Energy Predator - Save Your Home from the Big Bad Wolf
- If you're getting eaten up by the big bad wolf of high energy bills, you may be wise to go to the children's section of your local library and re-read that knowing little folk tale, The Three Little Pigs.
The popular story - a covert manifesto on energy savings, if ever there was one - reveals how one very thoughtful pig outsmarted a predator by building a brick house. The pig's two siblings who built homes of straw and sticks were less fortunate.
If it seems unlikely that you and yours will be gobbled up any time soon by a hairy beast that huffs and puffs and eventually blows your house down, think again. Energy prices are rising, not declining. And the insatiable appetite of inflation can easily eat away at your budget until it topples your ability to maintain a cool, comfortable shelter. Unless, of course, you take precautions.
Obviously, not every home needs to be built of brick to survive the elements and beat the power drain. But experts say common sense and a few upgrades will improve the energy efficiency of your home and save you some money and misery.
American homeowners now spend more than $160 billion annually to heat, cool and light their homes. The energy consumed is about 21 percent of this nation's total, with the most significant demand for electricity and natural gas. Yet many homeowners could save up to 30 percent on their energy bills by making improvements. Simply put, energy-efficient homes cost less to own and maintain. They are far more comfortable to live in as well.
Energy Audits Reveal Flaws in the Straw
The two little pigs that built homes of straw and sticks would have saved themselves a lot of trouble had they conducted an energy audit before they moved into their vulnerable abodes. Why not learn from their mistakes?
If you're suffering from high energy bills - winter or summer - or your home is merely uncomfortable, that's a good indication that an energy audit is needed. The audit should include analysis of your home's insulation, windows, heating/cooling system, water heater and lighting. Before you hire a professional to conduct the audit, contact your utility company and inquire if free or discounted audits for customers are available. If not, look through the Yellow Pages for a certified home energy rater.
There's also guidance at www.cheers.org, the California Home Energy Efficiency Rating Services (CHEERS?). This nonprofit group was founded in 1990 to promote energy efficiency. It was approved in 1999 by the California Energy Commission as the first home energy rating provider under the Home Energy Rating System Regulations. CHEERS now trains and certifies home energy raters.
Another group offering free advice is the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. ACEEE is dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting economic prosperity and a healthy environment. The nonprofit group provides helpful resources, such as a guidebook and checklist (www.aceee.org/consumerguide) for "buttoning up your house" to improve energy efficiency.
Hiring a certified energy auditor gives you the advantage of access to the best technology. In most cases, pro auditors will use sophisticated equipment to help expose air leaks and areas in your home that are without adequate insulation. Also, a trained auditor will know what problems to look for in both new and old houses. Some audit services may even be able to clean, tune up and test your heating or cooling system during one visit.
While improvements to your home will undoubtedly lower your energy bills, there are other ways to save. Various home improvements, such as adding insulation, installing high-quality windows and upgrading a roof may be eligible for the Federal Energy Tax Credits program. These credits can help offset the cost of making significant energy-efficient improvements.
An Inside Job
The smart little pig that built the brick house was wise enough to know that quality doesn't come cheap or easy. It took time to build a shelter that was as comfortable on the inside as it was durable on the outside.
However, Yosi Avivi, who owns Protective Shutter Systems in Northridge, says that the one obvious improvement homeowners can make is to shade windows from the sun. While the cost of shuttering with remote-control, insulated devices can be expensive, many products are available at reasonable prices.
"Everybody can do fabric awnings. Whenever you have a cover above your head or above the door, you're going to be a lot cooler," he says.
Avivi says that blocking out the sun not only keeps a house cool, it protects furniture and fabric from fading - saving the cost of replacing or reupholstering chairs and sofas. The right kind of window protection will reduce your electric bill by about 15 percent, adds Avivi.
Protective Shutter Systems has been receiving a lot more calls this season from prospective clients concerned about high energy bills, Avivi says. One client who last year hired Avivi's company to shutter a section of his home has come back for more. "They did one section of the house and saw that it really worked," he says. "So now they're putting more all around the house."
Quality windows and doors are the next line of defense. About one-third of the total loss of heat or cool air is the result of rotted or damaged windowpanes, cracked glass and poorly fitted frames. If your windows and doors are generally in good shape, they don't need to be replaced. But weather-stripping and caulking will help seal the deal.
After securing the outer skin of your home, the next step is to make interior changes. With a little research, homeowners can find appliance brands that have earned the Energy Star designation, which denotes products that have met strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. That dishwasher that groans and warbles every time you turn it on might not seem like much of a drain on your energy bill, but it is. And a series of relatively small improvements can add up to big savings.
The efficiency of heating, venting and cooling systems (HVAC) can be improved by checking filters on a monthly basis - especially during times of heavy use. Sealing heating and cooling ducts also is important. And just a like a car, your HVAC will benefit from an occasional tune-up.
Finally, to top off your energy-improvement project, put the proper hat on your home. Metal, coated tiles, membrane and sprayed on polyurethane roofing all offer certain advantages. But shop around for the best price and then rest easy knowing you've done everything possible to protect against the seasonal huffing and puffing of you know who.
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