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Get ready for winter with our energy efficiency quiz and tips

This blog post originally appeared on the 350.org Central Virginia Chapter’s website.

Editor’s Note: On October 15th, Guy Caroselli of the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) did a comprehensive presentation for 350 Central Virginia on energy efficiency and winterizing your home. We are pleased to share this guest post on our 350 Central Virginia blog.

By Guy Caroselli

As the Local Energy Alliance Program’s (LEAP) Senior Technical Advisor and Trainer (a.k.a. the “House Doctor”), people ask me all of the time how they can make their homes work better – and shrink their energy bills. And as we approach winter weather, those questions are more frequent and urgent. Everyone has memories of being shocked by a January heating bill or fighting with a loved one over the thermostat setting. LEAP is here in Virginia to help you prevent those scenes from repeating yet another winter season.

Let’s start with a short quiz.

1. What is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas in the Charlottesville area? (apologies to our northern Virginia readers as this was created for a central Virginia audience)
a) Commercial Enterprises
b) Homes
c) Transportation Sector
d) Municipal

2. The ENERGY STAR label designates:
a) Companies that save the most energy.
b) High quality luxury products.
c) The most energy-efficient products that can cut energy bills by up to 30%.

3. On average, which home appliance uses the most annual energy?
a) Television
b) Refrigerator
c) Washing Machine
d) Computer

4. Reset your hot water temperature from 125 to 120 degrees you save each year?
a) $22
b) $6
c) $9

5. A compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL):
a) Uses one-tenth the energy of a comparable incandescent bulb & lasts up to 20 times longer.
b) Uses about one-third the energy of a comparable incandescent bulb & lasts up to 10 times longer.
c) Costs more because of the design swirls.

6. For each degree you lower the temperature in your home, you can cut your winter heating bills by _______ percent?
a) Up to 15 percent
b) Up to 4 percent
c) Up to 1 percent

7. Rank the following in order of cost effectiveness:
– Windows/Doors
– Air Leaks
– Attic Insulation
– Wall Insulation
– Basement/Floor Insulation

8. If there are insulation voids of 7% in the attic or wall, the effective R-value of the insulation system is diminished by:
a) 3.5%
b) 7%
c) 21%
d) 50%

9. A home energy audit or assessment can help you:
a) Find hidden energy leaks
b) Determine which home upgrades will give you the best energy efficiency returns
c) Create a plan of action
d) All of the above

10. Indoor water conservation kits are available through the City of Charlottesville and the Albemarle County Service Authority for a nominal fee of: (apologies to our northern Virginia readers as this was created for a central Virginia audience)
a) $5
b) They are free
c) $3.95 to cover postage & handling

The answers? Drum roll please…

1. B
2. C
3. B
4. A
5. B
6. C
7. Air leaks, attic insulation, floor insulation, wall insulation, windows/doors (this is the one that always stumps people!)
8. C
9. D
10. B

How did you do? Even if you aced the quiz, your home probably has plenty of room for improvement. In fact, most houses use (ahem, waste) 30-50% more than they need. As we just learned, that’s energy that we lose through inadequate insulation, cracks that need to be sealed, inefficient lightbulbs and appliances.

You can guesstimate your costs by totaling up all of your utility bills and then dividing that total by the square footage of your house. The average homeowner spends about $1.25/sf when it should be down at .75/sf. Bringing those costs down might require an investment, but you can often earn that money back on lower energy bills in relatively short order. A small air sealing job ($200-$400) can deliver a payback in 4-6 months whereas a more extensive job ($1,000-$1,500) may take 1-2 years. It’s a similar story with insulation: small job ($1,000-$2,000) has a 4-year payback, and more extensive work ($4,000-$8,000) can take 5-8 years to see a return.

Of course the specific culprits and solutions vary from house to house, and that’s the benefit of getting a Home Energy Check-up performed by LEAP. You’ll get an evaluation of your home’s energy efficiency, the advice of one of LEAP’s Energy Coaches, free installation of energy efficient lightbulbs, pipe insulation, door weatherization and more — plus a checklist of additional energy saving measures for your home. Normally a service and products like this would cost up to $250. But because LEAP is a Participating Contractor in the Dominion Home Energy Check-up program our price to homeowners is only $45 ($35 if your neighbors participate, too). Plus this is an easy entry point to the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program that can help you save 20% or more on your energy costs.

While you’re waiting for your Home Energy Check-up, there are easy, DIY steps you can take right now to get your home ready for winter weather. Check out our full list of winter tips – here are just a few:

• Check the thermostat. Consider getting a programmable thermostat, and keep in mind that you can save at least 2% on your heating bill for each degree you lower the thermostat in the winter.
• If you have an AC system independent of a furnace or boiler, make sure you close the vents and block off any return ducts so warm, conditioned air does not rise up into the system
• For fireplaces you don’t intend to use this season, make sure the flue is closed and the openings cleaned of soot and filled with a string of rope caulk (and make a note that you have done this so you remember before the next use).
• Take an inventory of attic and crawlspace hatches to ensure they are all weatherstripped, secured with good clasps and insulated. The same applies to adjacent wall or ceiling areas if possible.
So if your goals this winter include spending less money on energy bills and less time bickering over the thermostat and more money on your family (or that sweater you’ve had your eyes on) and more time enjoying a cozy home, give LEAP a call at 434.227.4666, visit us at leap-va.org or drop us an email at info@leap-va.org.
This message is approved by your local House Doctor.