Add Up Your Household Energy Savings

We’re deep into the hot summer months.  Air conditioners across the country are doing overtime keeping our homes and businesses cool and comfortable and keeping the heat outside.  Unfortunately, it won’t be that much longer before we’re turning on the heat and repelling the cold of winter.  All of that comfortable air, hot or cold, comes with a cost.  Sometimes you’ve got to do what you can to find whatever energy savings you can.

Here in the northlands of North Dakota, we’ve got plenty of options for powering our air conditioners and furnaces.  Predominately, we use natural gas for heat and electricity for the air conditioning, but also have options for dual gas/electricity appliances.  Our house uses electricity for AC and gas for the furnace.  (If you’re trying to compare services, using something like this energy conversion calculator can help figure out which service is really the better deal)

Add up Energy SavingsIf you’re looking for energy savings, comparing services is a great place to start, but there are some other ways that you can help cut the cost of your energy and make it’s impact on your wallet a little lighter.

Adjust the temperature

Adjusting the temperature on the thermostat a few degrees can reduce the amount of time that the air conditioner runs in the summer or the furnace runs in the winter.  Turn the thermostat up a few degrees in the summer and use some small fans to help move the air around to adjust the comfort level.  Do the opposite in the winter.  Turn the thermostat down a few degrees and use blankets and heavier clothing to help adjust your comfort level.

Invest in thermal shades

Even if you have a really efficient home, you’ll still lose thermal mass.  And the biggest culprit for that is your windows.  Investing in thermal shades and blinds can help keep the heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter.  They’re more expensive, but unless you’re redecorating your house every year, they’ll last years and make up for the added cost in energy savings.

Program your energy savings

Does it matter to you if your house stays nice and cool during the summer while your at work?  Or nice and warm in the winter?  If we’re honest, we really only want our house warm or cold when we’re there.  If the house is empty for 8 hours or more a day, there’s really no reason to waste all that energy while we’re gone.  Buying and installing a programmable thermostat is the best way to be able to adjust the temperature while your away and still assure that your house is comfortable when you return for the day.  Set a schedule to adjust the temperature up or down by 5-10 degrees while your out of the house (or sleeping) and to return to your “comfortable” temperature just before you return home.

Spread the cost out

Once you’ve maximized the full energy savings potential, you still won’t be left without any energy costs.  There’s still going to be a bill showing up each month that will need paying.  If you’ve got one energy supply feeding your air conditioner in the summer and another feeding your furnace in the winter, like I do, chances are your bills will spike during the hottest and coldest months of the year.  Most utilities will have some sort of payment system that will allow for you to pay an even amount each month.  We’ve got both our electricity and gas accounts on such a program.  We pay a relatively flat rate each month to each utility, and avoid paying large bills during the extremes of the seasons.

What other ways do you employ to create energy savings for your household or business?

How to Keep Warm without Heating Up Your Bill

Bundle up, America: it’s going to be a cold winter.

The Energy Department expects the price of natural gas to increase a whopping 13 percent over last year’s rates, to the tune of about $679. Homeowners using electricity to warm their abodes can expect a 2 percent increase in heating costs.

If this news isn’t enough to make you shiver, experts predict this winter will be colder than it has been over the last two years. In addition to stockpiling blankets and tea bags, consider these tips to stay warm this winter without overheating your energy bill.

1. Look for Leaks
No matter how high you crank up that thermostat, your house will never be warm enough if your doors and windows aren’t properly sealed. Take the time to test air loss throughout your home and properly seal the areas prone to leakage, including baseboards, attic hatches and electrical outlets. The Department of Energy’s article on detecting air leaks can help you cover all your bases.

2. Ask for a Free Audit
Most energy companies offer free home audits that offer expert-level understanding of where your home is losing heat. If you’re lucky, a few strips of duct tape may be all you need to repair leaky ductwork. It’s probably a good idea to schedule an audit after you make the effort to patch air leaks to determine if you missed anything.

3. Start with the Attic
A well-insulated attic to save you up to 50 percent on your heating bill, so evaluate the insulation levels in your attic and replenish accordingly. Additionally, check the air seal around attic access points as these are often overlooked and can result in significant heat loss. For more information on how to properly insulate your attic, read these tips from the experts at This Old House.

4. Get on a Schedule
If you haven’t purchased a programmable thermostat, this year is definitely the time to invest. You can save up to 10 percent on these devices by purchasing discount gift cards through GiftCardGranny.com to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Once you find a device you like, create a schedule you can stick to and remember to adjust it when you leave for extended periods of time.

5. Condense Your Space
By closing windows and doors to unused rooms, it will take less time and ultimately less energy to heat the areas you use most. You can go so far as to place a towel at the base of closed doors to better lock in the heat. Make sure ceiling fans in heated rooms are reversed and on low to better circulate warm air. Don’t forget to open your shades during the day–the sun’s rays will naturally warm up your home.

6. Consider a Space Heater
Space heaters offer supplemental heat without increasing your heating bill. According to Consumer Reports, you can buy top-rated heaters for as little as $40 while keeping your thermostat set to as low as 60 degrees. Safety is paramount, so read up on user and expert reviews before purchasing a unit and place it on ceramic tile instead of carpet or table tops.

7. Bundle Up
Nothing says cozy like a good down comforter, heavy blanket and flannel sheets. When in doubt, keep the thermostat low and stock up on warm bedding and toasty attire. Flannel sheets will do the trick too and you can usually find fun prints that your kiddos will love to sleep with. I personally enjoy a cooler night’s rest bundled under covers. I recommend searching for quality bedding at discount retailers like Homegoods and TJMax. Otherwise, wait until Veteran’s Day for deals at department stores like Macy’s.

DIY Projects that Sound Scary, But Aren’t

In the world of frugality, there are few things that will save you more money than learning a few DIY skills.  From simple things like replacing the light switch cover, to more difficult things like wiring electrical, the savings of doing it yourself over hiring a professional to do it can mean hundreds and even thousands that remains in your pocket.  It also seems like the more money a DIY project can save you, the more likely you are to find people who think the prospect of attempting it to be scary.

While I can’t advocate trying something that you’re completely uncomfortable doing, and uneducated about, I think both situations are completely solvable.  Learning what you can about a task can make it something that you’re far more comfortable doing.  We live in the information age, with access to so much more information than any other time in the history of our species.  We have the ability to learn things by watching videos on YouTube.  We can access websites that will have all the detailed instructions for a repair project, or new project.  Many of those have step-by-step instructions.  In short, there’s just no excuse for at least attempting to learn how to do the project and then deciding whether it’s something you want to tackle or not.  Sometimes, you decide it’s not something you want to tackle.  And that’s O.K. too.

So, what are some DIY projects that sound scary, but really aren’t all that bad?

  • DIY Projects that sound scaryPlumbing – Ok, I have to admit this is one of my least favorite project types to take on.  I do take them on, but it seems like every time I do, it takes me a few times to get it right.  And a few extra trips to the hardware store.  At it’s core, plumbing isn’t all that complicated.  The water starts in one place, and you place some pipes to move it from the starting place to the ending place.  For me anyways, it’s all the different fittings and fixtures that seem to always give me trouble.  My kitchen sink was a notorious problem project for me.  I redid that mess three times before calling in the big guns (my dad) when we remodeled the whole kitchen.  I was slightly reassured when even he made a few extra trips to the hardware store.
  • Electrical – If plumbing is the project type I dislike but do, electrical is the project type that I dislike and usually don’t do.  For some reason, I just have a really hard time getting my head around the way it works.  Outlets are easy, I suppose, but then you start getting into switches, circuits, and crazy electrical diagrams.  One day, I’ll take the time to do the right research and learning and actually feel confident enough to take a few of these project on.  I know they aren’t all that scary, I just don’t understand them.
  • Appliance repair – With some of the newer appliances, all the gadgetry can be a daunting adversary.  Fortunately, in most cases, the real machinery of the appliance hasn’t changed much over the years.  There’s just new, smarter, brains driving the machine.  Which means, if the issue isn’t with the brains of the appliance, you can easily find and fix the problem.  In the last year, I’ve repaired our fridge, coffee machine, and dryer.  And a little maintenance to your appliances goes a long way.  Sure, the coffee maker could have easily been replaced, but I was able to fix it and we still use it today.  A few spare parts and some time saved us the expense of a repair technician coming and fixing the fridge and dryer and there are plenty of guides to be found online that give instructions on some simple appliance fixes.
  • Tiling – When we remodeled our bathroom, we decided that we wanted to tile the floor and shower splash.  I’d never tiled before, so it was a somewhat daunting task.  I spent a little time going over instructions and videos on DIY Network’s site to get a general handle on it, then went and bought the supplies and did it.  Like many things I do for the first time, there are plenty of things that I would do differently, but the end result was that the floor and splash got tiled, and several years later, it still looks great.

I suppose the point isn’t really to list out all the projects that might sound scary to a DIY homeowner.  It’s really to point out that a lot of the projects that you and I might think are scary to take on really probably aren’t that hard.  A little time spend learning the techniques and basic principles of the project will likely lead us to being able to learn the skills needed to complete the task.  Even if it takes a couple extra trips to the hardware store.