As the temperatures rise in summer months, it may feel good to kick on the air conditioners, but with electricity costs nearly double what they were a decade ago, that comfort could come with hefty costs.
People who pay for utilities may want to invest in a system that "pays for itself" in savings while others may just want to use less to save a few dollars in the short term.
Not all homeowners may be able to afford a conservation-based improvement to their HVAC system. H.E. Neumann General Manager Jeff Shepherd said a resident looking to cut back on water and electricity bills can take a number of simple steps to chip away at costs.
Photos by Zach Macormac
Simple shower heads with a low flow setting like this one could prove an inexpensive way to cut back on water bills.
He said people can take shorter showers, run full loads in both clothes and dish washers, raise the temperature set point on the thermostat in cooling mode, utilize "set-back" functions on programmable thermostat for nights or unoccupied times, lower the temperature on the hot water heater and close off unused areas of the home.
Those seeking significant cost cuts may have to pay a healthy sum up front. Depending on costs to purchase and install, an improvement in terms of better efficiency may take years to reimburse the homeowner in the form of savings.
Shepherd suggested a number of investments to help cut back.
He said low-consumption or dual-flush toilets can save a significant amount of water. These toilets can be slightly more expensive than traditional toilets, but can account for major savings in monthly water bills.
Low flow shower heads and faucets also can reduce usage. Many heads and faucets have elaborate settings from a massager to a light trickle while simpler models have a mechanism to reduce water flow.
Instead of using the garden hose to feed plants, Shepherd suggested a rain collection system. The barrels come in various sizes and usually have a hose attached. Most are disguised as a large ceramic planter or a decorative rock.
For air conditioning, Shepherd suggested a zoning system, which cools only occupied rooms rather than the entire structure, which can reduce cooling costs to a small fraction of what it was. However, a brand name system could cost thousands of dollars.
"High efficiency" clothes washers and home systems have been gaining ground over the last decade, known to use only a fraction of water and electricity as previous models. Similar to the zoning system, either can prove a one-time major investment.
One model referenced by H.E. Neumann Residential Services Manager Bill Herman is the General Electric ECM HVAC motor, which on average consumes a third of the energy used by a standard motor with its variable speeds. A motor itself varies in the low hundreds of dollars, and the GE model is estimated to save Ohio and West Virginia homeowners about $350 a year.
"Have your existing HVAC system checked (and) maintained by a professional," Shepherd said.
A heating, ventilation and cooling system is an intricate machine - much like an automobile - and Shepherd said regular inspections could prevent an expensive fix. Routine checks include cleaning coils, replacing filters and checking settings.
Some homeowners may want to think ahead to the winter months when considering outdoor home improvement projects.
The Friends of Firewood group, a recent project of the West Virginia University Extension Office and a number of environmental organizations, is working to promote wood as a primary heating fuel in the state.
Dave McGill, WVU Forestry Extension specialist, said an outdoor wood furnace can cut gas bills by transferring heat to insulated water pipes inside the home. Also, purchasing wood from local firewood producers could be considerably cheaper than using natural gas. He noted federal regulations require wood furnaces to burn the wood to ash to reduce waste.