Last week I asked John Vialard of my local utility to do an energy audit of my house. It’s an inventory of a home’s energy output, followed by some energy-saving solutions—usually a free service to utility customers. I learned that while some energy innovations are great, simply cutting back makes the most sense—especially if we all do it.
Conserve. John Vialard pointed out that while it might seem smart to install a new wind turbine, reducing my current energy use is wiser. Turning off lights and gadgets, using less water, programming my thermostat, correctly maintaining appliances, air-drying my clothes, insulating my water heater—all add up to savings for little cost.
Seal the cracks. Air infiltration happens when outside air sneaks in uninvited through cracks or gaps. “Make sure your house is as energy-efficient as possible,” John advised me. “That will automatically reduce your carbon foot-print and your costs.”A “tight” house is an efficient one. Homes like mine that were built around 1980 and earlier are not as snug as more recent construction. John suggested taking advantage of a cold, windy day and feeling along windows, doors, walls, and visible ductwork with my hands. Holding a candle or a feather next to possible cracks can also indicate air movement. Cheap solutions such as applying caulk or adding insulation usually does the trick.
Buy efficient appliances. Tightening up the house saves energy; so does buying energy-saving appliances like the ones with an Energy Star label. According to John Vialard, appliances are the biggest contributors to energy use in a typical home.
However, don’t rush out to replace your current appliances with new ones. “Unless you know that refrigerator is really working hard,” said John, “it doesn’t make sense to get rid of it in favor of a newer, more efficient one. Someone else will end up using it anyway, which will still consume energy.”
Invest in an efficient HVAC system. When our aged air conditioner finally wears out, John suggested replacing it with a geothermal heat pump, a newer technology that offers radical energy and cost savings. Though installing a heat pump has a hefty price tag (as high as $10,000), if you can afford it, it is exponentially more efficient than a furnace and readily pays for itself in just a few years.
More than light bulbs. I think compact fluorescent light bulbs are the greatest thing since sliced (organic whole grain) bread. However, John told me that lighting is not a significant energy cost for most people. He pointed out that the energy-saving benefits of CFLs won’t be realized until most households are using them—it has to be a collective effort. That reminded me that saving energy should not be a pursuit for obsessed greenies; keeping energy costs low releases funds that can be used elsewhere.
What if our local schools had energy audits? How much money could we save just by taking steps to conserve energy, and how many dollars could be released for education? What about using energy audits to help cash-strapped libraries, non-profits or churches find ways to save energy?
Start in your own home, and let’s see where our collective energy savings takes us!
Copyright Marianne Peters 2009.