If you haven’t looked at your monthly utility bill lately, prepare for a shock when the cost of air conditioning comes due in the coming weeks. If the AC bill doesn’t raise your pulse, your heating bill next January might, assuming global energy markets remain unstable.
According to the most recent Consumer Price Index data, energy prices have risen 41.6% over the past year, the largest 12-month increase since April 1980. Energy led all other categories: the price of heating oil increased by 70%; piped gas is up 38%; and electricity is up 14%.
What can the average consumer do to control costs?
You can raise the thermostat in the summer (or lower it in the winter). Draw the shades on hot days. Buy a box fan to keep the air moving. Put on a sweater in winter. Convert to low power LED lighting.
The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides a step-by-step guide, including many suggested behavior changes that don’t require a financial commitment.
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Or you can take serious steps to improve your home’s energy efficiency. The cost of upgrades could pay dividends faster now that energy prices are higher.
Don’t wait for the weather to change
Energy experts say consumers were just beginning to get the idea of upgrading their homes when big heating bills started rolling in last winter.
“But then the weather turns nice and we forget about energy efficiency until later,” said George Mullikin, program manager of CleaResult, which performs energy audits for Peco Energy customers. “So there’s definitely a seasonal aspect that drives him.”
Brett Baird, the office manager of Green Home Solutions, which does weatherization work in Pennsylvania and New Jersey under agreements with local utilities, said consumers are just beginning to educate themselves. “Generally, people tend to be a bit more worried as winter approaches, because that’s where the lion’s share of their costs are.”
Before starting an energy efficiency project, get a professional energy evaluation of your home. Most utilities will offer discounted evaluations from a certified auditor.
A comprehensive energy assessment will establish a plan of attack: it will recommend areas that need insulation, such as in the attic or crawl space, weather stripping and sealing possibilities, as well as lighting, appliances or the heating and ventilation systems that require it. repair or replacement.
Seal this thermal envelope
Experts who do weatherization work on behalf of utilities and state-funded programs, who must justify the work as cost-effective, say the best way to reduce energy costs is to reduce air leakage of a home’s interior by adding insulation and filling cracks – otherwise known as sealing a home’s thermal envelope.
“Air sealing is by far the most cost effective thing you can do in virtually any home, even more important than insulation,” said Steve Luxton, executive director of the Energy Coordinating Agency. (ECA), Philadelphia’s weatherproof nonprofit. residences for low-income clients in the region.
Insulation and weather stripping are super annoying stuff that doesn’t give you much bragging rights in the neighborhood like a new electric vehicle might. But there’s a quiet satisfaction in knowing that your crawl space is airtight with new foam insulation.
Buy high efficiency systems
If your current air conditioning or heating system is old and inefficient, it may also be worth replacing the system with newer, high-efficiency models.
“If you have a furnace that was built in the 70s or 80s, the efficiency will be in the 60% range,” Baird said. “We’re going to install a new one that’s about 96% to 98% efficient. So there are massive savings just on that.
Most utilities offer rebates to cover the cost of new energy-efficient appliances or heating systems. The money is often paid for by taxpayers, as part of government energy conservation mandates. Peco says its customers can get up to $435 in rebates for homes with central air conditioning and non-electric heating if they work through a participating contractor.
According to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey Utilities offers 0% financing and incentives of up to $4,000 for whole-home energy upgrades performed by certified contractors. “New Jersey’s incentives are definitely more attractive,” said Baird, whose company works on both sides of the Delaware River. “They have a really phenomenal financing option.”
Low-income customers have an additional menu of options available through organizations such as the Energy Coordinating Agency. The US Department of Energy’s bloat assistance program, which targets low-income families, saves average households $372 a year in energy costs.
Pennsylvania this month authorized a one-time allocation of $125 million of unspent coronavirus money from the U.S. bailout for a new program called Whole-Home Repair, which provides grants of up to $50,000 to owners for projects such as weatherization and energy efficiency. The funding allows homeowners to repair leaky roofs, which must be repaired before contractors add new insulation to an attic. The main sponsor of the legislation was State Sen. Nikil Saval (D., Philadelphia).
ECA also recently received a one-time $150,000 grant for emergency replacement of water heaters, which are not usually covered by low-income programs. ECA administers the program through its helpline: 215-568-7190. The grant came from the Pennsylvania Department of Social Services at the request of State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia).
The US Department of Energy also recently announced more than $40 million in federal funding to help provide home energy retrofits to low-income and underserved households.
Often the first thing consumers ask for is a window replacement. Everyone has heard the ads on the radio, promising big energy savings with new windows.
“If I ever have a boring day and want to fight back, all I have to say is this: Windows are the least cost-effective thing you can put in a house,” Luxton said. “And it’s guaranteed to get someone in the window industry up.”
Windows are an energy sieve, Luxton said. “The glass hasn’t changed, it might have a coating that slows the transmission of energy ever so slightly, but the energy is still moving through it,” he said. “So putting a new window really does nothing at all, or very little, anyway, compared to things that do a lot.”
Most energy efficiency programs funded by utilities or with public funds will not pay for window replacement, Mullikin said.
“If your windows are working well, not leaking too much, or can be sealed with inexpensive materials to make them less drafty, then that’s probably good enough. Replacing these windows can be very expensive and there is not much return on investment.
“There are all kinds of reasons to replace windows, but energy efficiency is probably not a good reason.
The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provides a step-by-step guide to energy programs.
A good place to start is to contact your energy supplier, who will provide you with a range of free or discounted products and services. Most of these will help organize an energy assessment or audit, which will give the homeowner a cost-effective roadmap to reducing energy consumption.
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