In 2010 electricity rate caps were removed, and that ended up raising electricity rates and increasing PA consumers’ electric bills. Finding ways to reduce your energy usage can be of real benefit. Due to rate limits imposed by the Commonwealth of PA years ago, electric utilities were limited by what electrical rates they could charge consumers. The limits expired which means the same electric utilities can charge more for the same energy usage than prior to 2010. It is estimated that some PPL customers in Lancaster County have seen an average rate increase of about 30 percent compared to prior years for the same electricity usage. Some other areas of the state saw an increase of over 50 percent. Ouch!
Electric utilities charge their customers based upon the number of kilowatt hours of energy usage. A kilowatt hour is 1,000 watts used for one hour. A watt is a unit of power, and a kilowatt is 1,000 watts. Run ten 100 watt incandescent light bulbs for an hour and your have consumed 1 kilowatt hour (abbreviated 1 kw hr). With the advent of compact florescent light bulbs (CFL), consumers can save about 75 percent on electricity usage compared to using all incandescent bulbs. In comparison a 100 watt incandescent bulb can be replaced with a 100 watt equivalent CFL bulb (same brightness as a 100 watt incandescent bulb) that uses only 25 watts. LED light bulbs are an even better option over CFL bulbs and are even more efficient. A modern 100 watt equivalent LED light bulb uses approximately 13 watts. Replacing all of the incandescent bulbs in a home with modern LED bulbs can provide some nice savings each month.
Decades ago the federal government created a program called Energy Star which is a joint venture of the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the Energy Star website, in 2008 Americans saved approximately $19 billion on their utility bills because of the Energy Star program. A wide variety of household products like computers and refrigerators to TVs and water heaters can earn the Energy Star label if their energy usage meets certain standards for each type of appliance.
The Energy Star program works with product manufacturers as well as retailers and builders to help produce products and build homes that use less energy than similar products from just a decade ago.
Energy efficiency is defined as the ratio of the work something does in relation to the energy consumed to do the work. A good example is a modern natural gas fired condensating furnace that is typically rated at 90-92 percent efficient and higher efficient gas furnaces that can reach 95-96 percent efficiency. That means approximately 96 cents of each dollar you spend for natural gas is converted to heat while about 4 cents per dollar goes out the flue as exhaust. Old gas fired furnaces from the 1970s were often maybe only 70 percent efficient which means that you may waste 30 cents per dollar up the flue. That extra 20-30 percent energy savings really adds up over time, especially when you consider current natural gas prices.
Also keep in mind that as of January, 2020, the production and import of Freon (R-22) is now banned in the U.S. Freon was the refrigerant that most pre-2006 A/C and heat pump systems used. If you have an older R-22 based system that needs a refrigerant recharge, the cost of Freon has skyrocketed since Freon is in short supply now. New A/C and heat pump equipment that uses Puron or R-410a as its refrigerant are much more efficient than older equipment. A/C efficiency is measured in terms of SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio), and the minimum that can be installed in the U.S. is now 13. If you have an older A/C or heat pump unit, upgrading it to a high efficiency system can also save money both in terms of lower utility costs and repair costs if you need to recharge an older R-22 based system.
The highest energy usage in most homes is generally home heating and cooling as well as water heaters, electronics and kitchen and laundry appliances.
You are probably asking yourself how you can lower the energy usage in your home, so I’ve created a basic list of things that the average homeowner can do to save money each month on their utility bills.
Of course the first thing would be to purchase and use products that have earned the yellow Energy Star sticker. Even if a product in your home is still functional yet is near the end of its design life, you may want to consider replacing the product with a newer Energy Star rated model.
Unplug appliances when not in use. While this can also have a safety benefit in some regards, unplugging certain items when you are not using them can help save energy. Unplugging a desk lamp won’t save energy when the lamp is not turned on (since the switch in the off position turns off the power to the bulb); however, unplugging things like most kitchen countertop appliances will help lower your energy bill since many of these items still consume a little energy when turned off. Even saving a few pennies per day can really add up over time. For example, plugging a computer system (computer, printer, router and monitor) into a surge protector and flipping the surge protector off when not in use can save energy. Unplugging items with a wall or inline transformer (like for a laptop or game unit) can save energy as the transformer still consumes some energy even if the laptop is unplugged from it. Of course unplugging appliances before a thunderstorm strikes may also help protect the appliance’s user and the appliance itself from lightning damage.
Install a programmable thermostat, and use it correctly. Also change the programmable thermostat’s clock when we change between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. Simply replacing your old manual thermostat with a modern programmable thermostat may not save very much energy if you don’t program the thermostat properly. The purpose of the programmable thermostat is to allow you to set the temperatures you want in the home at different times of the day without having to manually make these changes. These programmable thermostats can be used on furnaces, boilers, heat pumps and central air conditioners. Do not place objects like lamps, TVs, refrigerators, etc. that give off heat near thermostats as they will trick the thermostat into thinking the house is much warmer than it is, thereby causing the heat to not run very often but the A/C will run considerably more often. This wastes energy and lowers interior comfort.
For example, I’ll use a typical February workday schedule. You get up at 6:30 a.m., work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and go to sleep at 11:30 p.m. You can program this type of thermostat to automatically warm the house to 72 degrees starting at 6:15 a.m. before your feet hit the floor, drop 7 degrees automatically at 7:45 a.m. when you leave the house, warm the house back to 72 degrees at 5:00 p.m. so that you walk back in your front door to a warm house that didn’t waste energy all day when nobody was home. Then when you are ready for bed, it automatically drops back to 65 degrees at 11:30 p.m. Of course the time and temperature settings are determined by the user, and you can similarly create settings for cooling in the summer. Remember to reset the thermostat’s clock when we change between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. It is best not to have large temperature swings for heating or air conditioning systems as the energy you saved throughout the day may be wasted by having to make up a large difference (more than 10 degrees) when the next time/temperature setting is reached. This may produce no savings or may actually cost you more. You can save approximately 1 percent for each degree reduced, but 4-6 degrees Fahrenheit is generally the recommended temperature swing between settings.
Ceiling fans versus a central A/C system . . . running ceiling fans instead of a central A/C system can lower your utility costs since a central A/C system consumes a large amount of power compared to ceiling fans. Since heat rises, set the switch on the fan to pull warm air upwards. If you don’t want to turn your central A/C system completely off, you can raise the thermostat’s temperature a few degrees when running the ceiling fan. This should lower the number of times per day that your A/C system runs.
Add insulation. After many years of inspecting homes, I find that most homes could use more insulation in the attic. Creating a proper thermal barrier between a very hot summer or very cold winter attic and living space helps prevent your heating and cooling systems from having to work so hard. This results in lower utility costs.
Of course trying to save energy can cost you a good deal of money up front if you are replacing your kitchen and laundry appliances or the home’s heating/cooling equipment with modern Energy Star appliances. However, these items can pay for themselves in time on your utility bill. Most reputable salesmen or contractors can provide cost comparisons on yearly operating costs for your current furnace, water heater or other appliances compared to the yearly operating costs for new Energy Star appliances. Some local electricity utilities have programs that will pay you a small rebate for purchasing newer higher efficient appliances like refrigerators. Contact your local electric utility to learn more.
Save on your electric and natural gas utilities
Looking for two more easy ways to save money that only takes a few minutes, and you can do it from your computer yet still save real money every month? Changing electricity or natural gas suppliers is quick, easy and free. All you really need is your electric or gas bill for your account numbers. Fixed-price rates tend to be a better idea than variable rate programs. Your local utility (PPL or UGI) will still deliver your electricity or natural gas while these choice programs simply change who does the actual generation.
Pennsylvania has an Electric Choice program called “PA Power Switch” that allows consumers, residential and commercial, to choose a different electricity supplier than their local utility. This program can save consumers 20 percent or more on their electricity bill. Fore more information, check out http://www.papowerswitch.com.
Pennsylvania also allows natural gas customers to shop around and find a cheaper natural gas supplier. Your natural gas will still be delivered by your local utility using the same gas pipes; however, the gas will be provided by the supplier you choose. To learn more, visit http://www.pagasswitch.com
Matthew Steger, ACI, WIN Home Inspection
Facts, opinions and information expressed in the Closing Comments Blog represent the work of the author and are believed to be accurate, but are not guaranteed. The Lancaster County Association of Realtors® is not liable for any potential errors, omissions or outdated information. If errors are noted within a post, please notify the Association. Posts represent the author’s opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association.