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Cooling down energy costs

Conservation and selective buying can help

Conservation and selective buying can help

July 23, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

SMITHSBURG - Keeping cool during the recent heat wave was a must.

And keeping warm during brutally cold months also is a necessity.

Local residents who haven't already thought of ways to reduce their electrical usage might want to make their homes more energy-efficient sooner rather than later.

Electric, water and sewer rates are expected to increase in the area and in some cases already have.

For instance, Hagers-town residents will see an average 42 percent increase in their September electric bill, and water and sewer rates are going up 3.5 percent in late summer and early fall, city officials say.

Allegheny Energy customers in Washington County will see the utility's rate caps come off in January 2009, a move that might send them into sticker shock.

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Turning off unused lights and unwatched televisions could become more popular as people look for ways to cut costs.

Jerome Martin already has been making changes around his Smithsburg home to make the old Victorian house more energy efficient.

His family hangs clothes outside to dry even during winter months, if it's sunny.

Once guilty of leaving lights on in rooms not being used, he now is careful to turn off anything not in use.

He has a house fan on the roof that pulls the rising hot air out of the house during the summer.

And this spring he bought a roughly 50-gallon plastic rain barrel that he set up to collect water from his roof.

He no longer uses public water for his garden. The rain barrel saves him money, plus it gives him an alternative source of water for his gardens in case the area experiences a drought and water restrictions are enacted.

During a drought a few years ago, the family kept a five-gallon bucket in the shower to catch used soapy water for the garden.

"Believe it or not, my plants actually did better that spring or summer," says Martin, owner of Mar-Cal Construction Company.

The barrel has a fine screen mesh to keep mosquitoes out and an adapter that allows him to hook a hose up to it, says Martin, a Smithsburg councilman. With accessories, the barrel cost about $105.

A lot of energy-efficient moves are common sense, Martin says. "It depends on what you want to do."

Here are some other ways residents can make their homes more efficient and cut down on costs:

Check out alternative energy sources.

In addition to the rain barrel as a water source, look into solar energy products.

Just about any home can hook up to a solar hot-water heater for $4,000 to $8,000, says Mike McKechnie, owner of Mountain View Builders in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. While that's more expensive than a traditional hot water heater, the cost can typically be recouped in less than five years.

Photovoltaic systems, which turn solar energy into electricity, cost more and take a little longer to recoup the investment, McKechnie says.

The Internal Revenue Service is offering up to $2,000 tax credits in 2006 and 2007 for each solar energy system installed in homes.

Batten down the hatches.

With the recent heat wave, people might not want to think of ways to keep their homes warm, but space heating accounts for 34 percent of energy use in the typical home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Storm windows can reduce heat loss through windows by 25 percent to 50 percent, according to DOE.

Seal leaks in the home that allow heat to escape. In addition to weatherproofing windows and doors, check the attic to see if heat is escaping through the ceiling, says Matt Steiman, program manager for Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. Insulating the attic can help retain heat. Seal up other areas, such as the spaces around water pipes coming through the floor, where cold air could be coming into the home.

Keep energy in mind when landscaping and planting.

Direct sunlight will hit the south side of the house the most, so plant tall shrubs or trees to reduce the amount of sunlight, says Robert Kessler, county extension director for Franklin County, Pa. "A tree is a terrific air conditioner," he says.

Keep the blinds closed on the south side of the house during summer days, but open them during winter to let the sun warm the room, Kessler says.

To reduce water usage, gardeners can choose drought-resistant plants or ones that don't require as much water, such as sedums, day lilies, ornamental grasses, hostas, coreopsis, coneflowers and ferns, says Sheila Runyon, a saleswoman at Ott's Horticulture Center in Chewsville.

Consider energy efficiency of appliances.

Consider the life-cycle cost of an appliance, because you could have it for decades. The initial price tag is a small part of the picture, Steiman says.

The federal government requires most appliance manufacturers to include a yellow and black EnergyGuide label that states the appliance's annual energy consumption and operating cost.

Appliances featuring the Energy Star label meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by federal agencies.

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