Drive down your street the day after a snowstorm. You’ll see some homes with snow on their roofs, and some without. Those with snow most likely have adequate attic air-sealing and insulation – the heat isn’t escaping to the attic to melt the snow on the roof. Rooftops without snow are a sign that the heat meant to keep the family warm is escaping through the attic – creating a financial wind tunnel for the homeowners inside.
That’s something I learned from Frank Vetri, a renewable and energy solutions specialist for PSE&G. He told me about his visit on a cold winter day to Rogner and Niki Quintela, a young couple with small children who had just purchased their first home. He was there to help them find ways to save on their energy bills.
Niki, with toddler Nico in one arm, and Arnie the Maltese in the other, welcomed Frank inside her Kearny home. Scanning the room, he could see the air-conditioning unit was uncovered with gaps around the box. The curtains were closed – a good thing at night to keep heat in, but a bad thing during a sunny day when you can use the power of the sun to help heat your home. A few windows were unlatched, meaning the “seal” meant to keep the heat in wasn’t working. The thermostat was set to 72 degrees – a little higher than the 68 degrees the U.S. Department of Energy recommends.
Upstairs, he found the access to the attic was a thin piece of plywood with gaps around the edges. After removing the plywood, Frank found no insulation. Heat – and a lot of it – was being drawn into the attic. It’s called the “stack effect.” Warm air rises and escapes through the top of the house, giving cold air space to make its way in from the bottom of the house. The greater the difference in temperature outside vs. inside, the faster this convection occurs. And, the taller the home, the stronger this wind tunnel becomes.
There are lots of other low cost or no cost ways for the Quintelas – and you – to save money on heating bills. For example, lowering the hot water heater setting to 120 degrees; moving furniture and drapes away from heating registers; and using weather stripping or caulk to seal up anywhere you feel a draft – are all effective.
But, Frank said, the easiest way to lower heating bills is a simple change in behavior. Lowering the thermostat by just one degree may reduce a heating bill by up to 3 percent. Save even more by lowering the thermostat 2 degrees during the day when you are home, and 5 to 10 degrees when you are away and at bedtime, if health conditions permit.
Lower income households may qualify for the New Jersey Comfort Partners Program — a free energy saving and energy education program for qualified low-income customers. Under this New Jersey Board of Public Utilities program, Certified Building Performance Institute contractors will install, at no cost to the customer, energy saving insulation and appliances to help lower energy bills. Another resource available to low income customers is the Weatherization Program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. Other customers should consider having a home energy audit through the Home Performance with Energy Star program.
On PSE&G’s website, we have a number of tools anyone can use to learn more about how to save on their energy bills, including a HomeEnergyCalculator that provides you with individualized estimates of energy use to pinpoint opportunities for savings. Our Appliance Calculator is a quick way to get an idea of what your home’s appliances cost to operate. And the Lighting Calculator compares the purchase price and cost to operate compact fluorescent lamps vs. incandescent lights.
With some simple steps to seal up your home, you could save even more money this winter – and many winters to come.
Greg Dunlap, Vice President – Customer Operations – PSE&G