Ways to cut your energy bill found on the Web

URBANA—Electric energy bills are expected to rise this year by anywhere from 25 percent in northern Illinois to 55 percent downstate. To make matters worse, a lot of the money spent on heating and cooling will escape outside through inefficient windows, poor insulation, unsealed air ducts and leaky buildings, said Ted Funk, a University of Illinois Extension agricultural and biological engineer.

To reduce the hit energy expenses take on your pocketbook, Funk suggested homeowners begin by evaluating their home for energy efficiency—a task made much easier by online resources.

For example, the Web offers a simple and effective do-it-yourself energy audit tool known as Home Energy Saver, which is found at http://hes.lbl.gov/. By plugging in your ZIP code and basic information about your home, this Web site will instantly tell you the average annual utility bill for homeowners in your area, plus the savings you can expect with energy-efficient upgrades.

For instance, the site will assess your heating and cooling equipment, attic and roof, ducts and pipes, foundation and floor, walls, doors and windows, major appliances and more.

In addition to the do-it-yourself approach, Funk said you can use a professional “energy rater” to do the job. To find an energy rater in your area, visit the Illinois Association of Energy Raters Web site at http://www.ilenergyraters.org.

When it comes to evaluating your existing windows or selecting energy-efficient new windows, he said another great Web resource is the Efficient Windows Collaborative at www.efficientwindows.org. This site provides detailed information about what kind of energy savings you can expect with different glazing types, frame types, low-emittance (low-E) coatings and gas fills.

The site even includes a window selection tool, in which you plug in the closest city to your home and note whether you’re looking at an existing home or new construction. With one click, Funk said, it then calculates estimated annual heating and cooling costs for every type of window and frame you can imagine.

The system will also show the three most important ratings for each window—the U-value, the visible transmittance (VT) rating and the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC).

The U-value measures the rate of non-solar heat loss or gain through the window; the lower the number, the better its insulating ability. The VT rating measures how much light is transmitted through the window. And the SHGC measures the amount of solar heat transmitted through the window. A lower SHGC means less solar heat is transmitted and the window has more shading ability.

Finally, Funk encourages homeowners to check out the Web site of the Energy Star program, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, at http://energystar.gov.

Energy Star, begun in 1992, is a voluntary program in which companies must meet certain energy efficiency standards before their products can carry the Energy Star label. The Energy Star label is on major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics and more.

According to Funk: “I heard one person say, ‘What’s the use of looking for an Energy Star label because everybody’s got an Energy Star?’ But that’s the point! The Energy Star program is meant to reduce the amount of energy use compared to an older baseline. We’ve made that leap, and now we can move to the next step.”

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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