Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Home Energy Usage

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 24, 2008

On a frugal blog, I found a link to a government website where you could do a do-it-yourself energy audit on your house, to see what you can do to lower your usage of electricity, gas, etc. Sounds great, so I did it. I answered every question to the best of my ability, which took quite some time–asked probably 100 questions total, including square footage, type of energy used in your water heater, cooling, and heating, how many refrigerators, computers, light fixtures, etc., you have. I chose the “payback time” to be 10 years, which was a nice round number, and I figured if it was any less, there wouldn’t be much change. Well, after all of that, they said their recommendations would save me $360 per year. Sounds great. What are the recommendations?

  • Use CFLs–which we already do. If I had taken the time, I could have put in the number of light bulbs, the wattage of them, and the average time we use them, and it would have been more accurate. I didn’t want to even think about how many light bulbs we have, much less check the wattage, since I knew we were already energy-efficient on this point. (Estimated savings–$60/year; Actual savings–$0, because we’ve already done it.)
  • Use an energy efficient washing machine–which we already do, but that wasn’t an option to tell them that–it’s a Whirlpool Duet, which is a front-loader. Estimated savings–$27/year; Actual savings–$0, because we’ve already done it.)
  • Switch to a gas dryer. We have an electric dryer–a Whirlpool Duet that matches our washer, one year old, energy efficient (and I only use the dryer for diapers and the rare occasions when I must do laundry and it’s raining outside). It costs about $1000. There are cheaper models to choose from, but they might not be as efficient. Here’s the major problem–which is repeated in many of the other recommendations–they list an “upgrade cost” which is the price difference between two new models of the same product. So, the difference in price between a gas and an electric dryer is only about $50, which would be worth it if we needed a new dryer, but we’re not going to be replacing our dryer for many years. Estimated savings–$26/year; Actual savings–$0.
  • Get a new refrigerator (ours came with the house and is probably from 1999). Upgrade cost is $50, but that is not figuring in the actual cost of the refrigerator. My husband would probably balk at buying a used fridge, so if we had to replace our fridge, this would be useful. Still, knowing we can get a used refrigerator for $50 (possibly) would make it a tough pill to swallow to get a new one. But if we had to do it, then we’d probably go with the energy-efficient model. Still, the Estimated savings is just $5/year, which means that it would take the full 10 years to recoup the cost, at which point, you’d probably have to go out and buy another new fridge, so I’m not sure this one would really be worth it either.
  • Replace our windows with double-pane windows (I believe ours are single-pane windows, but didn’t actually check) Estimated savings–$114/year. The estimated cost of replacing the windows is $300, so the pay-back time is 3 years. But here’s the kicker–the $300 is the “upgrade cost,” not just the cost of window replacement. These recommended windows are about $300 more expensive than replacing our windows with ones similar to what we already have. We have no reason to replace the windows, so would have to find out the total cost of replacement to see how much it would cost, and the true cost of replacement. I’m wondering if we could save as much by hanging heavy drapes over the windows. Bought at a store, those are undoubtedly expensive, but I made the curtains we have now very simply, although the fabric is light-weight. I could do the same thing with heavier (but still cheap) fabric, if I could find a proper shade. Actual savings–not sure yet.
  • Replace our water heater. We currently have a gas model, but the yellow sticker shows it to be on the expensive side to operate. And this sticker is from when it was initially purchased (assuming it to be the same age as our house, or nearly 10 years old), so I’m quite certain there are even cheaper models to operate. The average water heater lasts about 10 years, so we will likely have to replace ours soon. We would replace it with another gas heater anyway, so while this information is accurate, it was unnecessary, because it’s what we’d do already. Still, in the summer, our gas bill was as low as $3 (August–the hottest month of the year), and averaged about $6. Since we only have the water heater and two gas heaters (which obviously only operate in the winter), the savings during the summer is minimal. It’s a tad more difficult to figure in the winter because of heating with gas. Of course we lose some of the heat into the cold laundry room, and the water is colder when it enters the tank in winter, so the energy usage goes up when it’s cold anyway. When we first moved in, I was scared of the gas wall units, so the first couple of gas bills reflected the water heater only, and averaged $26. But I’ve started washing the clothes in cold water more frequently, so we use less hot water than when we first moved in. But I’ll accept their numbers as being valid. Estimated savings–$45/year.
  • Have a professional seal your home’s air leaks. I think our home is fairly energy efficient–we have thick, well-insulated walls and ceilings; and there is insulation underneath the house as well. But we could be losing quite a bit of heat in leaky windows or doors–and this recommendation is for “hidden” spots that most people don’t think about, but professionals know about and can test and fix. Estimated cost is $400 (assuming I can find a professional in rural Mississippi), and I’m going to assume that this would be the total cost for doing this, and not merely an “upgrade” in which it’s $400 more than something else. Estimated savings–$62/year.

So, sealing the air leaks would probably be beneficial, paying for itself in 6 years; and buying an energy-efficient water heater when we need to replace ours will probably pay for itself in 3 years (or 4, the way we use hot water). After as much time as I spent on it, I wish that there were more things I could do to save money; but I suppose I could at least be glad that we’re already pretty efficient. But our energy cost is higher than average for a house our size, which concerns me. I think it should be lower (but I know at least part of it is due to having the house at a comfortable temperature, when I’d have it too hot in summer and too cold in winter for my husband). I’m wondering if our house isn’t as insulated as we were led to believe by the previous owners. Small things add up. Little by little.

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