By Phil Cherry
It’s that time of year when we start to think about falling temperatures and the need to stay warm for the winter. Some folks simply beat the weather and travel to Florida or elsewhere to get away from it, but the vast majority of us hunker down, dress warmly, plan for the Holidays and start saving money for those pesky heating bills.
There is, however, another approach to consider. Think about it. If you were planning a long car ride and your tires were low, you’d put air in them, right – to save on wear and tear and to get better mileage? If you were going to buy a new furnace, would you try to buy the one that costs the least but would still do the job? These are questions that point to the need to maximize your home’s efficiency before you invest in costly heating fuels or new equipment for heating and cooling and the best way to start on that path is with an energy assessment of your home to see where you might need more insulation or air sealing, among other measures.
Homeowners often underestimate the need to seal up drafts in your home. On average across most housing stock in the U.S., air leaks through plumbing penetrations, around poorly sealed doors and windows and electrical wiring holes in walls can result in as much air leakage as leaving a large window open in your house all year long. Many of these air leakage issues can be corrected by the homeowner for little money, but you won’t know about them unless you get an energy assessment done on your home.
Insulation is another common need in homes. Years ago, many homes were constructed without any insulation. As the years have gone by, we’ve come to learn the value of insulation in keeping homes comfortable and heating bills low, however many homes here in the Finger lakes and elsewhere remain under-insulated. Again, having a home energy audit done by a trained professional can help you determine what’s right for your home and budget.
The good news is that home energy audits are easy to have done, and in most cases are free, thanks to a program run by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). In our area, if you are a NYSEG customer and your annual household income is less than about $124,000-$151,000 (varies by county), there is no charge for the assessment.
There are also programs specifically for lower-income customers who, after getting an audit, may be eligible for home energy upgrades like air sealing or insulation, many at no or low cost. Some of these programs work for renters and homeowners who live in areas outside of NYSEG territory. Our trained Community Energy Advisers can help you find and access the programs that are right for you, regardless of whether you own or rent your home, the fuel you use, and your level of income. Find us at www.smartenergychoices.org [a sister organization of Get Your GreenBack Tompkins that serves eight counties throughout the Southern Tier region]. We’d be happy to help you navigate your way to savings!
Phil Cherry is a community energy advisor for Smart Energy Choices and Executive Director of the Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension association.