About energy price and savings

With energy costs expected to increase by as much as 70% in some areas of the nation, energy conservation has become a hot topic. We live in Wisconsin in a 93 year-old house, so the 60% increase in natural gas prices that is expected is definitely something we need to think about.

WSJ’s Real Estate Journal has an article about some new products, and some old products that have been reinvented, that can help save energy costs. Some require large cash outlays (tankless water heaters), while others just require a few bucks and some elbow grease (caulk).

Our house has has 9 1/2 foot ceilings, an open floor plan, 34(!) windows, no carpet (all wood and tile floors – cold on bare feet) and no insulation, all counting against us. We do have some things on our side, like a full basement and attic, a relatively new and efficient boiler (10 years old) and radiant heat, modest size (1900 square feet), 13 brand-spanking-new windows on the main level, and most of the windows on the second floor are less than 10 years old and energy efficient. Our current budget bill for natural gas is $119, and we usually get a rebate back at the end of the billing year.

So how can we cope with these radical increases in come heating costs? Because we have radiant heat, which is one of the most comfortable and efficient heating systems available, we are unable to utilize a programmable thermostat. We get around this by setting our thermostat at a pretty low temperature (58-62 degrees) in the winter, but we use our gas fireplace to warm the house when we are home. The fireplace is in the living room, which makes up half of the main level and is open to the dining room, and it kicks out a LOT of heat, so the lower level stays very warm. The warmth also makes its way up the open staircase, so any bedrooms that are open also get warmed up a bit.

We also installed some insulation around the water heater, which is in our scary, cold, old-house basement. I think I paid $12 at a hardware store for a water heater blanket and some tape and installed it myself in about 10 minutes. I’m not sure how much it helps, but prior to putting the blanket on, the exterior of the water heater was always cool to the touch. After installing the blanket, if I put my hand between the insulation and the heater, the exterior of the heater is hot to the touch.

We also have tons of compact fluorescent bulbs in our house, including any closed light fixtures, all lamps, and all the closet, attic, and basement light fixtures. Unfortunately, I find the compact fluorescents look out of place in some of our original, circa-1912, light fixtures, so I use more old-fashioned looking bulbs.

I’m always looking for more ways to save energy. What are you doing to cope with the expected increases?