Ways of saving energy in a least-cost-based way

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We can expect somewhat higher heating prices in the Midwest this winter, according to a forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Service. With 80 percent of Illinois homes heated with natural gas, its price has significant impacts on household budgets.

Natural gas prices are expected to be 13 percent higher than last year, propane 9 percent and electricity 2 percent. For the few houses still heating with fuel oil, the prices will be down 2 percent. Prices will rise if the weather is colder than predicted, as they were based on the expectation that our winter temperatures would be similar to those of the last five years.

The use of cordwood or wood pellets has increased over the past few years. Cordwood is generally widely available; prices will vary. A face cord of dry oak in the western suburbs of Chicago costs $160. It has 110 to 120 pieces varying in length from 14 to 18 inches and is stacked in a 4-foot-by-8-foot row. Locally, wood pellets are available at $3.80 per 40-pound bag. Wood is second to electric heaters as a supplemental heat source.

An electric heater is convenient, as it can be moved to sites where additional temporary heat is wanted. Its use allows less heat to be sent to the entire house from the central heating system.

The major energy savings in homes in winter comes from cutting heating and electrical consumption.

Real estate agents informed us they set the thermostat at 55 degrees Fahrenheit in empty homes for sale to prevent the water pipes from freezing. It can also serve as an overnight setting in an occupied home. We hung thermometers near the water pipes in various places in our house to determine if any site was vulnerable to freezing. Once a water pipe froze in negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit with a strong westerly wind when a pinhole in the sill plate allowed a stream of cold air to flow directly at a water pipe.

Other simple approaches to cutting down on energy consumption and being comfortable include putting on warm sweaters, slippers and hats.

After years of living in narrow ranges of temperature-controlled homes, such practices require adjusting our expectations. When entertaining, the thermometer can be turned up to a more comfortable setting.

Hanging heavy drapes over windows and closing them at night is also a simple way to cut energy consumption and reduce cold air drafts.

Cutting electrical consumption is easily accomplished by merely turning off lights, televisions, computers and other electrical devices when they are not being used. Another option is to use them less or not at all. A quick check of the house at bedtime can ensure nothing has been left on.

In our travels to Europe, Iceland, Japan and South America, we found that similar practices existed in many homes and public places. It was common for people to adjust their behavior rather than calling on more heat to find comfort. With the Fukushima disaster curtailing energy supplies, people in Japan have been known to wear coats at work.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Nov. 6-12, 2013, issue

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