Five things I’ve learned about saving energy

Some of the best investments pay you back in energy savings

HouseBankC1101_L_300_C_YIt wasn’t long ago we were in the throes of below zero weather. While your heating bills this winter probably weren’t as bad as the ones we all experienced a few years back when fuel prices spiked, it is ALWAYS a good thing to plan a bit ahead and consider improving your home’s energy efficiency.

Weather sealing and insulation might not be exciting improvements, but they are ones that will PAY YOU BACK month after month. The new granite countertops or marble floors won’t do that!

Here are a couple of common sense ideas I’ve learned that might help you.

• Check your door and window weatherstripping and caulking. If you feel the drafts, you likely have the equivalent of an open window or two. Weather sealing around doors and windows is simple and cost effective. Start here.

• Check the amount of ­insulation in your attic. Unless you built your home in the past few years or just added insulation, odds are that you could save greatly by adding some insulation. If you need it, hire a trained ­competent local insulator. Ask them if they are Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified. They know their ­business. If needed blow in ­cellulose insulation.

• Check your heating and cooling systems. Like your car, which won’t last long if you don’t change the oil, your HVAC maintenance is important. Clean filters are essential.
If you have a gas furnace, when is the last time a trained technician did a tune up? With fuel burning ­appliances, ­especially gas furnaces and water heaters, it’s vital for your ­family’s safety that your ­system be vented properly or the results could be DEADLY. There is a reason for that ­carbon ­monoxide monitor in your home. Thirty years ago I owned an old home with a gas water heater. I noticed the pilot kept going out. Finally, after getting angry about it for the final time I checked the flue and found about 15 dead starlings in the flue, plugging up the vent.
If you have a traditional ­central air system, when was the last time you had it checked? Is the outside unit blocked by leaves and debris and overgrown bushes?

• Do you have a fireplace? There is nothing that feels better than a toasty warm fire on a cold night. Unfortunately, many fireplaces waste more energy than they save, particularly if they are not vented to provide outside air for the fire (no matter if it’s a wood or gas fireplace).

• Consider replacing your vintage heating and cooling equipment. While not cheap, think of it as an important investment that will pay dividends.

I ALWAYS suggest that folks consider a geothermal heat pump. Geo might not be for you for various reasons, but in most homes it is a “no brainer.” I’ve had a geothermal system in my house for 15 years now. No mechanical breakdowns, great ­comfort and I take the savings to the bank every month. And with a 30 percent federal tax credit at least through 2016, now is the time for ­geothermal. The new equipment will get you 500 percent efficiency versus the 96 ­percent of the best gas furnaces.

John Freitag is the Executive Director of the Geothermal Alliance of Illinois and Vice Pres. of Operations for the Assn. of Illinois Electric Cooperatives.

John Freitag is the Executive Director of the Geothermal Alliance of Illinois and Vice Pres. of Operations for the Assn. of Illinois Electric Cooperatives.

Lastly, I encourage you to read Brian Kumer’s Energy Solutions ­column each month in this ­magazine. I’ve known Brian for more than 20 years and there is NOBODY ­better on residential energy ­efficiency. He is absolutely the most ­knowledgeable guy I know on this subject. Brian is the expert who trains the experts. Take his advice to the bank.

I’m not in the same league as Brian but I’m always glad to help folks with suggestions. And if I don’t know the answer, I know the folks to ask. Feel free to contact me at jfreitag@aiec.coop. Finally, I urge you to call upon the energy efficiency experts at your local co-op.

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