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 did you know 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 that $30 a year?
The average U.S. household spends $1,900 a year on utility bills, and a large portion of that is wasted energy.
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s Weatherization and Rebate programs have been extremely effective in saving energy in many Alaskan homes. 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. For information on specific money saving efficiency actions, please visit REAP’s energy efficiency resources.
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 office 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 office 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.
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) offers a residential Home Energy Rebate Program. Homeowners interested in reducing their energy consumption can receive a rebate for some of the associated expenses. Under the program, homeowners must have an energy audit performed on the house before and after the efficiency improvements are completed. AHFC will reimburse up to $10,000 for energy efficiency improvements and $500 for energy ratings. Sign up for an energy rating today by contacting AK REBATE at 1-877-AK REBATE or sign up online. AHFC also offers a computerized energy audit program called AKWarm that is designed to maximize energy savings specifically for buildings in Alaska’s extreme climate.
AHFC’s Weatherization Program provides low-income support to qualifying applicants who meet certain income guidelines. 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 or call 1-877-325-2508
Rural Community Action Program’s (RuralCAP) VISTA Energy Program provides energy audits and home weatherization assistance for villages in rural Alaska. Working as AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, local community members work in their villages to promote energy efficiency to combat the rising cost of electricity in rural Alaska.
Businesses and organizations can receive a free two-hour energy site assessment by becoming members of Green Star, an organization that promotes high environmental standards in buildings with the Green Star Award.
Energy Efficiency Tips
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. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) use one-forth the energy that an incandescent light bulb uses. Although the initial cost of a CFL is slightly more expensive, CFLs last up to 10 times longer and cost less to operate. 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. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights also provide singificant 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 lights.
- Monitor your energy use. A cheap and easy way to determine what is consuming the most power is to buy an energy monitor for around $20 and use it to decide how best to handle your appliances’ energy consumption.
- Buy an energy saver. These devices, which cost between $30-$60, save power by continuously adjusting the energy supply from the utility to match the load of an appliances motor.
- Invest in energy efficient appliances. If it’s time for you to replace an appliance, look for an appliance with an Energy Star label. They often cost more up front, but 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.
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 showerheads 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.
- 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. 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.
Insulation and air sealing are major components of energy efficiency, especially in cold climates such as Alaska. A well-insulated house can significantly reduce winter heating costs. Air-sealing prevents unwanted air exchange and allows you to better control the inside temperature. Insulation prevents the conduction of heat from inside your home to the cooler outside air. 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.
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. Trees, bushes, and shrubs are often planted together to block or impede wind from ground level to the treetops. 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.
Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency