Dear Pat: It’s great to read about all the ways energy efficiency improvements to the home can save money, but what about folks like me who are renting or don’t have a lot of money to spend? Are there things I can do to reduce my energy bills? – Chelsea
Dear Chelsea: That’s an excellent question. Not everyone can replace their furnace with an air-source heat pump, whether they’re renting or their budget won’t allow it. Here are some low-cost efficiency tips that can help you reduce your energy bills.
Mind the thermostat. You might be able to trim your energy bill by carefully managing the temperature in your home. For homes that are energy-efficient, setting the thermostat and “forgetting it” may be the best option. For others, however, adjustments to the thermostat may provide energy savings. The Department of Energy suggests setting your thermostat to 68 degrees on winter days. You can save more energy by turning down the thermostat even lower at night or when no one is home. The same principle works in reverse during summer months. Just set the thermostat higher to reduce your energy use for air conditioning.
Stop air leaks. Small gaps around windows, doors, wiring and plumbing penetrations can be major
sources of energy loss. This problem can be alleviated with a little weather stripping and caulk, but you should check with your landlord before you get started. Better yet, convince the landlord to do the work! A $10 door draft stopper (also known as a “door snake”) is a simple way to block gaps underneath exterior doors. Sealing air leaks around your home could shave up to one-fifth off your heating and cooling bills.
Manage your windows and window coverings. Your windows may be letting heat out during the winter and letting heat in during the summer. Window coverings like medium- or heavy-weight curtains and thermal blinds can help. On cold winter days, window coverings can keep warmth inside and improve comfort. Opening up window coverings when you’re receiving direct sunlight is a “passive solar” technique that can help cut your heating costs. You can also cover windows with clear plastic to reduce heat loss and air leaks. During the summer, keep window coverings closed to block the sun and to keep windows from heating the cooler indoor air.
Look for energy wasters. There are also small steps you can take every day to reduce your energy use. Water heaters should be kept at the warm setting (120 degrees). Wash dishes and clothes on the most economical settings that will do the job, and always wait to wash until you have a full load. Use the microwave instead of the oven when possible.
These tips will help you reduce your energy bills and increase your comfort. Also, consider talking to your landlord about additional ways to save, like installing better insulation, energy-efficient windows or heating systems. Many landlords make these types of investments to add appeal to their rental properties, which ultimately improves the value of the property.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on staying comfortable in winter, please visit:www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.