Monday, September 28, 2009

Insulate your attic to save energy

When you think of your home, the last thing you relate it to is an envelope, right? Take a minute and think of the outside walls, floor and ceiling as the boundaries of this “envelope.” If you seal them with sufficient insulation, you ensure that the conditioned air in your home stays in your home and does not escape (costing you money).

The part of this envelope that has the most impact on your energy use is the ceiling and attic space. Do you have enough attic insulation?

It’s important to visually inspect your existing insulation to determine if you have enough. Insulation should cover the floor and joists of the attic, but most importantly it should be evenly spread throughout the attic with no low spots – even to the eaves, which are often neglected. If you can see the floor joists or if you currently have any insulation rated less than R-30, you might benefit from adding insulation.

Insulation is measured in R-values – the higher the R-value, the better your walls and roof will resist the transfer of heat. Fiberglass insulation rated R-30 is about 8-10 inches thick. When adding insulation, experts suggest a higher R-value, such as R-38 which is about 10-14 inches thick. (More info here and here.)

Choosing the type of insulation to install is a personal preference. Batt insulation can be installed in stages and can be used over loose fill insulation; just make sure the fiberglass batt has no paper or foil backing (it should be "unfaced"). If you choose to add loose fill or blown insulation, consider hiring a professional as it can be a little messy.

Assessing your attic insulation is definitely time (and possibly money) well spent. The attic is one of the easiest places to improve your comfort and the energy efficiency of your home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Now’s the time to plant trees and bushes with energy efficiency in mind

According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, having trees and shrubs around houses can actually help keep neighborhoods 1-3o F cooler in the summer. And, the total effect of shading can cut cooling costs by 5-10 percent! (see: Building America Best Practice Series, vol. 1, p. 26)

For South Carolina’s hot-humid climate, the goal of landscaping is to channel summer breezes toward your house and maximize summer shade while allowing low-angle winter sun. While the general climate is important, your home’s specific location can be impacted by existing landscaping and sun exposure. This is called your microclimate.

If you’re interested in adding trees to your yard, now is the best time to do so. The Clemson Extension Home and Garden Info Center points out that container grown, or balled and burlapped, plants are best planted in the fall to take advantage of the dormant season for root growth. Here in South Carolina, while the tops of ornamental plant go dormant and stop growing in the winter, the roots continue to grow throughout the cooler months.

To maximize energy efficiency, trees should be planted on the side of your house that receives the greatest amount of sunlight and/or the southwest and west side of your home. Trees planted more than 35 feet from the home are probably too far away to provide adequate shading.

Quick Safety Tip: Call Before You Dig – dial 811. Before digging holes for your new trees, make sure you won’t be digging into buried utilities. One quick phone call to have lines marked on your property can save a lot of time and money.

For more landscaping information, check out these links:

Landscaping and Energy Efficiency (Dept. of Energy)
Landscape, Plants and Lawns info (Clemson Extension)
Planting trees correctly (Clemson Extension)
Planting shrubs correctly (Clemson Extension)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Using a programmable thermostat may be easier than you think!

A programmable thermostat can help maintain the comfort of your home when you’re there and possibly reduce energy costs when you’re not – thanks to a pre-set schedule for when your heating or air-conditioning unit turns on. To maximize savings, here are three simple steps:

1. Choose the right model
To decide which programmable thermostat is best for you, think about how often you are away from home for regular periods of time. According to http://www.energystar.gov/, here are some guidelines:

The week (7-day) models are best if your daily schedule is unpredictable and changes from day to day. They offer the most flexibility, allowing you to set different programs for different days.

Weekday/weekend (5+2-day) models and 5-1-1 models are best if you tend to keep one schedule Monday through Friday and other schedules on Saturdays and Sundays.

2. Install the thermostat properly
Read the instructions carefully and always put safety first! Always turn power off at your breaker box when making any electrical repair or replacing a thermostat. If the job seems too complicated, contact a licensed HVAC contractor.

Also, if you have a heat pump system, check the manufacturer’s specifications carefully. Most manufacturers offer programmable thermostats specifically designed for their units. Installing a thermostat not designed for a heat pump can actually increase the cost of operating your heat pump!

3. Set the thermostat correctly
To maximize savings, keep the temperature set at its programmed settings for at least eight hours (when you’re at work, when you’re sleeping at night, etc.). You can always bump the thermostat up or down and override the settings. However, override with caution. You use more energy and have higher bills if you consistently override the pre-programmed settings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What exactly is net metering? Does SCE&G have a net metering program?

Net metering provides a way for customers interested in generating their own renewable electricity to power their homes or businesses and even sell the excess energy back to their power company. The most popular ways that people seek to generate electricity on their property is either with a wind turbine or solar panels. Customers who participate in a net metering program receive a credit for the excess energy they generate that flows back to the power company.

SCE&G offers customers four net metering options:

Offset only – this option allows customers to generate electricity to offset their energy needs, lowering the amount of electricity purchased from SCE&G and thereby reducing their monthly bill.

Offset/Sell – in addition to generating electricity to offset their energy needs, customers also can sell any excess generation back to SCE&G.

Offset/Net – differs slightly from the offset/sell plan in that customers are paid the same rate for excess energy sold as they pay for energy purchased. If a customer generates enough electricity to exceed their energy needs for the month, they will be credited for the excess on the next month’s bill.

Buy All/Sell All – just like it sounds, this option lets customers sell all of their generated energy, while purchasing all of their needed electricity directly from SCE&G.

As a company, SCE&G understands the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. That’s why we teamed up with other regional power suppliers to form Palmetto Clean Energy (PaCE), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the development of renewable energy resources in our state.

For more information about net metering, go to www.sceg.com/netmetering.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More tips to make your home energy efficient without spending a lot

As we mentioned in August, you can improve your home’s energy efficiency without spending a lot of money. Here are two more ideas to help save on your energy bills:

Manage your water heating costs.
Water heating accounts for more than 10% of home energy use. Set your water heater temperature at 120°F. Also, consider adding a water heater tank insulation wrap, which can be purchased at your local home improvement store. If you have a natural gas system, we recommend contacting a licensed plumber for assistance. Finally, remember to insulate hot water pipes that pass through unheated areas like the garage, basement and attic.

Install a digital programmable thermostat.
Programmable thermostats allow you to conveniently maintain the comfort of your home when you’re there and reduce energy costs when you’re not. Make sure to install a thermostat compatible with your HVAC system on an interior wall away from heat sources (i.e. lamps, televisions, stereos, etc.) that could impact the thermostat’s accuracy. Also, remember to check the filters on your HVAC system and return air vents; they should be cleaned and/or replaced monthly.

What projects have you completed around your house? Share your ideas here! Or, learn more about how to save energy by visiting www.sceg.com/myenergy.
Have an energy efficiency question?

Welcome to the EnergyWise® blog, a place to gain insights into energy efficiency tips and programs offered by South Carolina Electric & Gas. Have a specific question? Ask our Energy Team or comment to one of our posts below.