ASK EARTHA: My heat is on and bills are high so why is my home still cold?
Dear Eartha, I spent so much money last winter to heat my home, and I still felt cold! Is there anything I can do so my house stays warm and my bills stay low? –Don, Summit Cove
It’s that time of year, Don. When the first dusting of snow appears on the peaks of the Ten Mile Range, it not only announces a change in seasons, but also a change in my inbox. Suddenly, locals are eager to find out how to best prepare their homes for winter. Luckily, yours truly knows a thing or two about energy efficiency, and I’m happy to share my knowledge with you.
An Efficient and Cozy Mountain Home
It’s a universal truth that we want to feel comfortable in our homes. And for those who aren’t – whether it’s too cold or drafty – it can be hard to know where to start. You might not realize that you can actually do something to fix the situation! And more often than not, the friends and neighbors I chat with think that improving their home’s efficiency means expensive upgrades to mechanical systems or windows. Fear not! Energy conservation and comfort are pursuits that should never begin with these pricy fixes. Instead, the energy pros that I know like to focus on the simple and affordable projects we call the low-hanging fruit.
What are some common low-hanging fruit projects? Finding and sealing air leaks – places where the warm indoor air escapes outside – is a common one. All those tiny gaps and cracks add up. I’ve heard of homes so leaky that the leaks alone accounted for 40 percent of the homeowner’s energy bill! More easy fixes include properly using a programmable thermostat and installing LED bulbs. After you’ve tackled these projects, then you’ll want to consider insulation improvements and, potentially, new appliances or mechanical systems.
Finally, after you’ve done everything else to make your home efficient, then you can consider windows, doors, and renewable energy. If you think of home energy efficiency like a pyramid, these projects are at the very top because you need a solid foundation for them to rest upon. After all, what’s the point of putting solar panels on an inefficient house?
Evaluating Your Home’s Efficiency
But how will you know what your home needs? With a home energy assessment, of course! When you sign up for an assessment, a certified building scientist will inspect your home for energy performance and potential safety concerns. Afterwards, you’ll get a report that outlines all the steps you can take to maximize efficiency.
If you think your home could benefit from an assessment, check out the Energy Smart Colorado program offered by the High Country Conservation Center (HC3). To encourage you and other Summit County locals to be more efficient, HC3 subsidizes the cost of these assessments. Most people pay just $99 after rebates, and you’ll also get freebies like LED bulbs. Getting the assessment qualifies you for even more rebates from HC3 and Xcel Energy once you start making improvements. Some residents are eligible to receive free energy assessment and improvement work, so it’s worth giving my friends at HC3 a call to learn more. Don’t forget, energy efficiency at home doesn’t just impact your wallet. There are a number of added benefits, like creating a healthier indoor environment and making your home more durable.
For the DIYers out there, here are a few simple projects to get you started:
- Program your thermostat to drop a few degrees while you’re sleeping and while you’re away at work. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one so you have more control over your heating system. If you have baseboard electric heat, call HC3 for advice before purchasing.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater. If your shower is scalding or you have to add cold water to reach an ideal temperature, your water heater is set too high. Dial it back a few degrees and you’ll save energy and your skin.
- Install heavy curtains or insulating blinds over windows.
- Inspect your doors for bad weather stripping. If the door is closed and you see daylight coming through, it’s time to replace the weather stripping.
Don, it’s a good thing you’re thinking about being more energy efficient before cold temperatures (and high energy bills) really set in. There’s still time to sign up for a home energy assessment so you can stay warm and cozy at home without wearing a hat and puffy indoors.