September 18, 2010

Ways to Save Electricity and Gas, Part 1

As the fall season nears, with it comes the promise of cooler weather.  Just this week our local area reported an across the board increase in utility prices for customers, and I just yesterday two people asked me what to do if they can’t pay for their electricity bills.  Because of these questions, I decided to make the second in my “Ways to Save” series focus on saving money on utilities.  Last week, we looked at how to save water, and this week, we’ll address electricity and gas. 

This post took me a while to create.  Because it is so long, I’ve divided it into 3 parts.  Today, we’ll look at some general ways to save electricity in your home.  Tomorrow, we’ll focus on ways to save in the kitchen.  The last post will give some tips for saving electricity and gas in other rooms of your home.

A Few Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do call your local utility company and ask about a home inspection.  You can pay a utility worker to come into your home and review all areas of energy efficiency.  The price for this service is anywhere from $50-$100.  Among other things the worker will look for cracks around windows that need sealing, inspect your insulation, and make recommendations about your home appliances.  If you don’t want to pay someone to come out, ask your utility board for a do-it-yourself checklist so that you can perform your own inspection.
  • Do check on your neighbors.  When the weather is very hot or very cold, make a point to check on your neighbors, in particular the elderly.  If you have a power outage with a snow, for instance, they may not be able to haul firewood in and keep the house warmed.  Of course, the complete opposite might also be true.  When we first moved into our home, we had one of the sweetest men living next to us.  When we had one of our first snowstorms, my husband was away, and I took it upon myself to go around to the neighbors’ homes and check on them.  When I stopped by Mr. George’s house, the oldest and frailest of the neighbors at the time, he not only was doing fine, he insisted that I come in and have homemade Swedish pancakes!
  • Do ask for help if needed.  Some utility boards offer temporary assistance.  In the summer months, fire and police stations collect donated fans and distribute them.  Churches and synagogues will sometimes give temporary assistance to those in need of help keeping their electricity bill paid.
  • Don’t take dangerous measures to keep your house warmed.  I’ve worked with many people in apartment complexes who will leave the oven on and open to heat their homes.  While cracking an oven after you bake something can warm the room, make sure it is off and that absolutely no children are around.  Leaving it open can be not only a fall hazard but I shutter to think about what would happen if a family pet or child were to try and climb on top.
  • Don’t leave electric heaters on when unattended.  I can’t tell you how many fires I’ve heard about being started because of electric heaters!
  • Do use ceiling fans.  In the summer they help to stir the air so that you feel cooler.  In the winter, they pull the heat that has risen in the room down to where you can enjoy it best.
  • Do install energy efficient windows if it is doable.  This is an expensive choice, but it is one that will save you a lot of money in the long haul.  Use cross breezes to cool your home when it is nice outside.
  • Do switch to a programmable thermostat.  Why run the AC or heat when you are going to be away all day or over the weekend?
  • Do caulk around doors and windows as needed. 
  • Do check your home insulation to make sure it is thick enough.  If you have any home improvements planned where you will be pulling down drywall, consider adding insulation to the walls.  You can also check with a contractor about adding insulation through small holes that they drill in your walls every few feet.  This is expensive, but if your home is older and poorly insulated, it might be worth it.
  • Do dress for the weather.  Wear sweaters and socks in the winter and shorts and tees in the summer.
  • Do change to CFL bulbs or LED lights as your budget allows.
  • Do use drapes and blinds to help reduce the warmth that comes in during the summer and prevent the escape of the heat in the winter. 
  • Do use draft dodgers under the doors of cooler parts of the house.  We close off some rooms that are not as often used to reduce heat and air expenses.
  • Do consider renewable sources of energy.  Solar panels or a wind turbine would be great, but those options are still very expensive for most homeowner.  However, if your utility board allows you to buy renewable energy blocks and it is in your budget, do so.  Choose solar or crank powered appliances when possible.  When choosing tools, go for the good old-fashioned varieties that don’t have a plug or a battery.

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