Saturday, September 21, 2013

Healthy Home, Healthy You!

Lessen Your Carbon Footprint In Your Home and Save Big!
By Michael J. Evans/OHventures
For: Compass Media, Healthy Home Issue


It happens every month: you open your mailbox hoping to find exciting letters from friends and family only to discover your ever-dreaded utility bills lurking inside. Begrudgingly, you take the parcels out, hold your breath, close your eyes, and open the envelope. You are hoping that some magical force has somehow yielded a much smaller, more reasonable dollar amount on the piece of paper inside. But, inevitably the number is far greater than you would prefer. You stare at the bill, sure of the fact that the "8" and the "2" should be transposed, or that maybe you are reading it wrong and need to go get your glasses? But then you finally accept the harsh truth: you really did use that much energy in the past month. But you don't always have to settle for high bills. There are things that you and the rest of those in your household can do to not only lessen the impact energy bills have on your wallet, but to lessen the impact they have on the environment, as well.

Since utilities are the glue that holds a house together, there is no way around using them. Whether you are a homeowner or you rent an apartment, using utilities more wisely is the key to a lower bill. The biggest key to success is making sure that everyone who lives under the same roof lives under the same set of rules when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint.

One of the most obvious contributing factors to a high energy bill is the excessive heating and cooling of your home. In the summer, the electric bill tends to skyrocket when using fans and air conditioning units, and in the winter, gas bills can double or even triple as your furnace works overtime to keep you cozy.

To address rising costs associated with cooling your home, you should first and foremost look for appliances and air conditioning units that are Energy Star approved. Energy Star is a program that was started by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a "voluntary program to identify and promote energy-efficient products and buildings in order to reduce energy consumption, improve energy security, and reduce pollution through voluntary labeling of or other forms of communication about products and buildings that meet the highest energy efficiency standards." Seeing the Energy Star symbol on any product is always a good sign of long-term savings.

If you are using window air conditioning units, make sure they fit correctly into the window to reduce the amount of cool air lost. However, you may want to consider scrapping air conditioning units all together and instead use window fans, which require as little as 1/10th of the amount of energy.

If your home has central air, you may want to look into purchasing a programmable thermostat, which can be the best weapon against a high electric bill. You can program the temperatures of your home for certain times of the day so you can more accurately control your indoor environment. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) advises that in order to save money on cooling costs, you should turn the thermostat to 80 degrees or higher when you are sleeping or away from home. Raising the temperature by 5 degrees for eight hours can reduce your cooling costs by 3-5 percent.

Remember that you can always naturally cool your home by closing blinds, curtains, drapes, and doors in order to keep the sunshine at bay. One other way to see a drop in your electric bill during the summer is to avoid creating unnecessary heat and humidity in the house during summer days by planning to do heat and moisture-creating activities such as washing dishes, doing laundry, bathing, and cooking before noon or past 8:00 PM.

The electric bill can also be jacked up because of non-cooling related habits as well. Some things you can do all year round to cut your kilowatts are: stock your freezer full of food so that it does not use as much energy to keep contents frozen, set frozen food out to defrost rather than using a microwave, only run the dishwasher or washing machine when they are full, turn off your computer when it is not being used, and most importantly of all: change ALL of your old-fashioned incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs (the ones that are in a coiled shape). Splurging on a solar powered motion light to affix on your porch or garage is another great way to utilize new technologies for money-saving purposes!

As stated before, heating in the winter is the main source of wallet woes when it comes to your gas bill. The aforementioned programmable thermostat comes in handy during these months as well. The PUCO states that you should keep the thermostat set to 68 degrees, and set it back even more when you are sleeping or away from your home. The programmable thermostat can be set to automatically turn the thermostat down at night and when you are not home. By turning down your thermostat one degree, you can save up to 3 percent on your heating bill.

You should also get your furnace filter checked on a monthly basis and changed when needed. If necessary, have a professional give your furnace or heating system a thorough inspection and tune-up. Lastly, make sure there is adequate insulation in your basement, walls, and floors, while making sure the accesses to your attic are insulated and weather-stripped. Doing these things will most assuredly keep the warm air from escaping your home, thus drastically cutting back your gas bill!

Throughout the year, minimize your gas bill by adopting more energy-friendly habits such as: using cold water on all loads of laundry unless they are extremely dirty, taking shorter and cooler showers, and utilizing electric space heaters or blankets rather than turning up the heat when cold.

Lastly, your water bill can be improved quite a bit if you take a more conservative approach to household chores and everyday routines. For instance, turn off water when you are brushing your teeth, take 5-minute showers instead of baths, ditch the waterbeds, repair all leaky faucets and toilets, and buy a front-loading washer, which uses 1/3 less water than top loading models. In the summer months, be careful not to over-water your lawn or splash water out of your swimming pool.

You can also purchase a low-pressure shower head fixture and a low pressure hose nozzle at your local Home Depot or Lowe's so that you don't unintentionally waste more water. These are relatively cheap, at around $10 each, and will certainly be well worth the investment! Water can easily be one of the most expensive bills you get, and you often waste water when you don't even realize it!

When done correctly, these tips can help in taking a huge load off your shoulders the next time the mailman comes by with your utility bills. You can expect to pay much less on gas, electric and water, all while being more environmentally friendly!

BUDGETING TIP: Most electric and natural gas companies offer a budget billing program, where the cost of your energy usage is spread out over the course of a year. Contact your electric or gas company directly to discuss options with them. Also, if you are a low-income family, you may qualify for assistance programs to help you pay your utility bills. Contact the PUCO to learn more: 1-800-686-PUCO (7826).

- Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs
- Low pressure shower head
- Low pressure hose nozzle
- Programmable thermostat
- Solar-powered motion light

FUN TIP: Put Post-It notes around the house in specific places to remind all members of the household to get into the right energy-saving habits. Put one by the light switches, by the sink, and by the thermostat. Also, you can place a timer by the shower so everyone knows when their 5-minutes are up!

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