Winter can take over energy spending

Keep warm, be bright without wasting energy, money

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION Use your thermostat to not overheat your home, especially at night and when you are away.

If you’ve even looked outside — much less stuck your nose out — there’s no doubt about anything anymore.

Winter is here.

In a big, frigid, arctic way.

And the cold has hit right in time for the holiday season — when your pockets may be a little lighter from gift buying, party throwing or just having the heater running throughout the entire day to keep yourself toasty.

We all want a little more money in our pockets, especially this time of year, and you can do that by controlling your utility and energy costs — even as temperatures dip, snow begins to fall and ice begins to form.

The following are a few tips to get your utility expenses under control.

Energy Audit

An energy audit can show you where you’re losing energy or where your energy is inefficient and where you can improve savings. There are professionals who can do this for you. Some utility companies will offer this service if you’re a customer.

Indiana Michigan Power will conduct an “energy analysis” of a customers home for no charge, according to the website www.electricideas.com, which is run by the utility company. That’s a $175 value, according to the site.

“We’ll have an expert look around the home, check the insulation and the heating,” said Indiana Michigan Power spokeswoman Erica Putt. “If upgrades are needed, we’ll help schedule those upgrades and pay for half their cost.”

NIPSCO, for homeowners who have natural gas service in their homes, offers its own suite of energy-saving services, plus a home energy audit which you can learn about online at www.nipsco.com/save-energy/residential.

Its program ranges from incentives for customers who recycle an old (inevitably less efficient) refrigerator or freezer) to rebates for other upgrades to a program of energy-saving tips and home weatherization help for income-qualified homeowners.

For active NIPSCO customers in homes at least five years old, the website says, “A professional energy advisor will:

• Analyze your energy use by assessing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system for operating efficiency

• Directly install some or all of these low-cost, energy-saving measures: CFL and LED bulbs, energy efficient sink faucet aerators, energy efficient showerhead(s), water heater pipe wrap, furnace filter whistle

“After the assessment, your advisor will provide a comprehensive report detailing what can be done to start saving energy and make your home more comfortable. Based on your assessment findings, you may be able to reduce your energy bills by as much as 30 percent after completing recommended improvements.

“To help make those improvements even more affordable, rebates or incentives are available on things such as:

• Smart Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat

• Geothermal Heat Pump

• Natural Gas Furnace”

But if you want to do an audit on your own, the U.S. Department of Energy offers tips at energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits. Main things to look out for will be touched upon throughout this article:

Look for air leaks, check insulation, inspect heating and cooling equipment, etc.

Seal air leaks

Feel a little bit of a draft coming from a window? Or maybe from a door which leads to the outside?

Cracks can develop around a house which allow heat to escape, zapping your home’s energy. Caulking and weather-stripping around these leaks. The Department of Energy also recommends using a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet over a window during the winter months to improve efficiency.

Heavy or tight-fitting drapes will help insulate, as well.

“Ten to 25 percent of warm air escapes through leaks,” Putt said. “So do anything you can do to keep that air from escaping.”

And while it’s cold outside, the Department of Energy suggests you don’t be afraid to open the curtains on south-facing windows to allow sunlight to naturally heat the home — if the sun is out, of course.

Vampire electronics

You’re running late to work and you see your cell phone on the counter, plugged in and all charged up for the day. You grab it, disconnect it from the charger and head out for the day — forgetting to unplug the cord from the outlet.

We’ve all been there.

According to the Department of Energy, chargers left plugged in after a cell phone has been disconnected consume .26 watts of energy and are examples of “vampire” electronics — they keep sucking up the energy even when not in use.

When you have a lot of appliances and devices plugged in and idle the savings can add up.

Indiana Michigan Power calls this drainage a “phantom load” and the average household wastes $100 of electricity thanks to these idle devices. To combat this waste, always unplug. Maybe not your main television or cable box or wireless router, but other electronics you maybe don’t use all the time.

If you absolutely need the comfort of a having something plugged in and ready to use at the snap of some fingers, you can use a power strip for multiple appliances which allows you to toggle the power flow with the push of a switch.

You can also try to curb idle time, according to the Department of Energy. That means putting your computer on sleep mode and powering down your video game console when you’re finished with it — no leaving it on pause while you try to beat whatever big bad end-level boss you’re on currently.

Adjust the temperature

This is a hard one.

It’s cold outside. You want it to be warm inside. But that thermostat, the one you’ve got turned up, it can be a real drain on electricity or natural gas usage, depending on how you heat your home.

The Department of Energy suggests turning down the thermostat as low as is comfortable when you wake up in the morning. When you are asleep or out of the house, you can turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours at a time and save around 10 percent on your heating an cooling bills, according to the department’s website.

Indiana Michigan Power suggests keeping the thermostat right around 68 degrees and maybe turning it down a little at night — five degrees or so — to conserve power. Also, be wary of cranking the heat up in an effort to get the home warm fast.

“It doesn’t heat the home faster,” Putt said. “It actually uses a lot more energy to heat the home up. A lot of times when we get cold, we think we can crank it up quickly.”

LED Lights

You might already have your Christmas lights up this year.

In the future, though, you can save electricity and energy by using light-emitting-diode (LED) Christmas lights — which are especially useful on savings if you go all Clark Griswold when it comes to decorating your every square inch of your home.

Until then, changing all your normal bulbs — or as many as you can — to LED bulbs can lead to some very serious savings. These bulbs use at least 75 percent energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.

“They are a little more expensive, but they last longer and reduce your energy bill quite a bit,” Putt said.

Plus, Indiana Michigan Power offers in-store rebates at places like the Dollar Tree, Rural King and Menards, helping you offset the cost of the bulbs.

Which just adds to your savings.

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