Reduce utility bills by insulating, making other changes

Utility bills seem to reflect continued increases with each year of passing. Under stress this year and the coming years will be electricity costs.

Some 80 percent of electric-producing plants are coal fired; and now that the economy has recovered, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin again to reduce the pollution these facilities produce. These costs for reduction in pollution will be passed on to the end consumer, with increased costs through our monthly electric bills.

Some analysts are predicting a figure around 6 percent per year for several years. For those of us on total electric this is not good news, and we should be looking at ways to reduce energy consumption in our homes even if your furnace is gas fired.

The following is typically the percentage of your electric bill that pays for each activity in your home: heating and cooling, 54 percent; water heating, 18 percent; computer and electronics, 6 percent; lighting, 6 percent; cooking, 4 percent; refrigeration, 4 percent; laundry, 3 percent; other, 5 percent.

With over half of your bill going to heating and cooling, let’s address this first. In a typical home, one-third of the heat loss and cooling gain takes place through your attic. For this area of the country, the Department of Energy now recommends insulation levels from R-38 to R-60. With electric costs on the increase, heating with electric should warrant R-60 in the attic. With gas fuel, R-49 would be acceptable for today.

Few existing homes today meet this newer standard. More insulation is not a cure all as the following should be checked and attended to prior to adding insulation: Is there a retaining wall around the access hole to let the insulation obtain full thickness, and is the door insulated and sealed with sponge fiber tape? Are recessed lights protected that are partially in the attic? Are air tunnels installed at the eaves to permit proper air flow into the attic?

Air flow is critical in the attic to prevent insulation from becoming damp, which reduces its effectiveness. In addition if the attic air is warm, cooling becomes more costly. Attic ventilation should be at least 1 square foot for each 300 square feet of attic space. It is also necessary that one-half be at the ridge and one-half at the eaves. Openings made by pipe, duct work, electric wires and other penetrations in the attic floor need to be sealed with expandable sealant.

Has your furnace been serviced in the past 18 months to verify its efficient operation and is at least 90 percent efficient and generally less than 10 years old? Are you faithful with a new furnace filter every 45 days or so? Do you have a programmable thermostat with a simple program to let you set the temperature each day of the week? Consider running the furnace fan continuously all the time for a more comfortable home.

Registers are meant to be adjusted to help provide proper balance of flow from the register to each room as needed. Is duct work well sealed with reflective foil tape at joints and registers?

If you have a fireplace do you keep the damper shut or have an air-tight door to close off the opening when not in use? A product known as the Chimney Balloon will inflate in the flue and seal off the air completely.

Are your windows and doors caulked and sealed with weather stripping against outside air, and do you have storm doors on the exterior doors? If you have a crawl space, are the exterior walls insulated and the crawl space floor covered with plastic film to reduce moisture? Are spaces between floor joists insulated in both crawl spaces and basements? Is there positive drainage away from foundation and are downspouts directing water away from foundation? If drafts are apparent from electrical outlets, consider use of foam insulation pads inserted behind the outlet cover plate.

The hot water tank is the next-highest energy user. Here are a few things to consider: Is it an energy efficient model? If older than 10 years it could use an insulation blanket to help eliminate heat loss. Do you have the temperature set at 120 degrees? Insulation of both hot and cold lines for 10 feet from tank is helpful.

With electronics, use a smart power strip that allows for no power consumption to TV, computer and other devices when turned off at strip when not in use. Use of energy efficient light bulbs will show dramatic savings in utility bills and in the life of the bulb.

Have a comfortable winter season.

Dean McFarland is a board member for the Central Indiana Council on Aging.