The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) can help homeowners save money and energy right now. By taking energy-saving measures, you will save energy and money. Some measures are simple and inexpensive. Others will take some investment. Money spent today to improve a home’s energy efficiency will reduce energy bills into the future.
When looking at any specific energy-saving ideas, its helpful to know how your home uses energy. The reason is that energy equals dollars. We pay a certain amount of money for every unit of energy used.
How We Use Energy in Our Homes
Energy use is divided into two areas; base load and heating. Heating is the biggest utility expense for most Montana families. Baseload consumption is year-round energy uses like water heating, refrigeration and lighting. Small changes in baseload consumption add up over the entire year. The EPA offers a measurement tool called the Home Energy Yardstick to calculate home energy use. All you need is a single power bill, which ordinarily shows electricity and natural gas usage over a year's time. Enter your usage and see how you compare to similar sized homes nationally. Another excellent resource to use is DEQ's Energy Saver's Guidebook which helps you identify and implement energy savings in your home.
- Space Heating - Heating your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. Typically, 49 percent of your utility bill goes for heating. No matter what kind of heating system you have in your house, you can save money and increase your comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment.
- Heating Tips - Your heating system, like your car, needs regular maintenance to run at peak efficiency. That means scheduling a yearly maintenance visit with a heating contractor to tune-up the system. A licensed contractor will make sure your heating system is operating efficiently and safely. A regular maintenance schedule can also help in identifying problems early.
- Select Energy-Efficient Products When You Buy New Heating Equipment - Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage. For furnaces, look for high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings. The national minimum is 78 percent AFUE, but certain ENERGY STAR models on the market that are rated 95 AFUE and above. ENERGY STAR-qualified models are eligible for the $500 Montana energy conservation credit.
- Install an Energy Star Programmable Thermostat - Inexpensive and easy to install, programmable thermostats automatically turn down the heat during the weekdays and at night so you do not pay to heat your home when no one is around to appreciate the comfort. Programmable thermostats are easy to operate and allow for your different workday and weekend schedules. These thermostats also qualify for the 25 percent Montana energy conservation tax credit.
- Thermostat Replacement Warning - Many older homes have room temperature thermostats that contain mercury. To identify, remove the front plate and look for one or more small glass bulbs, known as tilt switches. These contain mercury. Each tilt switch contains roughly three grams of mercury, though there may be as much as six grams. Never dispose of this type of thermostat in the trash or local landfill, because mercury is toxic and can leak out to contaminate our air, water, and soil. To assist home-owners with proper disposal of mercury-containing thermostats, a no-cost collection/recycling program is available to all Montana residents. To determine a drop off location in your area, contact your local county sanitarian.
Most of these actions focus on changing daily habits around the home, are cost-free and result in savings that quickly add up. Other actions require modest investments to reap the benefits of more efficient lighting technology or improvements in appliance efficiency. The more measures you adopt, the more you will save. Focus first on space heating and then on water heating, lighting, refrigeration and clothes drying for maximum benefits.
- Start Strong and Simple
- Install a programmable or setback thermostat to automatically turn down heat when people are not at home, and during sleeping hours.
- Set thermostats to 68oF or lower for winter heating and 78oF or higher for summer cooling.
- Turn off lights, computers and entertainment devices when not in use.
- Install compact fluorescent light bulbs in lamps and fixtures you use the most. This measure alone can save you $35 a year or more if you change out five 100-watt incandescent lamp bulbs.
- Look for savings available by unplugging infrequently used televisions, VCRs and other electronic games. These devices always consume small amounts of electricity, even when turned off, to power internal clocks or "instant-on" features. To really shut these devices "off" you need to unplug them. Putting them all on a power strip can make the task easier.
- Appliances Matter
- Switch to the "energy-saver" settings on your washing machine, clothes dryer and dishwasher.
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator and set it between 37 and 40 degrees F.
- Check and clean your refrigerator’s condenser coils once a year.
- Unplug that second refrigerator in the garage or basement. Older refrigerators are very inefficient and can easily cost you $125 - $150 a year in electricity bills.
- Watch your Water
- Make it a habit to run only full loads in your dishwasher or clothes washer.
- Repair those dripping hot water faucets that send money down the drain 24 hours a day.
- Install low-flow showerheads and cut your hot water consumption for showering by 30 – 40 percent.
- If your water heater is more than 10 years old, wrap it with an insulated blanket and save $10 - $15 per year in energy costs.
- A Sealed Home is an Efficient Home
- Examine your basement or crawl space. Heat will try to move to the coldest area of your home. Often this is the basement, or an unheated crawl space. Check to be sure that there is insulation in the basement or crawl space walls.
- Also check the insulation levels in your ceilings and walls. The most recent recommendations call for ceilings to be insulated to R-49 and above ground walls to at least R-19. Crawlspace walls should be insulated to R-19 and basement walls insulated to R-11 or greater. Windows should have two layers of glass, either a thermopane or a window and a storm window.
- Air sealing the openings around plumbing pipes, wires, chimney and other gaps is recommended before adding insulation.
- Change your furnace air filter at least twice each winter.
- Seal and insulate heating system ductwork in unheated parts of the house.
- Go the Distance
- Get a home energy audit. Call the utility that provides your heating fuel and ask if energy audits are offered. Or, conduct a do-it-yourself audit.
For more complete information the Department of Environmental Quality has published the Montana Energy Savers Guide.
Lighting energy consumption averages 1,100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year for the typical Montana household. Increasing the lighting efficiency in your home is the quickest way to reduce this part of your energy bill. Fortunately, improvements to the efficiency of light bulbs and lighting fixtures in the last ten years helps you do this easily.
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) have been readily available for many years now. CFLs have become more popular with recent advances increasing their quality and uses in the home. They are the most energy-efficient choice for homes today. CFLs come in screw-in or pin-based configurations, in many sizes and shapes. Screw-in lamps fit into almost any fixture that accepts standard bulbs.
When shopping for new light bulbs or lighting fixtures look for ENERGY STAR products. ENERGY STAR products provide the same light output as conventional incandescent light products while requiring 2/3 less energy. Another valuable feature is that these products can operate 7 - 10 times longer than standard light bulbs. The higher initial cost of ENERGY STAR qualified light products is recouped through lower annual operating costs.
- Replace light bulbs in the highest use fixtures with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). Good candidates to replace are fixtures that are in use for at least four hours or more per day. Replace incandescent bulbs that are in the 60 - 100 watt range.
- The highest use fixtures are typically the kitchen ceiling light, living room table and floor lamps and bathroom vanity. ENERGY STAR qualified lighting products are available to meet all these lighting needs. Switching to ENERGY STAR products in all these applications can save you up to $60 each year in energy costs.
- Take advantage the 25 percent Montana energy conservation tax credit when you purchase new ENERGY STAR qualified light fixtures to reduce both your tax bill and lighting bill.
Change a Light, Change the World Campaign
The ENERGY STAR Change a Light, Change the World campaign is a national challenge sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy to encourage Americans to consider the energy they use and help change the world one light, one step, at a time. Save time, energy and money while helping to protect the environment by switching to light bulbs and fixtures that have earned the ENERGY STAR.
Visit www.energystar.gov/changealight to learn more about this year’s campaign.
For more helpful information check out ENERGY STAR and Lighting Design Lab.
Check out the Lighting Buyers Guide, sponsored by the EPA. DOE provides good technical information on compact fluorescent bulbs.
Many improvements in the energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers and other appliances have been made in the past 10 years. New refrigerators, for example, use as little as 1/3 of the energy of older models thus reducing the cost of operation from $120 - $180 per year to $40 - $60 per year.
When shopping for energy efficient appliances, look for the energy use label to compare costs. An ENERGY STAR designation is a quick way to know that an appliance is efficient and will result in low energy consumption and costs. For more information see the Montana Energy Savers Guidebook, Chapter 7.
Here are some other sources for appliance information:
Water heating makes up the second largest energy usage in most homes, after heating. A few simple home fixes can reduce your water heating cost.
- Make sure the temperature on the hot water tank is set to 120 degrees F
- Fix any leaks in the plumbing system
- You can also install water-saving shower heads to reduce the biggest hot-water user.
- Insulate your water heater if it is more than 10 years old.
For more information see Montana Energy Savers Guidebook, Chapter 6
How to Read the Energy Guide Label
The Energy Guide label gives you two important pieces of information you can use to compare different brands and models when shopping for a new appliance. Test results are printed on yellow Energy Guide labels, which manufacturers are required to display on many appliances. This label estimates how much energy the appliance uses, compares energy use of similar products, and lists approximate annual operating costs.
Energy Guide Label
The building shell of your home is the area that stands between you and the outdoors. That includes the ceilings, walls, windows, floors, and foundation of your home. The building shell insulates you from the outside temperatures. The right amount and type of insulation in the building shell and limiting the amount of air leakage in the building shell will help keep heating and cooling costs low.
Energy Code Minimum Insulation & Recommended Levels
- Ceilings R-49
- Walls R-21
- Crawlspace wall R-19 or crawlspace floor R-30
- Basements R-19
- Window U-value U- .33
- Furnace AFUE rating 90%
First, check the insulation levels in your ceilings, exterior walls, basement and crawlspace to see if it meets the levels recommended above for Montana. In an existing home it may be difficult and expensive to meet these guidelines in all cases. Some measures, such as adding additional ceiling insulation can be done easily in many homes. If your ceiling is insulated with vermiculite insulation it is best not to disturb the insulation due to the potential of exposure to asbestos fibers contained in the vermiculite. Hire only trained professionals if you want to safely remove this material from your attic.
EnergySavers.gov is the U.S. Department of Energy’s website for specific steps on how to conserve energy and save money at home. It has extensive links to a broad range of informational resources on saving energy at home, work or school.
ENERGY STAR: visit their home improvement page. Energy Star is sponsored by US EPA.
Home Energy Yardstick allows you to compare your home's energy performance to other homes and estimate the potential for improvement. The tool will compare your home to others after adjusting for size, age, location, and the number of people living in it. This tool is part of the ENERGY STAR site.
EnergyIdeas Their Q and A on energy questions, on the Solutions page, is particularly good. Energy Ideas is sponsored by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Service Energy Program.
DOE EERE Information Center has all sorts of technical information and publications.