Clean Energy at Home
Did you know that something as small as turning the temperature on your water heater from 135°F to 120°F can save you more than $20 on your utility bill? Or that using a power strip to eliminate the phantom loads caused by electronics consuming power even when they are turned “off” could save you more than $30 each year?
The average U.S. household spends $1,900 a year on utility bills. Alaskans pay some of the highest energy costs in the country, anywhere from an estimated $2,800/ year in Anchorage to $8,000 in other interior communities, and a large portion of that is wasted energy
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s Weatherization and Rebate programs are now saving over 40,000 households an average of 30% annually on energy bills. These physical retrofits go a long way towards reducing energy usage. In order to maximize these energy savings, REAP is helping to create an energy efficient culture to further reduce Alaska’s overall demand for energy. The Home Energy Rebate Program is no longer acccepting new sign ups. Other residential efficiency programs, such as the Weatherization Program, are ongoing. See if you’re eligible today!
AHFC’s Weatherization Program provides support for eligible applicants who meet certain income guidelines (www.ahfc.us). It provides free weatherization assistance and is available to both renters and homeowners. The Weatherization Program has been helping Alaskans save money and energy for over 30 years. For more information visit the AHFC website (www.ahfc.us) or call 1-877-325-2508
One of the best ways to determine what you can do to increase efficiency and how best to fit energy efficiency measures into your budget is to do a home or work place energy audit. Energy audits identify specific inefficiencies that are wasting energy (and money). By targeting problem areas and providing solutions, energy audits provide detailed paths for making your home or work place more energy efficient. Energy audits are available from a variety of organizations in Alaska and are often conducted on either an hourly or a per-square-foot basis. The average homeowner cuts their energy costs by 33% after making the recommended changes from an assessment. It is prudent to ask for quotes and qualifications from multiple auditors.
Energy Efficiency Tips
Heating accounts for 65-77% of your home’s energy usage – the single largest energy expense!
Insulation and air sealing are major components of energy efficiency, especially in cold climates. A well-insulated house can significantly reduce winter heating costs and simultaneously increase comfort. Air-sealing prevents unwanted air exchange and allows you to better control the inside temperature. The best way to determine how and where you need to air-seal and insulate your home is with an energy audit. The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website offers advice on how to properly insulate and air-seal your home for the do-it-yourselfers.
Nearly 20% of your energy costs are from household appliances. There are several ways you can monitor and reduce the use of electricity by your home appliances.
- Eliminate “Phantom Loads” – Phantom loads are created by most appliances that use electricity even when they are “off.” Unplugging devices when not in use or using a powerstrip to simply switch off all power to appliances at once can significantly reduce your electricity consumption. Appliances with lights or clocks (e.g. microwaves, coffee makers, stereos), cell phone or computer chargers that are left in the outlet when not attached, televisions, and computers are all common appliances that draw phantom loads.
- Use Efficient Lighting – Light-emitting diode (LED) lights provide significant energy savings. A 13 watt LED produces as much light as a standard 40 watt lightbulb, and will operate for up to 50 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs, saving you money in the long run. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) use one-forth the energy that an incandescent light bulb uses. High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps provide the highest efficacy and longest service life of any lighting type. They can save 75%–90% of lighting energy when they replace incandescent lamps, and are often used for lighting outdoor areas due to their brightness.
- Monitor Your Energy Use – A cheap and easy way to determine what is consuming the most power is to buy an energy monitor, such as a Kill-a-watt meter, for around $20 and use it to decide how best to handle your appliances’ energy consumption. First check with your local library or electric utility to see if they are available for loan. Email REAP Energy Efficiency Director at: email@example.com to request a simple spreadsheet to track your monthly heating and electric consumption, and identify anamolies and trends.
- Invest in Energy Efficient Appliances – If it’s time for you to replace an appliance, look for an appliance with an Energy Star label that will save you money over the course of their life. This is especially true of energy-intensive items such as dishwashers or dryers, and items that are run continuously such as refrigerators.
Hot Water Heaters
About 14-25% of household energy use is from hot water heaters. Investing in a more efficient hot water heater can significantly reduce your energy costs. There are several ways you can make water heating more efficient at home:
- Reduce the Amount of Hot Water You Use – Wash clothes in cool water, invest in low-flow shower heads and aerating faucets, or just take shorter showers.
- Turn Down the Temperature on Your Water Heater – You can reduce the temperature by a few degrees to save energy and money without noticing a difference. Experts recommend turning your hot water heater down to 120°.
- Insulate Your Water Heater and Pipes – Water heater jackets have quick payback periods and prevent excessive heat loss year round. This is especially important if your water heater is kept in a cooler part of your house.
- Install Heat Traps – A drain-water heat recovery system, or a timer on your hot water heater. These simple and relatively cheap measures can help reduce heat loss and save you money.
- Invest in a Solar Water Heater – Solar water heaters work by passing water or a heat-transfer fluid through the solar collectors. Although a back-up heating system is necessary for some winter months in Alaska, solar water heaters are an effective way to save money because they can displace electricity or natural gas about nine months out of the year.
Efficient windows are an essential element of an energy efficient building. Windows that are properly designed, insulated, and placed in a home can lead to significant energy savings over the life of your house. South-facing windows and skylights maximize heat gain and natural lighting in the home, while reducing heating and lighting costs. Double or triple pane windows reduce heat transfer and save on heating costs. To be effective, south-facing windows usually need to have a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of greater than 0.6 to maximize solar heat gain during the winter, a U-factor of 0.35 or less to reduce conductive heat transfer, and a high visible transmittance (VT) for good visible light transfer.
Artificial lighting is almost 15% of a household’s electricity use. Use of new lighting technologies can reduce lighting energy use in homes by 50%-75%. Installing lighting controls, maximizing the use of daylighting, and using energy efficient light bulbs can all help to maximize energy savings. Additionally, choosing light colors for your walls and furniture will reduce the amount of artificial lighting you need in a room. Regularly cleaning light bulbs and turning lights off when not in use will help maintain high quality lighting for a longer period of time.
Landscaping can play an important role in the efficiency of your home. In cool climates like Alaska, it is important to landscape so that the sun can reach south-facing windows in the winter. Landscaping can also be used to create windbreaks that will reduce wind chill factors around your house. The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using trees and shrubs that have low crowns. Dense evergreen trees and shrubs planted to the north and northwest of the home are the most common type of windbreak. Evergreen trees combined with a wall, fence, or earth berm (natural or man-made walls or raised areas of soil) can deflect or lift the wind over the home. Be careful not to plant evergreens too close to your home’s south side if you are counting on warmth from the winter sun.
- Alaska Energy Efficiency (www.akenergyefficiency.org)
- Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (www.energy.gov)
- Energy Star (www.energystar.gov)
- DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org)