Written by Malinda Just Tuesday, 27 November 2007 16:55
As winter settles in, energy usage turns into higher energy bills and, according to the Department of Energy, 2007 energy costs are increasing.
While there isn’t much you can do about the rising costs, there are several ways to save on your utility bills this winter—some that won’t even cost a dime.
“Some of these things are well-discussed in several different books that are out there right now,” said Karrie Rathbone, associate professor of biology at Tabor College, and professing “green” enthusiast.
One way to lower costs, she said, is to set your home’s thermostat on 68 or 69 degrees.
But, she added, some homes don’t have sufficient insulation or windows to keep the thermostat set that low.
“Some people’s houses aren’t insulted like they should be and they need to have the insulation checked, they need to have their windows checked,” Rathbone said.
“And those are important components. The type of windows you have can be really important for energy savings, and that’s where we lose a lot of heat from the home.”
Rathbone recognizes that not everyone can afford to replace insulation or buy new windows, and suggests that some people might find utility-bill relief by covering air-leaking windows with plastic.
“We should always think about when we’re building, how we’re building and are we building this to last and with energy savings in mind for everyone,” she said.
There are also additional, inexpensive ways to reduce winter utility bills, including: running your ceiling fan, making use of programmable thermostats, and unplugging unused appliances.
Flip the switch
A ceiling fan is naturally energy efficient—it circulates air while using very little electricity.
Most people don’t realize a ceiling fan can help warm you up in the winter as easily as it can cool you down in the summer, and less than 25 percent of people take advantage of the energy savings a ceiling fan affords.
“We try to keep our thermostat low and we have our ceiling fans set to do that and it does seem to make an impact, especially in the bedrooms,” Rathbone said. “That seems to be very helpful that way.
“You need to reverse the flow of the ceiling fan though—but that means people are going to have to dust off their ceiling fans,” she continued with a laugh.
The majority of ceiling fans have a switch to control the direction of the blades. During the summer, running the blades counter-clockwise provides the desired cooling effect, and in the winter, running the blades clockwise will circulate the warm air near the ceiling.
The circulating effect makes the room warmer, which will decrease demands on heating systems, allowing you to comfortably turn down your thermostat to save on energy costs.
Rathbone said running ceiling fans have a minimal cost in comparison to what increased thermostat temperatures would cost on utility bills. She doesn’t suggest, however, to continually run ceiling fans.
“I probably wouldn’t keep it going 24/7,” she said. “I’d probably turn it on in the evening and run it for 12 hours and then give it a reprieve, so to speak.”
Get with the program
According to Energy Star, while many homes today have a programmable thermostat, about 70 percent of consumers find it too difficult to operate, and, as a result, lose out on energy savings.
“I personally don’t have a newer house, but I’ve heard that (programmable thermostats) do impact the savings quite a bit because you can program it for night and day,” Rathbone said.
Programmable thermostats save energy by offering convenient, pre-programmed temperature settings that allow you to scale temperatures back as you leave and warm things up as you return.
When used properly, programmable thermostats can save as much as $150 annually in energy costs.
According to the Department of Energy, power continues to run through your home electronics even when they are turned off.
Up to 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while products are turned off.
“(Appliances) all use electricity,” Rathbone said. “When you’re not using something you should keep it unplugged, especially anything that has the little light, the preparedness light—your VCR, for example.”
Some of the most common household devices that consume electricity while not in operation include: computers, TVs, cable boxes, cell-phone chargers, other power adapters, and anything else with a microchip that requires some energy to keep its inner clock ticking.
And, using a power strip for groups of items makes unplugging unused items simple.
“All those things make an impact when you’re not actually using that—it doesn’t make any sense to keep it plugged in,” Rathbone said.
Do your own research
In addition to her cost-saving tips, Rathbone voiced the importance of doing your own research on energy usage.
“Everything we do, we should do our own research on,” she said. “Before I do something, I try to make sure I feel comfortable with the research I’ve looked at and not just go with what the experts say or what they tell me in the newspaper. You need to dig into it a little deeper, not just accept things at face value.”
She also said it is important to look at how the things we do are affecting others.
“Not all of us are being as energy efficient as we need to be in all things,” she said.
“But as long as we’re doing what we can when we can, I think that’s where conscience will guide us.
“We shouldn’t be judging others in what they’re doing. We should do what’s best for us with the understanding that we’re trying to do what’s best for everyone at the same time. We all have to share the same planet,” she said.
More energy and money savers
Karrie Rathbone, associate professor of biology at Tabor College, and professed green enthusiast, said there are several things people can do to be green during the holidays:
Use LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights.
Reuse old newspapers instead of using traditional glossy paper.
If you use glossy wrapping paper, gather it together and take it to your local recycling center.