Winter utility bills are notoriously high because not only do you need to heat your home, but you and your family are more likely to spend more time indoors using power sources and heating water for a soothing bath.
You can take control of your utility bills by doing a do-it-yourself energy check-up and taking steps to use less electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 5% to 30% on your energy bill by making some changes after an energy audit.
DIY Energy Audit
There are several steps to take for your personal energy audit.
1. Check for air leaks. Hold a feather in front of windows, doors, electrical outlets and holes around faucets and pipes. If the feather moves, you have air flow there. Seal these spaces with caulk and weather stripping.
2. Check your insulation. Newer homes typically have a higher level of insulation compared to older homes, but any home should be checked for adequate insulation. The most important place to look first is the attic. Make sure openings for pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed and see if you need extra insulation along the walls. If you have a basement, check that your basement walls are insulated. Your hot water pipes, furnace ducts and water heater should also be insulated.
3. Inspect your heating and cooling system. One of the best ways to save money on your utility bills is to have your heating system and your air conditioning inspected annually or twice per year by a professional. You should change the filters in your system every month or two. If your system is more than 15 years old, you may want to budget for a replacement system which will have better energy efficiency.
4. Lighting. While it may not seem as if your light bulbs could use up that much energy, about 10 percent of your electric bill is generated by your lights. You can reduce the usage by choosing bulbs with a lower wattage, buying energy-saving incandescent light bulbs, CFLs or LEDs.
5. Appliances and electronics. Newer appliances are more energy efficient, but not everyone can afford to buy a new refrigerator, washing machine or oven. Try changing the settings or using them less often. You can wash only full loads of dishes or clothes, air dry your dishes and use energy-saving settings. Turn off your electronics and unplug them to avoid “phantom” energy use.
Professional Energy Audit
After you do your own personal energy efficiency check, you may want to request a professional energy audit.
SMECO (Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative) will do a free one-hour Quick Home Energy Check-Up upon request by calling 877/818-4094. In addition to making recommendations and assessing air tightness, your heating and cooling systems, windows and doors, lighting and appliances, the auditor will install at least three of the following energy-saving items for free:
• Six CFLs
• Two faucet aerators
• Efficient flow showerhead
• Pipe insulation
• Electric water heater tank wrap
• Smart strips, which are power strips that automatically power down electronics when they are not in use
Energy Saving Tips for Winter
In addition to making some of the changes suggested after an energy audit, you can reduce your use of energy in cold weather with these tips:
• Turn down your thermostat. While the EPA recommends setting your temperature at 70 when you are home and at 62 when you are away or sleeping, many people find that a little too cold. However, a recent study by EnergyHub found that consumers could save as much as 5% on their utility bill for every degree they turned down their thermostat.
• If you have a heat pump, it’s best to change the thermostat by only two degrees at a time. If you raise it more than two degrees at once in the winter, the auxiliary heat system is likely to kick in.
• Don’t set your heat pump to run on emergency or auxiliary mode even in frigid weather because this will cause your energy bill to spike.
• Keep your blinds and window treatments open in the daylight on sunny days to warm your home and close them at night to keep cold air out.
• Use small space heaters sparingly. If you leave one on continuously it can cost as much as $100 per month on your electric bill.
A little bit of vigilance on your energy use can save you a bundle on your utility bills, maybe even enough to buy a few extra sweaters to keep your family warm.