Winter heating bills are set to increase starting January, 2014 according to announcements made from Piedmont Natural Gas and Duke Energy. PNG originally requested a price increase of 9.3% but settled on a 3.6 percent overall rate increase in a case pending before state regulators. According to their website, PNG projects an increase in home heating bills of $5.00-7.00. Duke Energy originally requested an increase of 9.7% but settled for a 4.5% increase for 2014 with an additional 0.6% in 2015. The average home’s electric bill will increase by $8.00-10.00.
What can homeowners do to offset these rate increases? The simple answer is: Reduce how much heating energy your home consumes. There are some simple and inexpensive things you can do. The most obvious way to reduce your heating and air bill is set your thermostat at a lower setting. Your heating system will run less and you will use less heating energy.
But there is more you can do that doesn’t cost much money but can pay for itself rather quickly in energy saved. Installing a programmable thermostat automatically lowers your thermostat setting while you are away at work or school, then raises it back up before you return home. Even though these thermostats are available at hardware stores and online, it is a good idea to have a NATE* certified heating technician install them because of the wide variety of heating systems they can be configured for. Incorrectly installing a thermostat can damage a system and/or result in higher energy bills. Installing a thermostat with an outdoor temperature sensor on an electric heat pump can save additional energy because it only runs the auxiliary heat when absolutely necessary. Southern Comfort Consulting and Service technicians are NATE certified.
Heating and cooling a home can account for up to 50% of its energy usage. Your heating system should be checked every heating season by a NATE certified technician. Not all heating checkups are the same. Even though they may cost a little more, a thorough inspection will help save more energy and reduce breakdowns. A proper heating inspection should include checking the combustion efficiency, gas leaks and carbon monoxide for a gas system. An electric heat pump inspection should include a freon level check, electrical safety inspection.
In addition to checking your heating system, your home’s ability to keep the heat in should be assessed by a BPI* certified analyst. Southern Comfort Consulting and Service has a BPI analyst on staff. Even homes built recently to building codes leak a lot of heat. The home energy assessment, or audit will reveal the places heat leaves the home through small cracks and seams in the house, missing or improper insulation. A full assessment includes using a “blower door” which depressurizes the house, making leaks more obvious and a thermal camera to locate the leaks. These items can then be addressed by a Home Performance Contractor trained in weatherization methods.
Replacing the HVAC system with a more efficient unit provides a reasonable return on investment only if the system has come to the end of its expected life- usually 15- 20 years. When that time comes, investing a little more in a higher efficiency unit can quickly pay itself back in energy saved. Rebates from utility companies and tax credits can offset the initial cost of upgrading to high efficiency equipment. Always make sure that the ductwork is also energy efficient when replacing the unit. Ductwork should be sealed with a mastic sealant and properly insulated.
Energy costs will continue to rise as the global demand for electricity, natural gas and petroleum increase. Simple methods to reduce how much energy your home consumes can be implemented. Always seek the advice or services of a professional before attempting HVAC upgrades and home weatherization so they have the maximum effect.