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Easy Efficiency Steps Pay Off

March 21, 2012 - 12:07pm


Spring is officially here, and many parts of the country have been enjoying spring-like weather for a few weeks already. I, for one, was ready for it, especially after enduring many a cold winter night in our drafty old row house in northwest Washington, D.C. With the warmer weather, I expect to see the upward pressure on our energy costs ease, but I don't expect our energy bill to drop a whole lot, because we ran a pretty energy-efficient ship this winter.

Back in January, my housemates and I got serious about improving the air seal of our house. We hung a plastic sheet across the archway between our kitchen and mudroom, which was where we were losing most of our heat downstairs. I also installed plastic window covers on the inside frames of the windows in the sun room off of my upstairs bedroom. That room is not well insulated and had been our biggest problem area on the upper level of the house. Reducing the draft in that room and keeping the door between the bedroom and the sunroom closed made a huge difference keeping in the heat. With those simple improvements, which cost less than twenty-five dollars, our home stayed considerably warmer, and we rarely, if ever, had to change our automated thermostat settings.

Using a programmable thermostat was also key in reducing our energy waste over the winter. On the weekdays, our thermostat was set to turn the boiler on at 6 a.m., raising the temp from 60°F to 68°F in time for breakfast. The temp would drop back down at around 10 a.m. to 65°F, where it would remain throughout the day (when more solar energy passively heated the house). Then the thermostat would kick the heat back up to 68°F at around 6:30 p.m. in time to get the house comfortably warm for dinnertime. The thermostat would later cut the heat off at 11:30 p.m., dropping the temp back down to 60°F through the night—a perfect winter sleeping temperature. On a related note, installing the plastic weatherproofing curtain between the kitchen and mudroom helped trap more heat in our living room where the thermostat is located—and where we spend most of our time in the morning and evening—so it improved our comfort and reduced the frequency that our boiler kicked on.

Last month, one of my housemates looked into our gas use for January and compared it with our bill from January 2011. We found that we used 93 therms of gas less than the amount we used last January, which was a 43% drop in gas use. We pay about $1.25 for every therm we use, so that comes to a $116 savings over last January's bill. In February, we only spent $27 dollars on gas—which ran our range, boiler and water heater. We think our energy efficiency work is paying back, big time!

Combining all of that energy savings with the fact that I rarely drove my car this winter—opting to use public transportation for my commute and many of my weekend trips—I believe my carbon footprint has dropped to a personal low. That feels like a reward in itself.