Autumn may be the best time to consider ways to reduce your home’s energy costs. According to the city’s Green Houston initiative, a whopping 58 percent of Texans’ energy use, on average, comes from cooling and heating bills. Take advantage of the milder temperatures before winter to introduce a few simple changes that can help you moderate your home’s energy expense.
Decreasing your home’s energy costs should start with an understanding of where your home’s energy performance stands today. Green Houston offers a home energy self-audit checklist that can help you identify sources of problems – such as poor insulation, damaged door or window seals, or inefficient temperature controls. Once you’ve identified any weaknesses, check out this calculator designed by the US Department of Energy to help estimate how much you’ll save by undertaking these improvements.
Most homes’ energy bills can benefit from ensuring a few simple things are in order. The city’s energy conservation initiative, HoustonPowerToPeople.com, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest the following:
Use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of traditional bulbs. The EPA estimates that CFLs use 75 percent less energy and recommends them to reduce energy expenditures and costs. CFLs have evolved greatly in the past few years to include a variety of different shades and intensities, so if you haven’t considered them recently, they may be worth trying.
Manage your home’s temperature more effectively. Most of us know that keeping our thermostat at a higher temperature in the summer (or lower in the winter) while we’re out of the house can save money. But the EPA says other tricks, such as controlling only certain rooms’ (or floors’) temperatures by closing vents in unused areas, can also help. Infrequently used rooms, such as basements or spare bedrooms, don’t need as much heat or air conditioning, so try shutting those rooms’ vents in order to avoid wasting energy on them. Ditto for making more use of ceiling fans, window treatments, and awnings to help reduce A/C usage by providing shade. HoustonPowertoPeople.com especially recommends keeping curtains and window treatments open in the winter to enable the sun to heat your home.
Keep sealing and insulation in top shape. HoustonPowerToPeople.com says leaks in your doors or windows and poor insulation can all allow outside air in – making your cozy, temperature-regulated home less comfortable. Fortunately, these are usually do-it-yourself fixes. Guides such as the one found at Texasishot.org can help you manage them.
Maintain heat & A/C systems and change filters regularly. A broken A/C in our mid-August heat must rank near the top of most Houstonians’ nightmares. But a heater that is functioning sub-optimally in January can also be a nightmare for your wallet. Get your heating system inspected and tuned up every two years, and change air filters regularly to ensure your home’s temperature regulation systems are operating as cost-effectively as possible.
Keep an eye on water heaters. The Department of Energy says water heaters are the typical home’s second-largest energy cost. If it’s time (and in your budget) to purchase a new water heater, consider an energy-efficient or solar-powered heater, says the DOE. Otherwise, they recommend checking for leaks and using low-flow fixtures to reduce costs.
Houston’s Residential Energy Efficiency Program provides many of these essential home weatherization services to income-qualified Houstonians at no charge. For higher-earning residents, local energy companies as well as state and federal government agencies offer incentives and tax rebates to help with the cost of these efforts. Some, such as the Texas Trade Up Appliance Program and the federal Energy Star programs, offer rebates of up to 30 percent on energy-efficient appliances or systems, such as solar panels, new air conditioners or water heaters and insulation. For energy-conscious Houstonians, this sure makes good cents.