Saving money on energy costs
By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Oct. 3, 2012
Can a homeowner really save money on energy costs? The easy answer is, "Sure." But getting there - and actually knowing how much your refitted household really saves - may not have an easy answer.
The quickest and easiest way to save on energy costs is choosing an alternative power generation company other than the one that delivers that power to your home. The persistent barrage of advertising tells us to "switch now." Many people I know have made that change, but the impact on the checking account isn't too startling. The feeling of satisfaction fades quickly. Although I never heard anyone admit this, I think part of the motivation to make such a change is that it is the only way the otherwise powerless consumer can fight back. "Take that, you big monolithic power company!"
Even if that is your undeclared motivation, you should probably go ahead with the change as a first step to saving at least a little bit. Then move on to deeper analysis, and find other ways you can cut your energy costs even more.
The first step here should be to get out your electric and gas/oil bills, and understand what they reveal. Electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) used, natural gas is measured in cubic feet, and oil by the gallons delivered. Everyone uses electricity, so we will focus on that. The same principles apply to your analysis of the energy sources.
Measuring electric usage in your home is fairly easy. A few years ago it seemed everyone was checking their numbers. Stores sold devices like the Kill-A-Watt™, and libraries across the country began to acquire them and lend them out just like books. The device plugs into a 110-volt outlet; the appliance to be measured plugs into the Kill-A-Watt. Depending on the model you use, you may be able to get a cost calculation after the meter has been in operation awhile. Simple arithmetic is all that's needed to apply your rate to your appliance's usage. Anything that plugs into a wall socket (110-volt) can be measured. The obvious candidates are refrigerator, freezer, TV, computer and window air conditioner. But you might want to look at some others that you use frequently, though not on a daily basis - such as a dehumidifier.
Once you have quantified the power consumption of the “always on” appliances, you can shop for current technology replacements, and compare their projected consumption figures against your actual figures.
Saving some dollars (or maybe only cents) each month by purchasing a new refrigerator is still probably not going to make you feel really satisfied. Although you might need to replace the appliance, buying a more efficient one does not offer a really enticing return on your investment. What might help sweeten the deal is finding an energy-efficient appliance that qualifies for a substantial rebate. You can find ENERGY STAR products that offer such rebates, which enhance the ROI calculation somewhat, and may increase its sale value.
Websites such as www.energystar.gov and www.ctenergyinfo.gov can raise your awareness of available rebates. Rebates on furnaces and boilers ($200 - $500) are only available through the end of 2012, while other rebate programs have no end date. You may be surprised to see how many upgrades qualify for rebates.
You may not be surprised to learn that many of the programs designed to encourage homeowners and businesses to become more energy-efficient are funded by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund. Its funding comes, in part, from the Combined Public Benefit Charge on your electric ($0.0056 per kWh of electricity) and gas bills.
One way to jump into the energy-efficiency stream is to arrange for a whole-house energy audit. The fee of about $70 is also subsidized by the Connecticut Energy Efficient Fund. An authorized contractor conducts the audit, which evaluates several energy-consumption features of your home. This includes caulking and sealing of air leaks and replacement of incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient (though expensive) Compact Florescent Lighting (CFL) bulbs. It also offers rebates on energy-saving appliances.
Once you have implemented changes, begin tracking the units of measurement consumed using utility bills from this year and last, and chart the results. It's unlikely you will hear yourself saying, "Wow! Look how much we saved just by installing all those really expensive, ugly looking light bulbs." But you should be able to identify noticeable reduction in your energy costs.
The whole energy-efficiency and cost-savings quest can be a good family exercise. Involve school-age children from the beginning, and exercise their math and computer skills on some practical applications.