Archive for Thursday, July 3, 2008

Teacher’s tips can lead to savings on energy bills

July 3, 2008

Even with drastic changes in your energy use, you probably won't be able to save the kind of money that the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School District has managed using Jim Hann's methods.

In his four-year tenure as the energy manager and educator, the district has saved more than $500,000, thanks to what Hann, a fifth-grade teacher at Bonner Springs Elementary, calls "a people-oriented approach to conservation."

But Hann has some tips that can make for lower energy use and bills in homes and businesses. One of the district's main energy-saving efforts during the summer months is to reduce the cost of both air conditioning and lighting in its schools and offices through the efforts of teachers, custodians and maintenance staff, which Hann said he expects to result in energy savings of 30 to 50 percent.

One of the key components of the district energy program in the summer is setting thermostats to 85 degrees Fahrenheit for air conditioning and turning all lights and equipment off when buildings are not occupied on nights and weekends.

The same principle can be a stretch for businesses and homeowners, where air conditioning may not be powerful enough to "catch up" and bring the temperature down to a bearable degree after letting it rise to a certain point, Hann said. Also, of course most people are home in the evenings and overnight, and letting the temperature rise during the day would make for an even worse load on the air conditioner.

The method is effective, however, if you're on vacation for any length of time, he said.

"Nothing says your house has to be cool while you're gone," Hann said.

The other factor that people should be aware of in regard to their home's air conditioning, Hann said, is the temptation to open up the windows and turn off the air conditioning when the temperature outside drops to the inside temperature or below. Doing so lets the humidity inside the home, which then causes most people to eventually turn the air conditioner back on after closing the windows to cut the humidity. Such actions often take more energy than just leaving the air conditioner on in the first place, Hann said.

Every degree you set your thermostat higher in the summer can mean a savings of $6-$10 a month on your electricity bill, Hann said. Closing blinds or drapes when the sun is shining on the windows is another way to cut heat produced inside.

There are other ways to cut the need for air-conditioning.

"Outdoor parties are good" in the summer Hann said. "Adding people to a room in the winter is a great way to heat a room. It will also heat a room in the summer. Every person gives off about 500 BTUs of heat per hour, so take it outside."

Also, vents in unused rooms should be turned off, as rooms don't need to be kept cool if no one is occupying them.

Cleaning and replacing filters regularly improves heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems' efficiency, and systems should be inspected once or twice a year.

A programmable thermostat makes it easier to control the temperature while a home or building is unoccupied, and some even provide a way to set them remotely by phone, when you're away. Also, kitchen and bathroom fans should be turned off because in one hour these fans can empty a home of all conditioned air, Hann said.

Many people don't think of indoor lights as a source for heat, but Hann said, "any time you have an incandescent bulb on, you're putting a tremendous amount of heat in the room."

Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs will help cut down air conditioning bills, as will turning lights off when they're not in use.

Energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs cost about 20 to 50 percent more than incandescent bulbs, but can reduce a typical energy bill $3-$8 a year, which pays for the upgrade in about 30 months, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

For situations where you can't or don't want to turn off the lights, the installation of dimmer controls and keeping lights dimmer can cut lighting costs by up to 40 percent, plus make incandescent bulbs last up to 20 percent longer, Hann said. You can turn off the lights in rooms that you aren't using and save even more. Hann said the district's custodians routinely clean light fixtures and covers, because clean bulbs and fixtures mean more light for the same amount of energy.

As with lights, nearly all electric appliances produce heat that needs to be compensated for by air conditioning. The same is true for virtually any electric appliance you have turned on. Barbecuing outside can save on electric bills.

If you are in the market for a new appliance, consider buying an Energy Star-rated appliance. They can cost $30-$200 more than less-efficient models, but they cut utility bills by $5 to $65 a year, recouping the extra cost in 3 to 5 years, Hann said. Plus, as a general rule, the less energy they use, the less heat they produce in your home.

Hot water accounts for about 16 percent of a home energy bill, Hann said.

Following are some ways to cut that expense:

¢ Wash clothes in cold water.

¢ Shower for only 5 minutes.

¢ Don't run shower while shaving.

¢ Install a low-flow showerhead and sink aerator.

¢ Insulate water tanks with a wrap.

¢ Drain hot-water tank regularly to remove sediment.

¢ Consider replacing your worn-out tank with tankless water heaters, which are 35-45 percent more efficient and pay for themselves in 3-5 years, Hann said.

"Naturally, you may not want, or need, to do all these things all at once, but just try a few, then add a few more," Hann said. "Once you have developed a few positive energy habits it will not be that big a deal, and you will notice an immediate improvement in your wallet. We sure did at school."

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