Home Fix: New insulation saves money, but energy prices are rising

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Q: We recently had our house inspected and repaired to save money on our heating and cooling bills. We were promised savings if we would let the company insulate, add new windows and tune up our furnace. Even though this has been a mild winter we have not noticed a significant savings and, in fact, the last electric bill was about the same as last year’s bill. We are senior citizens and were given a seniors’ discount, but I’m starting to think it was all a waste of money. Am I expecting too much too soon?

A: You are not the first person to ask me this question. With the costs of energy on the rise, there are those who will use the perceived energy crisis to increase their sales quotas. When a salesman tells you he can save you energy dollars by using his products, what he should be saying is you can reduce energy consumption by using his products.

Yes, you are consuming less electrical energy now, but the cost of the electric energy has increased since last year’s bill. Without the added insulation and new windows, your electric bill might have been much higher.

The utility company bills residential customers by the kilowatt hour (kWh), which is 1,000 watts per hour of use.

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As an example, a window air conditioner might be rated at 1 kWh, which means it will use 1,000 watts per hour of use. Using your utility bill, compare the number of kWhs you used last year with the number of kWhs used this year and you will probably notice that you are using less but paying more.

The costs to produce and deliver electricity will vary from state to state and even vary within a state, so use the average rates charged by your local utility.

You can further reduce energy use by caulking and sealing around the new windows and doors and by adding an insulated cover and weather stripping to the attic access.

What is most important is to stop the airflow from the outside to the inside through cracks or other openings in walls, ceilings and floors. Airflow can be reduced from the interior by caulking around recessed ceiling-light fixtures, floor registers, outlets and switch plates or any other opening on an outside wall. The idea is to separate the living area of the home from the attic and the foundation.

Using compact fluorescent bulbs can also lower energy use, and now that your furnace is tuned and in good working condition, make sure you change the filter on a regular basis. A dirty filter blocks airflow and wastes energy. You can also reduce energy use by 1 percent for each degree you turn down the thermostat.

Only time and the economy will reveal whether you made a wise investment, but my thinking is that you did.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or email him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.)

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