Ask Eartha: Home Energy Efficiency on a Budget

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, it seems like I’m paying more to heat my house this winter compared to last year. I’d love to make some improvements at home to save money on my bills, but I’m also on a budget. What’s the most affordable way to get started?

Heating bills creeping upward? You’re not alone. Last fall, four of Colorado’s largest natural gas utilities submitted requests to the Public Utilities Commission — the agency that regulates utilities in the state — to raise rates on natural gas. Xcel Energy, which serves most of Summit County, estimates that customers’ average gas bill for March will increase by 37% (about $27). So it’s no surprise that many of us might be looking for ways to use less energy at home.

While the relative cost for natural gas is still pretty low, there are a few reasons why it is rising. Natural gas, like coal and oil, is a finite resource. The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates we have about 84 more years of gas available in the U.S. That may sound like a long time, but think about supply and demand: Costs will rise dramatically as supply dwindles.

Two other factors currently driving the price up are aging infrastructure that requires costly maintenance along with regulations to reduce harmful effects on the environment, which add expense to the extraction processes. These added costs are then passed on to utility customers. Natural gas isn’t getting any more renewable, cleaner or easier to transport.

Energy efficiency in the home

In 2020, energy used in homes accounted for about a quarter of our community’s total greenhouse gas emissions. That’s pretty significant! What’s using all that energy? According to the Energy Information Agency, most energy consumed at home goes to space heating — that is, keeping us cozy in wintertime.

The good news is that just a few simple upgrades will keep your heating system working efficiently, using less energy and maximizing comfort while maintaining reasonable bills and decreasing your home’s carbon footprint.

Get paid to save

It’s true that home improvements cost money, but many energy efficiency improvements save money. And these improvements generally have additional benefits, including creating safer, more comfortable and more durable homes. Even better, there are great resources available to help you get started with confidence.

One of these is High Country Conservation Center’s Energy Smart Colorado program. Aimed at making energy efficiency improvements more accessible to homeowners, this program offers discounted home energy assessments so you can get customized recommendations for improvements. Since the real impact comes from moving forward with energy efficiency projects, both the conservation center and Xcel Energy offer incentives to help you pay for these upgrades. And for a limited time, Xcel is offering bonus rebates specifically for Summit County natural gas customers.

Wondering why utility companies want to incentivize customers to use less energy when they make money by providing that energy? Good question! Utilities gain a number of benefits from their customers seeking greater energy efficiency. For one, lower energy bills mean happier customers. They also have their own incentives and regulations from government entities to drive down energy use per capita while increasing their mix of renewable power.

Finally, a concept known as peak-demand could be the most significant incentive here. If the maximum amount of energy they must reliably provide increases, that often means costly construction projects to generate and transport more energy, whether that’s gas or electricity. It’s more cost effective and better overall business for utilities to help their customers save, while providing better quality to more people.

Still not sure about energy efficiency improvements for your home? Other Summit County residents and businesses are already finding very real savings, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year. Not to mention metric tons of avoided greenhouse gas emissions. Check out our success stories and testimonials!

Across the county, hundreds of your neighbors have already taken action to make their homes more comfortable while also saving energy. Will you join the energy efficiency wave?

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