Ways to Be More Energy Efficient

Here are a few typical questions.

Why are my energy bills so different from others?
It is not uncommon for us to find similar houses on the same street where the energy usage varies by 20 to 60 percent. There are a number of key factors that cause differences in energy bills, so comparing your energy bills to someone else's without doing a complete inventory of their appliances and usage habits is like comparing apples to oranges.  The type of fuel used for heating and hot water, the number of people, the ages of major appliances, especially refrigerators, heating systems and air conditioners, can make a dramatic difference in bills. If your house leaks air like a sieve while your neighbor's  house is well weatherized, you can have a much higher heating bill.  BED is happy to help our customers break down your energy bills to find cost effective energy efficiency improvements. Check out your usage history on our website.  You will need your customer and location ID numbers located on your monthly bill.   BED offers free on-site energy audits for all customers and incentives for many kinds of improvements.  We also lend appliances meters so that you can measure the usage of various appliances in your home.

Phantom Load

When BED gets a high bill complaint, one of the first questions the customer gets asked is if they have added a new TV, DVR or satellite box. Just so TV viewers don’t have to wait a minute or so for the TV to warm up, the standby power, which is often 20 to 30 Watts, is being used all the time mostly when the TV is off. This is a noticeable amount in the monthly electric bill and customers will often call assuming it was a wrong reading. The most energy efficient units are Energy Star rated, look for the little Energy Star label on anything you purchase.  Not only is the standby power consumption the lowest but the power consumption is lower when the units are “ON”.  Feel free to call BED for some help. Consider using an advanced power strip for your entertainment systems; then it is easy to turn the strip  off when you are not watching TV.  Even if you have to wait a minute or so for the cable box to “boot up” this little step can save you money.  Unlike the intermittent use of most appliances, standby phantom loads are running 24/7 and that adds up to an average of 730 hours a month. Phantom load in the United States costs consumers $3 billion a year. It is an easy place to start saving. 


How much electricity do your appliances use?

Read the Electrical Usage brochure.  Refrigeration, electric water heating, and lighting eat up over half the energy dollars of BED's average residential customer. The chart's figures are based on modern, efficient appliance models. Your costs may vary depending on the age, size, and model of the appliance; its location; and how it is used. Older models may use twice as much electricity!  We've highlighted the average home's biggest electricity users on this chart.

Washing Machines If you are washing in warm or hot water, stop. Use cold water. Unless you are trying to remove grease stains, cold water will get your wash just as clean for a lot less money than hot water. You can reduce this energy cost by as much as 50 percent by washing in cold water.

Wash/rinse settings kWh used Avg. cost per Load Loads Per Month *Avg family of 4 Cost per Month Cost per year
Hot/Hot 7.4 $0.89 22 $19.58 $234.96
Hot/Warm 5.6 $0.67 22 $14.74 $176.88
Hot/Cold 4.3 $0.52 22 $11.44 $137.28
Warm/Warm 3.9 $0.47 22 $10.34 $124.08
Warm/Cold 2.1 $0.25 22 $5.50 $66.00
Cold/Cold 0.4 $0.05 22 $1.10 $13.20

If you have electric hot water (ask us about current rebates to switch to natural gas) the chart below shows the typical costs depending on your wash\rinse water temperature settings. The chart clearly shows the savings from using cold water. The temperature of the rinse water does not affect cleaning, so always set the washing machine on cold-water rinse.

If you have natural gas hot water and typically use warm or hot water to wash your clothes then your costs will generally be 45 percent lower than with electric. Still, the best way to save is by using cold water.

If you are considering purchasing a new washing machine, check out Energy Star-qualified models and rebates through BED and Efficiency Vermont. These machines can cut water usage by 1/3 and energy consumption by 60 percent if you wash with hot water. You will need less detergent, and they are much gentler on clothes.

The rebate is currently $50. 
RefrigeratorsPurchasing a second-hand refrigerator may look like a good buy initially, but it is wise to look at the life-cycle cost that includes the purchase price and the cost of operating and maintaining the appliance.

The average pre-1990s 18-cubic-foot refrigerator will consume about $1,500 to $2,000 worth of electricity during the course of its 20-year life! Energy Star-labeled refrigerators use about 60 percent less.

Often, it is less expensive on a monthly basis to purchase a new product that has high efficiency and finance it for two or three years than buying a much less expensive energy guzzler The savings on the electric bill can offset the monthly finance charge.

If you think that your refrigerator is 10 years or older BED can lend you a meter, at no charge, that plugs into your fridge. After a few days you will have a very good idea of its operating cost. Or, if you prefer, send us the make and model number. The Association of Home Appliance Manufactures lists the usage of most 1969-1995 models. You can also use the refrigerator calculator. Be sure to have your model number typically found inside the refrigerator or freezer compartment.

Depending on the size and age, refrigerators can use $70 to $200 per year in electricity. Here are some tips to improve efficiency:
  • Check the "power saver" switch. Many refrigerators have small electric heaters built into the walls to prevent sweating during hot and humid periods. These heaters just make the refrigerators work that much harder. Unless you have noticeable condensation during the hottest part of the summer, keep the switch on the energy saving setting and save about $2.50 per month.
  • A full freezer will use less energy than a partially full one. Plastic jugs filled with water work great to fill in the empty space.
  • Use an outdoor thermometer to check the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator compartment should be between 36F and 38F and the freezer between 0F and 5F. Keeping temperature ranges 10F lower than recommended can increase energy usage by as much as 25 percent. Place the thermometer in the refrigerator before bedtime and then recheck the temperature first thing in the morning.
  • Keep the coils underneath free of dust as dust acts as insulation and makes it work harder. A vacuum with hose attachments can remove a lot of the dust.
Clothes Dryers If you choose to use a dryer over a clothesline (the most energy efficient method) at least make sure your dryer is working as safely and efficiently as possible.

First and foremost, make sure your dryer exhaust vent is clean. At least once a year, you should disconnect the vent pipe and clean out the lint. While this may only save a small amount on your utility bill, it could prevent your house from burning down. It's a safety hazard to have a clogged dryer vent.

Plastic dryer vents are a potential fire hazard. Plastic is a flammable petroleum product and plastic vent pipes have been known to catch on fire from the heat of the dryer. If you are replacing a dryer or just the dryer vent, buy a rigid aluminum pipe vent. It will last indefinitely; it's much safer; and the smooth pipe walls allow for more efficient airflow and fewer surfaces on which to catch drier lint.

Never vent a dryer into the house. Claims are made that by attaching a lint trap to the vent, you can safely vent inside. Most houses don't need the extra moisture in winter, nor does any house need the accompanying pollutants in the dryer exhaust.

It costs about 50-cents for each (45 minute) dryer load using electricity or propane, and about 25-cents per load for natural gas. The average family does about 22 loads of laundry per month so a natural gas dryer could save about $5.50 per month or $65 per year. BED currently offers a $100 incentive to switch existing electric clothes dryers to natural gas dryers.

When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes.

But remember, the solar dryer (also known as a clothesline) is the least expensive of all. If it is hot and sunny, a clothesline can dry your clothes faster than a dryer. Using a clothesline can save the average family between $10 and $20 per month. 
Home Heating and Cooling A 1 percent savings for every one degree you turn your thermostat down over an eight-hour period can add up to very big savings on your energy bill. If you set the thermostat back three degrees over a 24-hour period you'll save 9 percent right off the bat. If you increase the setback while you’re asleep or while the house is empty your savings will be even greater.

Setback thermostats can accomplish significant energy savings without reducing the comfort of the occupants. There is no sense heating an empty house or when occupants are in bed. A setback thermostat will turn the heat lower when you want it cooler and raise it when you want it warmer. And unlike a person, it always remember to do it. A setback thermostat can be a simple mechanical clock type or an extremely sophisticated electronic unit that allows multiple setbacks that reflect a changing weekly schedule. You’ll notice the savings right away.

Heating typically is the largest energy expense in the home. If you haven’t had your heating system inspected – and tested for combustion efficiency – in the last two years, call a qualified inspector now. Your system should be as safe and energy efficient as possible. A good inspection can save money and – in some cases – lives. Don’t forget to inspect the chimney. Lots of critters can make their home there in spring and summer. (While we’re on safety make sure your carbon monoxide sensors and smoke alarms are in working order.)

If the heat in your house circulates unevenly, don’t run out right away and buy an electric space heater for the cold spots . These heaters can be huge drains on your electric bill, and often there is a better way to solve the problem. Heat from central heating systems should circulate around the house fairly evenly. When this is not happening there are several things to check. Here are a few obvious ones. Are your windows and storm windows intact and properly shut – including the basement windows? Also, check all the doors especially the attic door or hatch. If these check out, then check the heating system itself. If you have a hot air furnace, be sure that the heat registers and cold air returns are not covered by rugs or furnishings. Next, try adjusting the hot air supply registers. If that doesn't do the trick, make sure that the adjustment dampers in the ductwork are set properly. If you don’t have cold air returns in each room, your interior doors should be undercut at least 1” to allow for proper flow out of the room. If these steps don’t produce the desired results, have an experienced heating system technician check the whole system to see if there are problems that need fixing or merely more sophisticated adjustments that are needed. Sometimes part of the ductwork can have large holes in it or even be separated. Also, remember to clean the furnace air filter regularly to help improve airflow.

If you have a hot water heating system with modern baseboard radiators, be sure that the airflow dampers (the movable metal flaps) are open sufficiently to allow an air current to naturally flow over the fins in the radiator. Old cast iron radiators will usually provide ample heat unless the valve is closed or damaged.
 Air Conditioners Air conditioners should be properly maintained by ensuring that they are fully charged and the filters are clean.

Only run the AC when you are home. It costs much more money to keep your home cool all day long than it does to turn it off when you are out.

If you have central air conditioning, ensure the ductwork is free of air leaks and is well insulated (this is particularly important if any of the ductwork runs through attics or crawlspaces).

Take advantage of free air conditioning on cool nights by opening your windows. On hot, sunny days, close your windows and shades during the day. Your homes’ insulation keeps heat in during the winter and can also keep heat out during the summer.

If you are planning to buy a new room AC unit or install a central AC system, please give BED’s Energy Services specialists a call at 865-7362 or 865-7337. We can provide you with a number of buying and installation tips, and provide you with a current list of the most energy efficient models available. Always look for the Energy Star label on any home appliance that you are considering purchasing.
Hot Water Hot water is a major source of energy consumption in our homes, typically second behind space heating costs, so can provide us with an excellent opportunity to reduce our bills.

Most water is heated by natural gas, propane and oil - or by electricity. There are two common types of fossil fuel-fired tanks: stand alone tanks and add-on tanks for space heating boilers. Add-on tanks are about 75 percent efficient when connected to efficiency boilers as opposed to 60 percent efficient or less for the stand-alone tanks. In new construction, and when replacing a boiler or stand-alone hot water tank, an add-on tank is usually the best choice.

While conventional electric water heaters are about 90 percent efficient, electric resistance heating is usually the most expensive option. If you heat your water with electricity call us about your options for fuel switching (we offer incentives and financing to switch) or be sure to wrap your tank to reduce heat loss that occurs through the tank walls.

BED will wrap customers' tanks and install free efficient showerheads and faucet aerators. Savings are about $75 per year. Cold-water clothes washing cycles, low-flow showerheads and faucets can greatly reduce your bill.

Please do not wrap gas or propane hot water tanks – the wrap may block the airflow to the burner which can create a hazardous condition.
Insulation Are you planning to replace those old windows in your home with the expectation of realizing huge savings on your energy bills? Before making such a large investment—especially if your only goal is to reduce your energy bill—consult with an unbiased energy specialist. If you live in Burlington, call BED; anywhere else in Vermont, call Efficiency Vermont.

Using proper diagnostic tools and techniques, an energy specialist can determine where the most significant heat loss is occurring. Often times, houses lose much more heat through hidden gaps in the building envelope than through the windows and doors. Sealing these gaps can result in significant reduction of air infiltration – increasing your comfort and lowering your energy bills. There is no doubt that adding an extra layer of insulation can make a big difference both in comfort and affordability. The energy specialist will also recommend extra insulation, more efficient lighting, improved ventilation and other efficiency and safety items. There are many things to consider in determining the best bang for your buck in making your home more energy efficient. So, consult with an unbiased energy specialist before reaching for your checkbook. Our only job is to advise, not to sell products.

If you decide to install the insulation yourself, there are a few simple tips that can make a very big difference in the outcome. The most common error made is adding insulation in open attic spaces before first sealing the major air leaks from the house (insulation in open attics does not stop air leakage). The second error is not insulating the space completely. Missed areas (like attic hatches or stairwells) and/or gaps and voids in the insulation can greatly reduce the effectiveness. Also, be very careful, and follow all instructions, when insulating around chimneys and recessed light cans.

Currently the most common insulations are fiberglass, cellulose and various types of foams. Each of these products has its appropriate uses and limitations as well as specific R-value, a measurement that indicates how effective the insulation is. By trapping tiny pockets of air (or gas in the case of some foams) within the insulation material, a barrier is created. It is actually the dead air, and not the insulation itself, that provides the R-value.

It is important to remember that R-value refers only to the ability of the insulation to reduce heat loss through a material. "Convective" heat loss (air leakage) can take place right through and around some insulation materials when they are poorly installed.

Moisture control, ventilation and safety requirements should be considered when selecting an insulating material. All insulation materials require careful installation to get the desired results.

If excess heat is moving through your roof because of air leakage and/or an uninsulated or poorly insulated attic, it’s not just your monthly energy bill that is feeling the effect. Ice dams can form on your roof because of this heat loss, potentially causing major damage to the roof. Ice dams build up at the cold eaves of the roof. When melting snow from the roof hits the dam, it is forced back up underneath the roof shingles. The snow is melted rapidly by heated air leaking from the house into the attic space. Proper air sealing and attic insulation not only will reduce your energy bill, it may add several years to your roof—a major money saver for any homeowner or business.

Winter can be tough enough without the hassle and expense of freezing pipes. Some buildings are much more prone to this than others, and the reason generally is that outside air leaks into the building bathing the pipes with cold air. If you stop the cold air from coming in you will almost always prevent freezing. Holes or cracks in the building foundation or loose basement windows, doors or crawl space hatches are potential problems. Water pipes in crawl spaces under additions can be particularly problematic when the new section does not tightly meet the old part of the building. Mortar, expanding spray foam, good caulk, pipe insulation and high quality weather-stripping are the materials that are typically used to solve the problem.

The Burlington area has several weatherization contractors who are expert in locating and sealing air leakage in all types of buildings. This is a good investment especially if you are using an electric space heater to keep the pipes thawed; these big energy guzzlers can cost about $3.50 each day to run.
Kitchen The kitchen is a well-used room in most homes and a place where lots of energy can be saved. Here are some tips:

  • When possible, use a microwave instead of a conventional oven. It uses half the electricity.
  • Use cold water to operate the garbage disposal. It saves energy and helps dispose of grease better.
  • Put a pan on a burner before you turn the burner on. Also make sure pans have flat bottoms and tight-fitting lids.