Dear Pat: I’m trying to make my home as energy-efficient as possible. I recently installed a new heat pump and efficient water heater and increased the amount of insulation in my home. I also enlisted the help of a home energy auditor, and he didn’t find much in the way of air leakage. However, my energy bills still seem higher than they should be. Can you point out other areas of the home that I might be overlooking? — Raymond
Dear Raymond: It sounds like you have made some solid investments with your focus on space and water heating, which are usually the major uses of energy in the home. Your energy auditor may be able to provide information about how your home’s energy use compares to similar homes in the area.
Your electric co-op could also be a valuable source of information. Many co-ops use meters that can show detailed hourly energy use for members’ homes. This information can sometimes help pinpoint a large energy-user. For example, you may be using more electricity on weekends, which would be an important clue to discovering what is driving up your energy costs.
Armed with whatever clues you can glean from your energy auditor or co-op, you are better able to search for an energy hog in your home. Here are some unconventional energy-users that could be adding to your bill:
Swimming pools and spas
Swimming pools and spas are nice amenities, but they can significantly contribute to your energy bill.
- Your pool pump keeps the water circulating through its filtering system and could be the most energy-intensive component of your pool. Older pool pumps run continuously on a single, high-speed setting, but this circulation is more than the typical residential pool needs. An ENERGY STAR-certified pool pump can be programmed to run at different speeds depending on your pool’s needs — and can pay for itself in as little as two years.
- Pool heaters that run on natural gas or propane are the most common, but an electric heat pump water heater or a solar water heater could be a more cost-effective option. Remember to put a cover on the pool when it is not in use to keep your heater from working as hard.
- If you have a hot tub or spa that you occasionally use, consider turning it off when it’s not in use. If you use your spa frequently, use a cover with a high insulation value to keep the water warm.
Water pumps often run on electricity and can be found in many areas.
- If you have a larger property, you may have an irrigation system. Leaks here can greatly increase electricity use.
- If your home uses well water, you have a pump that helps bring the water to your home. A malfunctioning well pump may run continuously to try and maintain proper water pressure.
- Fountains make charming additions to your garden, but the pumps that run them use about as much energy as a small lamp. If you have multiple fountains, look into installing timers so the fountains only run part of the day.
Areas that aren’t living spaces
You may have some energy hogs in your garage, outbuilding or basement. For example:
- Do you have a second working but inefficient refrigerator or freezer plugged in? Is it in use, or can you consolidate its contents into the fridge or freezer in your kitchen?
- Do you have a recreational space in an uninsulated part of your home like the garage or basement? Using space heaters or portable air conditioners in uninsulated spaces can definitely lead to higher bills.
- Do you have a block heater to help warm your vehicle on cold mornings? Plugging in your heater overnight will use far more electricity than needed — use a timer to start the block heater just a few hours before you need your vehicle.
If you run a business out of your home, a large energy user could be contributing to your electric bill. Regularly using welding equipment, ceramic kilns or power carpentry tools can contribute significantly to your electric bill, as can equipment that supports home farming operations.
Look for energy hogs around your home, and try to limit their use if possible. Find more ways to be energy-efficient by contacting your local electric co-op.