Experts offer last-minute tips to save energy and reduce costs |

Experts offer last-minute tips to save energy and reduce costs

Margaret Hair

— Chilly morning temperatures at the start of the week might have been a wake-up call for any resident who's left home weatherization for the last minute.

For those still feeling icy drafts coming through their homes, Lyn Halliday, of Environmental Solutions Unlimited, and Tristan Frolich, of Evergreen Building Solutions, pointed out what they call "low-hanging fruit," or changes that can be made without big expense or effort.

Keeping temperatures of water heaters down, investing in a programmable thermostat, stripping windows and doors against air loss and plugging holes in insulation can keep homes warmer and heating bills lower, Halliday and Frolich said.

"Most people have their water heaters set to 140 degrees, and it doesn't need to be that high," Frolich said. "You could turn it down to 120 degrees, and you could still boil a lobster and you'd be fine."

Mid-range programmable thermostats allow users to set temperatures lower while they're gone during the day, while they're sleeping or while they're not using a room, Halliday said. Making sure air ducts and filters are clean and looking over the furnace or heating system are important steps to take at the beginning of the season, Halliday said.

"All of that is really important for you to get optimum performance out of your heating system," she said.

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When Halliday makes recommendations for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Sustainable Busin­ess Program or when she's working for Environmental Solutions Unlimited, she points people to their electric and gas bills for information.

Looking at the kilowatt-hours used each month on an electric bill can be helpful for keeping tabs on use and can be a warning sign for problems in the system if there's an unexpected spike, she said.

"There's a number of Web sites where you can see what's normal usage for your square footage and your type of lifestyle. … It's sort of a neat metric to just give you an idea of how you're doing," Halliday said.

Weatherizing windows and doors can keep drafts out, Frolich said. Electrical outlets also can be an air escape, he said.

"Anywhere you can feel a cold draft coming in and out of your house, that's basically like having a window open 24 hours a day," Frolich said.

Strip or spray-foam insulation is useful for sealing cracks where those drafts might get through, he said. Small foam sheets placed behind electric outlets can stop those leaks, he said.

"That will help cut down on your airflow, which will drastically help the feel of your house, as well as your energy bills," Frolich said.

He also recommends checking for air gaps in homes with attics, and he said most heat leaves a house through the floor or ceiling.

Quick tips

■ Keep your furnace maintained.

■ Keep your fireplace damper closed when it’s not being used. When there’s a fire going, open a window near the fire and turn the thermostat down.

■ Seal duct leaks.

■ Use a programmable thermostat.

■ Keep your furnace and heat pump filter clean.

■ Open inside doors for better air circulation.

■ Ventilation fans can quickly take warm air out of a house, so use them only as needed.

■ Open the drapes to gather passive solar heat on sunny days, and close them at night.

■ Look for energy-efficient boiler and furnace systems.

■ Reduce the thermostat setting.

■ Make sure everything is insulated, including the attic, walls, floors, ducts and crawl spaces.

— Source: Xcel Energy, “60 Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Energy Bill”

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