extra attic insulation, storm windows, or an efficient ENERGY STAR furnace, this is a good time to make the investment.  Not only will you save on your utility bill, but you may also be eligible for a tax credit if you install energy-efficiency measures.
  • Remember that for every degree you turn your thermostat up or down, you impact the heating/cooling portion of your bill 3% to 5%.  For instance, if the heating portion of your bill is $100, you can save $6-$10 a month just by turning down your thermostat 2 degrees and dressing warmer.
  • Use a programmable thermostat if you heat with gas, and lower your thermostat, or “set back”, as much as 10 degrees when you're away or asleep. 

Q:  Can we turn the thermostat down if we have an electric heat pump?

A:  The U.S. Department of Energy website states:

Programmable thermostats are generally not recommended for heat pumps.  In its cooling mode, a heat pump operates like an air conditioner, so turning up the thermostat (either manually or with a programmable thermostat) will save energy and money.  But when a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back its thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby canceling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting.  Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost-effective practice.  Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed programmable thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat cost effective.  These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems.

Q:  What else can save money on utility bills?

A:  Here are some quick tips that can really add up:

HEATING:

  • Even with a damper, many fireplaces still pull air out of the house constantly.  An easy way to check and see if your fireplace damper is working well is to place your hand in the fireplace when no fire is being burned.  If you can feel air moving, fill a large plastic garbage bag with crumpled newspapers and stuff it up the chimney to stop the continuous air leak.  Be sure you put a note on the end of a string attached to the bag so that it is visible in the fireplace to remind you to remove the bag before starting a fire.
  • Clean or replace furnace filters monthly, or as needed.
  • It may be advantageous to close off seldom-used rooms during very cold times.  Close the heat and air ducts and the doors to these rooms.
  • If the heating ducts in your home are not insulated, heated air may be leaking into unheated spaces.  Insulate ducts properly.

HOT WATER:

  • Hot water is a big energy user, so set your water heater to 120 degrees, use a low-flow showerhead and take shorter showers-even use an on-off switch when you don't need full power.
  • If your water heater feels warm to the touch, install a water heater jacket (according to directions).  Be sure to leave the controls and the flue opening on a gas water heater unblocked.

CLOTHES WASHERS & DRYERS, & DISHWASHERS:

  • Wash clothes in cold water instead of hot.  Newer detergents do a good job cleaning clothes using cold water.
  • Line-dry at least the heavy items you wash:  blue jeans, jackets, rugs, blankets, bedspreads, etc.  (In the Louisville area, this saves about 25 to 30 cents for each 30 minutes of running a dryer.)
  • A clothes dryer with a moisture sensor will save on drying clothes, since it will not over-dry them.
  • Wash and dry like items in each load:  heavy clothes in one load; light weight articles in a separate load.
  • Clean the lint filters after each use for better circulation.
  • Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked.  This will save energy and perhaps prevent a fire.
  • Dishwashers with a water heating booster save money by keeping the water temperature hot only when the dishwasher is running.
  • To save money, open the door during the dishwasher dry cycle and allow the dishes to air dry.

REFRIGERATORS & DEHUMIDIFIERS:

  • Check the inside of your refrigerator for the on-off moisture control switch.  In winter, the switch should be in the off position, as the heated house air is dry.
  • Clean your refrigerator coils at least yearly so it runs more efficiently.
  • If the rubber seals of your refrigerator or freezer doors are not tight, they should be cleaned or replaced.  (To test, place a dollar bill in the door, and if it can be easily pulled out, the seals are not tight enough.)
  • If you have an old refrigerator in the basement or garage, consider unplugging it.  Old refrigerators can cost $7 to $10 to operate, and it may not be a good energy expenditure.
  • Note that a dehumidifier is a cooling appliance that should usually be in operation only in a damp area; not year-round.

LIGHTING:

  • Switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent bulbs.  Switching just 5 of your highest use bulbs to compact fluorescent will save you about $50 a year on your utility bill.

WINDOWS & DOORS:

  • Make sure windows and doors are well sealed and/or weather-stripped.
  • Exterior or interior storm windows can reduce your heat loss through the windows by 25% to 50%.  Storm windows should have weather-stripping at all moveable joints.  Low-e storm windows save even more money.
  • At night, close shades and draperies to keep in heat and keep cold out.  Open during the daytime to let the sun warm up your rooms.
  • Keep windows on the south side of your house clean to maximize the heat from the sun.
  • When deciding whether to replace existing windows, keep in mind the R-value of the new windows compared with the R-value of existing window + storm window.  It is often more cost-effective to rehab existing windows instead of replace with new windows.