Last winter I took my ninety-year old grandfather out of a nursing home and brought him to live with the family in San Francisco.
"I never, ever thought I'd live to be ninety," or "It's a terrible thing to get this old," he says apologetically as I help him move about the house. But over the last year he's become a valued part of our home, helping when he can and bringing a warm, vibrant personality into the house.
What has been difficult, however, is our heating bill. Due to slow blood circulation, my grandfather gets cold easily, and to maintain his comfort and health we've had to keep the heat cranked up. Last winter, as energy costs soared nation wide, my family's PG&E bill was eight hundred dollars for the month of February alone, more than double the usual cost.
According to the California Energy Commission, about thirty percent of residential energy costs come from heating and cooling a home. Energy efficiency takes on an added importance when families must provide for the special needs of loved ones while minimizing the cost.
This winter, my family is equipped with new energy saving tips to help us keep the heat up and costs down:
1. Set the thermostat as low as comfortably possible. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall heating bill will be. Small energy efficient space heaters can increase the heat more cheaply than heating the entire house.
2. Reduce hot water use by installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. A new, water efficient showerhead can reduce your water consumption by one-third to one-half. A top-quality showerhead costs between $10 and $20 and will quickly pay for itself in energy saved. Spending ten minutes or less in the shower can reduce your hot water usage by up to thirty three percent.
3. Seal your home's "envelope" (walls, floor, ceiling and roof) and save up to 10% on your annual energy bill. Test for drafts by holding a long, lit match next to windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other locations where there's a possible air path to the outside. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you've located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing or weather stripping.
4. Clean furnace filters monthly. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy use. Keep the furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted to save up to 5% of heating costs.
5. Close drapes, blinds and shades to help retain heat at night. Open the drapes during the day and take advantage of sunlight. Up to 16 percent of your heat can escape through unprotected windows.
6. Zone your furniture. Make sure furniture is positioned away from windows or doors where it may be colder. Make sure all heating vents, ducts and baseboards are unblocked.
7. Use your thermostat wisely. Invest in a programmable thermostat and set it to turn down when people are out of the house or at night. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain warm temperatures all day long. Proper use of a thermostat can drastically cut your heating costs.
8. Use energy efficient light bulbs. Lighting your home can represent 20 percent of home electricity bills. Using efficient bulbs and turning off lights when not in use are some of the easiest ways to save on energy.
9. The same goes for using your appliances. Do only full loads of laundry and use cold water. Turn off appliances when not in use.
10. Layer up with lightweight clothes. It's the simplest way to conserve heat. Silk or thermal underwear and a hat all help retain body heat (the body loses 20 percent of its heat through the top of the head). Use a hot water bottle when you go to bed. Eat well and drink warm, sweet beverages and hot broth. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks as they lower body temperature.
11. Consider investing in an energy-efficient heating system and windows. Though a new energy-efficient furnace is expensive, it quickly recoups its cost. Energy Star qualified furnaces are 15% more efficient than old furnaces. You can also install insulated windows to reduce heating and cooling costs by up to fifteen percent.
Flex Your Power is California's statewide energy efficiency marketing and outreach campaign. For more money-saving tips and rebates, visit www. FlexYourPower.org.
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