2008-07-04 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER It happens every summer. As the temperature rises, so does your utility bill. With energy costs on the rise, this trend is even more pronounced. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, almost forty-five percent of a homeowner's utility bill goes to heating and cooling, but by implementing a few energy-saving measures, you can cut your energy bill by ten to fifteen percent. Your energy savings will depend on the energy efficiency of your home.

You can reap significant savings by using your fans and air conditioners wisely. First, check to see if your air conditioner bears the Energy Star label. If you have an old model, a new energy efficient model could save you as much as fifty percent on your cooling bills. Consider opening your windows and using fans to cool your home instead of using your air conditioner. If you opt to use your air conditioner, use a fan to spread the cool air throughout your house. Also, use a programmable thermostat with your air conditioner, and set the temperature higher at night and turn off when no one is home. Be sure to place lamps and televisions away from your air conditioning thermostat because the heat from these appliances will raise the area temperature and cause the air conditioner to run longer.

Your landscaping can also play a large part in cooling your home. By planting trees or shrubs strategically, you can shade your air conditioning unit, which will cause it to use less electricity. You can grow vines such as ivy or grapevines on trellises so that they can shade your windows or the whole side of a house. By planting three shade trees around your home, you can save between one hundred and two hundred fifty dollars a year in heating and cooling costs. Tree-shaded homes can be between three and six degrees cooler during the daytime.

You can make your home significantly cooler by taking steps to shade your windows. Sunny windows can cause your air conditioner to work up to two or three times harder, which uses more energy. To shade your windows, consider installing white window shades, drapes, or blinds to help reflect heat away from your home, and draw your curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the daytime. Consider installing awnings on south-facing windows. A trellis or fence will better shade west-facing windows due to the angle of the sun. If you are thinking about replacing your windows, consider purchasing double-pane windows with spectrally selective coatings. These windows are far more energy efficient.

You can reduce your energy costs year-round by minimizing or eliminating air leaks in your home. Caulking and weatherstripping will keep cool air in your home in the summer and warm air in during the winter. Be sure to add insulation around air conditioning ducts if they are located in un-air conditioned spaces like attics or garages. If you notice separated joints or holes in your air conditioning ducts, hire a professional to fix them. Also, make sure that your fireplace damper is firmly closed.

To learn more about energy efficiency, visit the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's website at www.getenergysmart. com. For more information on the Energy Star program, please visit www. energystar.gov.

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