With longer, hotter summer days comes an overuse of air conditioners, wasted lighting, and heavy watering. Despite popular belief, summer does not necessarily equate to lower energy bills. But there are some simple methods, as well as long-term solutions, for saving money on utility bills.
“People overlook easy fixes,” says Soheil Nakhshab of Greenwise Solutions, a home service provider specializing in energy auditing, green construction, and solar installation. “Just changing the filter on your ventilation system ensures it doesn’t overwork itself. Installing drapes and tints minimizes solar radiation through windows. And by now everyone should be changing out old light bulbs for energy-efficient ones.”
“Lighting accounts for about 20 percent of a monthly bill,” confirms SDGE’s Allison Zaragoza. “Compact fluorescent lights last up to ten times longer and reduce lighting costs by up to 75 percent.”
Zaragoza further emphasizes turning the air conditioner off. “Use fans in the summer instead of air-conditioning,” she says. “A fan costs about two to four cents per hour while an air conditioner costs about 45 cents per hour.”
Then there are “energy vampires,” warns Zaragoza, which consume power even when not in use. “Computers and electronics draw power in standby mode and account for up to five percent of your energy use.”
If, despite making these low-cost changes, your home continues to siphon money, a professional audit may be in order. A good energy auditing company can save homeowners up to 30 percent on yearly utility bills.
“The health of your home is like the health of your body,” says Nakhshab. “People can try to self diagnose on the Internet but it’s wiser to go to the doctor. Auditing companies will uncover problems that a typical homeowner wouldn’t.”
A typical audit in the $400 range analyzes heating and cooling systems, lighting, plumbing, even appliances, yielding 20-30 percent bill reductions in perpetuity. A good auditing company will also check for carbon monoxide leaks, mold, and pests. Greenwise Solutions prefers to perform their own audit before installing solar systems, since installing them before fixing the initial problems leads to further wasted energy.
While solar is a commitment with a long return on investment, many experts agree it’s worth it. As Nakhshab explains it: “The way solar is set up currently, you would use it throughout the day and pump it back to the grid to supply power at night. This scenario is beneficial because you’re getting free power at peak hours, then giving the property cheaper power in the evenings.”
The U.S. Government offers numerous rebates and tax cuts for parties interested in installing solar panels. Some of these can be found on the SDGE Web site.
In the end, saving money on utilities is about knowledge. “Start with the low hanging fruit,” suggests Nakhshab. “Spend your money on the items that cost less and have shorter payback periods. People make mistakes spending their money on only solar, or only windows. The more economically feasible way is to start with simple items such as air sealing, duct sealing, weather stripping, insulation, etcetera. From there you will see an amazing improvement in your home’s performance and additional improvements like solar will be much cheaper.” (www.livegreenwise.com, www.sdge.com) ALICIA GARCIA