Demystify your electric bill with a home energy audit

photo of infrared camera

For many people, electric bills are a bit of a mystery. You always remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room, so why is your bill so high?

The first step to demystifying your electricity bill, and hopefully reducing it, is to take stock of where you use the most energy.

Capital Electric Cooperative (CEC) is happy to provide members looking to reduce their monthly electric bill with a free basic home energy audit.

The process is simple.

First, a CEC employee will examine a member’s energy usage for the past year to determine if the household is using excess energy.

“Then, we’ll ask some questions about their home and the appliances they are using, and we may make some recommendations over the phone,” says Energy Services Manager Josh Schaffner, CEC. “We’ll follow up within a week and look at the difference. If its not where we expected it to be, we’ll visit the home.”

During the home visit, a CEC employee will do a visual inspection and a thermographic scan.

“We’ll walk around the home to see if we can see anything that might be causing the problem. Then, we’ll open up the electric panel and use our amp clamp to test every single circuit. In some cases, something is running, and they aren’t aware of it,”
says Schaffner.

Schaffner says they’ve found a lot of interesting things on home visits.

“We found a septic lift pump that was failing. The switch was left on, and it was running continuously. We also found an issue on one of our farming accounts. The member had a series of grain bins with dryers, and each of the dryers had underground
power lines running to them. One of them was partially grounding and drawing power into the ground. It didn’t occur all the time, but then the ground was saturated, it would draw. He was losing a couple hundred dollars a month into the ground.”

But, Schaffner says, more often than not, there isn’t a major problem. He recommends making a few simple changes that can result in a lower electric bill.

Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling takes up the largest chunk of your monthly energy bill, but cutting back doesn’t have to mean being uncomfortable.

Schaffner recommends cleaning or replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filters regularly to keep the systems running efficiently. Dirty filters make your system work harder and run longer than necessary.

Schaffner also advises against using space heaters, which can cost up to $85/month to run.

“Instead, we encourage members to use a baseboard or a cove heater or something that can be hard-wired in, so they can get a discounted rate on it.”

Keeping the blinds open in the winter and closed in the summer can also reduce the burden on your HVAC system.

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a typical American home has 40 products that are constantly drawing power, even if they’re not in use. This is responsible for 10% of your electricity use.

Energy vampires, like your phone charger, computer and coffeemaker, can cost the average household $100 per year and should always be unplugged or put in sleep mode when not in use.

Lighting accounts for about 12% of a typical residential utility bill.

Schaffner advises members to swap out incandescent light bulbs for LEDs and always turn off the lights when they are not in use. Replacing old incandescent bulbs with LEDs has a much quicker return on your investment now than ever before. In the past 10 years, the cost of LED bulbs and fixtures has dropped more than 85%.

Another way to conserve energy is to control outdoor lights with a timer or photocell to assure dusk-to-dawn only operation.

Schaffner also offers these energy saving tips for the home:
• Don’t peek in the oven while baking. Every time you peek, the temperature drops 25°F.
• Turn off the oven a few minutes before cooking time runs out. Your food will continue to cook without using the extra electricity.
• Clean refrigerator coils.
• Use dishwashers and clothes washers/dryers at night. This will help keep the house cooler during peaks.
• Wash your clothes in cold water.
• Install low flow shower heads.
• Seal cracks, gaps and leaks and add insulation. This can save up to 10% on home heating  and cooling costs.
• Check and replace weatherstripping on windows and doors.
• Put insulation kits on outside wall light switches and outlets.

To schedule your home energy audit and learn about ways to lower your electric bill, call Josh Schaffner, (701) 712-7920, or Jared Nygaard, (701) 712-7922. CEC also offers energy and cost saving options for commercial accounts.

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