Q: I know our really cold weather is ahead of us so what can I do to help salvage energy bills? — Fred Freezing
A: Dear Mr. Freezing: I'm with you. In fact, EPB completed an energy audit if my house a couple of months ago, followed by insulation suggestions.
Even better, our electric bill showed a vast decline in usage and not just because the months are cooler, either. I strongly urge consumers to contact their local power company regarding an energy audit to save you some bucks as I have done.
Other suggestions include:
Turning down the thermostat at night by 8 degrees or before you leave an empty home in the mornings can save you up to $180 yearly, according to SmartMoney magazine. Experts urge us to purchase a programmable thermostat, as well, to salvage money; they start at about $35 and can be installed by the homeowner.
And for winter or summer savings, trees can be great tools. Don't underestimate the wind/sun-blocking power of trees and shrubs, either. One of the most popular and dense evergreens, Arborvite, is a great protector against strong wind gusts, and cost only about $20 online for a two-footer. (It's often a bit more expensive at a local nursery.) Larger trees mean both warmth and shade, depending upon the seasons and helps to keep our pocketbooks sufficiently full.
Let the sunshine in. Open drapes and let the sun heat your home for free (get them closed again at sundown so they help insulate against colder air).
Rearrange your rooms. Move your furniture around so you are sitting near interior walls — exterior walls and older windows are likely to be drafty. Don't sit in the draft.
As I advised last winter, it's sometimes best not to use traditional fireplaces (even though they're my personal favorite) because they pull heated air out of the house and up the chimney. When not in use, make sure the damper is closed; before closing the damper, make sure you don't have any smoldering embers.
If you decide not to use a fireplace at all — traditional or otherwise — then block off the chimney with a piece of rigid insulation from the hardware store that fits snugly into the space.
Eliminate wasted energy by performing simple acts. Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Unplug that spare refrigerator in the garage if you don't truly need it — this seemingly convenient way to keep extra drinks cold adds 10 percent to 25 percent to your electric bill. Turn off kitchen and bath-ventilating fans after they've done their job. They can blow out a house-full of heated air if inadvertently left on.
Shorten showers. Simply reducing that lingering time by a few minutes can save hundreds of gallons of hot water per month for a family of four. Showers account for two-thirds of your water-heating costs. Cutting your showers in half will reduce your water heating costs by 33 percent.
Along this same line, wash only full loads when using your dishwasher and clothes washer. Use the cold water setting on your clothes washer when you can to reduce the washer's energy use by 75 percent. Be sure to clean your clothes dryer's lint trap after each use. Use the moisture-sensing automatic drying setting on your dryer if you have one.
Lastly, put your computer and monitor to sleep at night. In fact, turn them all the way off to conserve any last tad of energy leakage.
And have a Happy New Year, filled with successful endeavors.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org