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Beating the Cost of Natural Gas: Home Weatherization

Friday, October 21, 2005 at 11:20 AM

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Are you an energy hog? That's what the Bush administration is asking Americans facing soaring natural gas prices in the wake of lost production following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This winter residents in the Midwest - the part of the country most dependent on natural gas for heating - could see monthly bills more than double what they were last year. So even if you already set your thermostat to 68, maybe the government is right in thinking it's time to dust off some old energy conservation tips. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.

Some home weatherization projects can come with a hefty price tag. For people with low incomes, there’s government help to pay for a new furnace or to install insulation or storm windows. The rest of us will have to fork over hard cash from our own pockets. The question is, is it really worth it to, say, spend the money to fully insulate your attic and walls? Cheri Hubbard of the Ohio Office of Energy Efficiency says it is.

Cheri Hubbard: That insulation improvement can save you up to 30% of what you pay for heating.

Tracey Workley agrees that insulation is the number one energy-saver. Workley does home energy audits for the Cuyahoga County Home Weatherization Assistance Program. But she says you may not have to create a whole house blanket to see a drop in your gas bill.

Tracey Workley: Heat rises. I think unless you have a window or door that is just absolutely horrific, where you sit there and you can feel your hair moving, I think the bigger savings for your heat bill is going to be to climb up in your attic and try to insulate it as best you can.

Workley says that means sealing around chimneys and soil stacks, then laying down a full 12-inches of insulation. Depending on the size of your attic the cost could be several hundred dollars and experts say that price is going up. But many conservation ideas don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Workley says keeping your furnace operating at peak efficiency can be relatively inexpensive. The Ohio Office of Energy Efficiency also recommends frequent filter changes. Workley recommends once a month.

Tracey Workley: The furnace filter basically does two things. It keeps the inside of your furnace clean. If you have a dirty furnace, you’re going to soot up the inside of your furnace, then it’s going to burn even worse and possibly crack the heat exchanger because of accumulation. The other thing the filter does, is it keeps the air in your house cleaner.

Workley says a furnace inspection every other year is a good idea. But if you need a new furnace Sherry Hubbard says the state has an energy loan fund for qualified buyers who want to opt for an ultra-efficient Energy Star system. That’s the federal government’s 10-year old program that rates the most efficient household appliances. But Hubbard says simply sealing leaks around windows, doors, even indoor electrical outlets on exterior walls, can make a big, low-cost improvement.

Cheri Hubbard: There are a lot of places where air moves in and out of your home. And that’s probably the next best place to look. You could save up to 10%.

You can also save a bundle by putting off window replacement and simply adding storms or temporary shrink wrap. Whatever energy-saving investments you decide to make this fall will probably be paying off for years to come. Like many energy experts, Ohio Consumers Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander says we’ve most likely seen the last of cheap gas and oil.

Janine Migden-Ostrander: Today we have approximately 64 years of economically-recoverable gas supplies in the U.S., 59% of that on public lands. So it is important to take a look at how we are going to stretch those resources so we can protect our children and our grandchildren.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel is working with seven other Midwestern states to create a regional energy efficiency compact with major utility companies. The goal is to reduce demand for natural gas and electricity by one-percent a year by getting utilities to offer customers incentives or rebates to buy more energy-efficient products. Migden-Ostrander says it’s ratepayers who would foot the cost for the program.

Janine Migden-Ostrander: And your next question is going to be, well, if ratepayers are paying for this, how are we saving money? What the studies show is that for every dollar invested, you’re saving about $4.

Migden-Ostrander says if a lot of people participate and states can reduce their demand, gas prices could go down by as much as 13%. But that will take a few years. In the meantime, experts agree the best way to keep more money in your pocket as temperatures drop is to invest in home weatherization projects today. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

Additional Information

Ohio Department of Development, Office of Energy Efficiency - Energy Loan Program, Energy Star, more
Cleveland Housing Network - Lower Utility Bills
U.S. EPA, Energy Star programs

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