Conserve energy and save money

Cutting down on air leaks can help you cut down on your energy bills. See "10 Ways to Control Air Leaks" at the bottom of this story.

The failure of Ken and Cindy Waterlander’s central heating and air-conditioning system turned out to be a good thing. While investigating their options for replacing the system, Goose Creek Heating and Air made a suggestion.

The couple, who live in Crowfield Plantation, were advised to contact Berkeley Electric Cooperative about a low-interest loan for replacing their system. To qualify, the utility required an audit to determine if air leaks in their home were letting too much heated and cooled air escape, in turn, causing more energy than necessary to heat or cool the structure. The audit involved a blower door test and a walk-through.

While energy conservation is important all year, many are particularly conscious of the need to do so as the weather grows cooler.

“With their guidance, we were able to make a lot of changes,” Ken Waterlander says.

The couple sealed around window and door jambs, put a cover on the attic door, placed covers behind light and electrical wall plates and bought a chimney balloon to stop its damper from leaking air.

“The total cost of our improvements was less than $100,” Waterlander says. “We bought the chimney balloon online and everything else at the hardware store.”

After they made the improvements, the utility returned to measure air leaks and found the house was about 25 percent tighter.

That helped the Waterlanders qualify for Berkeley Electric’s HomeAdvantage Loan for a new high-efficiency heating and air unit, he says. All the improvements gave them a 25 percent savings over previous utility bills that more than cover the system’s cost, Waterlander says.

Saving money in a tight economy and conserving energy to protect the environment have driven more people to control heated and cooled air losses through leaks in their houses. Local energy experts say they are excited by the changes many have made, but many others have yet to take the energy conservation steps.

To the Sustainability Institute, the situation means more public education is needed.

“I think we have reached the early adopters, and we really need to scale up our efforts for broader awareness,” says Laura Addis, director of marketing and communications for the institute, which focuses on conserving energy and reducing environmental impact.

In addition to public education workshops they already conduct, they plan to start working with community leaders to develop a neighborhood outreach program, Addis says. Their biggest challenge is often to have residents understand that picking low-hanging fruit, doing the simple things, can have a big impact, she says. People hear energy conservation and think solar.

SCE&G’s Robert Yannity says as energy costs rise, more customers take steps such as improving attic insulation to an R-38 value and setting thermostats to 78 during the summer and 68 during the winter. Many people who have programmable thermostats don’t use the feature, which conserves energy by adjusting temperatures when occupants are at home, asleep and away.

Yannity, Addis and Micah Ponte of Berkeley Electric Co-op say their organizations encourage homeowners to have energy conservation needs evaluated and a list of priorities set. All provide rebates and other incentives.

“One of the biggest things we emphasize is the free home energy check,” Yannity says.

Customers can sign up on the company’s website, he says. SCE&G will visit to check things such as insulation, water heaters and thermostats for energy efficiency and recommend changes if needed. Making improvements in these areas can pay for themselves.

The Sustainability Institute’s CharlestonWISE program sends an energy advocate to the home to conduct a free audit. The audit includes a blower door test (a door covering and fan assembly that sucks air out of a house to assess its airtightness); a walk-through to assess specific areas for leaks and a list of recommended improvements. CharlestonWISE also has a list of contractors vetted through its program and will follow up by checking paperwork a homeowner signs off on or making a visit to ensure quality work has been done. In addition, they help homeowners go through the process of getting a PowerSaver Loan through SunTrust Bank.

The institute’s Energy Conservation Corps, a partnership with AmeriCorps, provides home weatherization, repairs and upgrades to low-income owner-occupied homes primarily in North Charleston, Addis says. Those in the conservation corps are part of a green workforce in training.

Berkeley Electric Cooperative offers free in-home energy audits to help its members prioritize needed changes. Some may intend to make a purchase that would be financed with the cooperative’s HomeAdvantage Loan Program. The program, which works with a specific list of contractors, is designed to have energy savings cover the cost of the loan.

In addition, SCE&G offers its Online Energy Audit, and Berkeley Electric, its Home Energy Saver. Both online tools help customers assess their conservation needs.

Seal air leaks and install insulation with an R-38 value. Place a hatch cover on attic doors to prevent unheated attic air from seeping into living areas.

Seal ducts and add foam sealant to gaps where ducts or pipes enter a living space from unheated areas such as garages or attached storage sheds.

Vacuum vents and registers to remove dust that can hamper warm air flow. Check filters once a month.

Caulk, seal and put weatherstripping around exterior doors. Place a door draft stopper or rolled towel on the floor behind doors to keep warm air in, cold air out.

Insulate exterior walls and add covers behind electrical plates.

Wrap water heaters in a heater blanket and insulate pipes with foam or fiberglass insulation tubes. Consider gettinga tankless one that heats water on demand.

Add insulation to an R-15 value and a moisture barrier.

Set thermostat to 68 degrees; add a digital programmable thermostat to maintain lower temperatures at night and when no one is home. Have the HVAC unit serviced each year. Make sure the ducts are properly installed and don’t have leaks or tears. Remove or cover window units.

Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use. For gas log fireplaces, turn off the pilot when it’s not in use.

Caulk around windows; use insulated drapes; add plastic window insulation or shrink film or update to energy-efficient windows.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.