Have you felt helpless at the relentless cost escalation and increasing unreliability of your power availability of your utility? You’re not alone .. most consumers watch helplessly as external factors put them at the mercy of ever rising energy costs.
Nature, trade & supply conditions, wars – can all have an outsize influence on your utility outlay. It is difficult to predict, let alone budget for, what it might cost to heat and cool your home or business next year or .. heaven forbid .. 5 years from now.
What would you give to know fairly precisely, what to budget in future years? To know that rising utility rates don’t affect you; that you have some semblance of control on the cost of this vital aspect of our quality of life .. ?
Use the following tips when you are absolutely ready to take action on reducing your utility bill.
1. Manage your usage and the electric bill
One of the biggest and lowest cost steps you can take towards driving down your utility bills – is to really understand what it comprises. Air- conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, motors, computers, lights – they all cost something to operate.
The trick is to know what their individual contributions are towards your utility bill.
Unfortunately, your utility company doesn’t give you that information. Collecting that information falls on you as the consumer – and your motivation to lower your bills.
Of course you could always outsource that task ..
Delivery Charge – The charge for bringing generated electricity to a home or business. This includes the cost of implementing govt. mandates such as programs to reduce energy use or
Supply Charge – The charge for generating & transmitting electricity. This portion from the incumbent will usually stay even if you switch suppliers
Note – A commercial account can have several other charges that can amount to a significant dollar amount.
Most notably a Demand Charge is related to the highest usage in a 15-min interval. This insidious charge can stay on your bill for a year.
The basic billing unit for electricity is a kilowatt-hour (kwh). The charge for each kilowatt-hour is listed on the bill.
It is very important to assess what your bill looks like over the course of the year.If you put in just a little work to determine what you actually pay for electricity you will soon discover that the actual cost is much higher than the rate on the bill would suggest.
You will also discover the utilization rate for the various devices that consume electricity at your facility. The killawatt meter is very useful tool to measure usage.
Typical usage in a home are as follows :
Heating and Cooling (Air Conditioning ) : 33%
Water Heater : 12%
Kitchen and Home Appliances : 17 %
Lighting: 11 %
TV, Home Media, Game Box: 8%
Reducing Heating and Air Conditioning Costs
Use ceiling fans in summer and winter - you can keep the thermostat higher and lower
During summers keep the thermostat up at 75F drop it down to 65F in winter
Use curtains and vents during summer and let all the sun come in during winter
Replace air filters and do an annual tune up of both your air conditioner and furnace
Reduce Water Heating Costs
Always keep your water heater's temperature at 120F or lower
Buy an insulation jacket for your water heater, especially if it old.
Insulate the hot water pipes ( more on this later)
Reduce water temperature of your water heater when you vacation
Use the new water-conserving shower heads with faucet aerators
Reduce Appliances consumption
Store less items and reduce the load on your refrigerator
Keep the refrigerator at manufacturer recommended temperature and keep it clean an aerated
Consider replacing old models with modern, energy-efficient ones.
Wash full loads with cold water in your washing machine and dish washer
Avoid overloading and clear lint after every cycle Pre rinse dirty dishes so a second wash is not required
Invest in high efficiency and smaller toaster oven, microwave and slow cooker
Use during cooler hours and turn off burners or oven a few minutes before the dish is done
Reduce Lighting and Media costs
Use energy-efficient LED light bulbs
Use Solar holiday lights and put timers on electric lights so they don't stay on all night
Install motion detectors on outdoor lights
Deactivate standby mode and quick-start settings
Turn down screen brightness on televisions and monitors
2. Control your Building Envelope
One of the most cost effective measures towards reducing your site’s energy use involves reducing the uncontrolled flow of heating and cooling from the envelope or skin of the structure.
Knowing where to apply a $5 tube of caulk could have a huge impact. The application could save well over its cost on each utility bill.
The trick is to find out where the problem areas are. Usually if the area is unfinished or is accessible – the fix is inexpensive.
Role of Thermographic Imaging
A thermographic camera is a device that renders an image using infrared radiation versus a regular camera that operates on visible light. In layman’s terms this type of camera sees heat instead of regular light.
These cameras are expensive but it is possible to rent them or use inexpensive substitutes such as the device depicted below.Thermographic imaging can reveal places in the building envelope, that are missing sufficient insulation.
Usual culprits include:– Areas around windows & doors– Roof and soffits– Areas behind light switches and power outlets– Areas behind recessed lighting next to roofs or outside walls
How is Your Roof Contributing to Heat Loss?
It helps to look at a north-facing roof of your house – soon after a snow storm. The pattern of snow melt can tell you a lot about the state of your attic/roof insulation.
The quick disappearance of snow and the appearance of “attic-ribs” can signal significant heat loss through the roof. Patches of irregular melts can indicate holes in the insulation.
Un-Insulated Piping – An Easy Target!
An often overlooked but super-easy way to eliminate wasted energy is to insulated heated water pipes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this simple act can save 9%-16% of the cost of heating water for the year.
Simply put – insulating pipes is much cheaper than upgrading to a higher efficiency water heater.Its easy to find hot water pipes on a thermographic image and easier still to locate them in unfinished areas like basements.
Pipe insulation costs pennies per running foot and very little labor to install. Try to insulate all the gaps, corners, tees & fittings you find.
3. Change your Thermostat
A careful audit of a site’s utility bills, usually reveals that heating & cooling represents the lion’s share. It stands to reason that the way these systems are used can have great consequences on our energy cost.
One of the easiest ways to gain control over the heating & cooling bill is to adjust the thermostat. The trick is to do it in a way that does not compromise our comfort.
With a little work we can figure out where & when to direct our heating and cooling in order to maintain or improve our comfort while lowering its overall cost.
Even small sites can easily upgrade their thermostats to react to the occupant’s observed behavior. This can only happen if the thermostat knows when the house is occupied. Several brands now offer built in or add on occupancy sensor functionality.
It may be worthwhile to check what savings are actually possible by allowing a thermostat to drift during unoccupied periods. Energy consumption can be checked by deploying a logging monitor on your AC’s disconnect. Modern consumer tools can easily display electricity use over a period of time.
Different areas of a house have different occupancy purposes and differing solar exposure. They don’t usually need the same temperature but it is costly to zone a house after its already built. Consider the use of motorized dampers to add some degree of zoning to your house.
Wireless controls can help minimize the amount of wiring needed to complete this project. Thermostats placed on areas of high solar exposure can skew the operation of your heating unit.
The best area to install a thermostat is towards the interior of a house – away from an area where light from a skylight or window or door falls on it.
4. Install Solar and Geothermal
Installing a Home Solar System can reduce your home's electric costs by upto 70%. They are a long term investment and we have a full series of articles here to help you evaluate your solar options. For a no out of pocket option the solar lease might just be right for you.
The other significant investment would be in a Geothermal HVAC system. Geothermal heat pumps use the heat of the earth as a source of energy to heat and cool your home.
The earths heat warms your home during winter and in summer the heat from your home is dumped into the earth.
The installation involves laying down of loops of pipes underground usually filled with water that is cooled or heated by the earth. Temperature below around 20 feet under ground are usually between 50 and 60 F - which makes it very efficient source of heat or heat sink.
5. Install a Solar Heater and Desuperheater
One of the lowest cost renewable energy technologies to deploy is solar heating. The collectors are technically simple and have few moving parts. They typically last for decades and have low to no operating costs.
Adding even one collector can make a dramatic difference to the comfort felt in an otherwise cold room. Those that are handy can even make these collectors using discarded parts.
Commercially available collectors are typically finished better and made of more rugged materials. A professional installation can help address concerns such as leaks and diffusion.
An especially elegant strategy for reducing air conditioning costs is to desuperheat your HVAC unit. This technique takes the waste heat from your AC unit and redirects it to a dedicated water tank.
In this way the system makes free hot water while saving about 10% on AC running costs. The strategy is so effective that the typical home AC unit can make all the hot water needed by its residents in just a few hours of operation.
This feature is standard on geothermal air conditioners but has to be implemented as an add-on when using regular units. Because of the extreme effectiveness of the strategy it is even more useful repurpose the excess heat towards heating a swimming pool. Learn more about desuperheaters here.