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My Energy Audit, Part 1: Heating

June 6, 2012 - 2:05pm


My utility company offers a free energy audit, of which I finally took advantage. It was mostly discussion about different ways to save energy, with inspection of a few areas of the house (not quite as comprehensive as the utility company's website indicated it would be, but it was, after all, free).

The auditor had a table of my electric bills for the last two years (I forgot to ask for a copy, but I've got several years' worth of bills, and I've started to create my own table anyway). It clearly showed that my winter bills are very high compared to my summer bills. Since I don't have air conditioning, the difference is primarily due to furnace use during the winter months, and a little extra lighting during the shorter days. While it's hard to think of heating with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, that's probably the major change that needs to be addressed. At least I have all summer to think about it.

My electric, forced-air furnace is very old (probably at least 25 years old), so it's a candidate for replacement by a more energy-efficient one. But, as always, it's a question as to the payback time—in essence, how long would it take to pay for itself in energy savings? Would it at least make a dent in my power bill? One possible, extremely major and expensive change the auditor mentioned as a possibility would be to replace it with a natural gas furnace—my area had natural gas lines installed last summer. However, that would entail some costly changes, such as running a gas line to the house from the street (at least 100 ft), replacing the hot water heater, clothes dryer and/or stove as well as the furnace—the natural gas company requires at least three major "appliances" be powered by natural gas—not to mention "piping" the house with natural gas lines to the appliances. So, that option really isn't feasible. I do have a solar assist (water circulating) on the hot water heater and furnace, but I let the solar tank go dry. I'll have to get the tank filled and try that over the next winter before I make such a major decision.

Interestingly, the auditor did suggest the use of a space heater to help heat up a room I was using, which I've always understood was a big no-no. Since I live alone (the dogs don't count—they're all long haired), it's generally not necessary to heat more than a room or two at a time. That did bring to mind one change I made in January: I started showering in the downstairs bathroom so the hot water would have less distance to travel to the showerhead. (Something else I've noticed is that the water at the showerhead seems to be hotter in the downstairs bathroom than in the upstairs bathroom—another thing to measure!) One thing I had been doing when using the upstairs bathroom in the winter was to use a space heater to warm up the bathroom, which is on an outside (north) wall. The downstairs bathroom is in the middle of the house and the heating vent is close to the furnace, so not as much heat is lost between the furnace and the vent, and the room doesn't need supplementary heating. I'm sure I can't tell the difference in the winter since the power use is overwhelmingly for heating, but maybe there will be a slight change from last summer to this summer.

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