After a brutal winter on the energy front - everyone's electric bills soared this winter - it's time to take stock. While December and February were relatively mild, January ended 3 degrees below the long-term averages. Heating degree-days, a temperature-based measure of heating demand - are running 7 percent above average. So, it's the season to take a look around and find ways to cut down on energy use in the future.
I'd like to get a discussion going here about how readers are dealing with their energy consumption issues. Perhaps you're feeling depleted by this winter's high bills, and you're looking for ways to conserve energy. Maybe you've already converted to solar, or geo-thermal and you're reaping the rewards in the form of lower utility bills than last year. Maybe you've found simple, low-tech ways to tighten up your house and now you're seeing some payback.
Drop us a comment and let us all know what you're doing and how it's working out. Ask questions, and maybe I can find an answer, or another reader can chime in and help.
I'll start. After 12 years in our townhouse, and some of the biggest winter utility bills we've seen, my wife and I decided it was time to replace the old heat pump. It serves the second floor and loft (we have gas heat on the lower floors). It still ran. But it had developed a noisy clatter, seemed to run a lot, and our HVAC guys said it was going to need $400 or $500 worth of work.
There were other problems. To start with, it was, from the beginning, a cheap builder's model, with the lowest energy efficiency ratings available at the time. Our bedroom, in the rear, was frequently 10 degrees colder than the front rooms. The heat pump just was never up to the task when temperatures fell much below freezing.
Knowing that heat pumps - at least the compressors - typically have a 10-year life expectancy, we decided it was time to get a new model. After some discussion with our contractor, we decided on a high-efficiency, Energy-Star model from Bryant. In addition to some energy savings, it comes with the promise of a $1,500 credit on our 2009 federal tax return, knocking the effective price down to about $4,500. Ouch, but ...
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