Friday, January 29, 2010

Do you understand how heat strips work?

If you have an electric heat pump, chances are you’ve heard a little bit about heat strips, auxiliary heat or emergency heat. Maybe you’ve even seen that bright green, blue or red indicator light on your thermostat when temperatures drop outside. But, did you know that this “auxiliary heat” is far less efficient than your heat pump’s compressor?

A heat pump operates by moving heat from the outside to inside (heating mode) and inside to outside (air conditioning mode). Unfortunately, the compressor can’t produce enough heat when the outdoor temperatures drop to a certain point (usually somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit), so the heat pump needs auxiliary resistance heat produced by heat strips to provide heat for your home.

During the colder months, it’s important to understand the relationship between your thermostat and how your heat pump works. Here are some quick tips to maximize the efficiency of your heat pump, avoiding excessive use of the heat strips and reducing your energy consumption:

  • Remember the optimum setting for your thermostat in winter is 68 degrees or lower.
  • If you decrease the temperature in your home overnight or while at work, warm the house slowly upon your return.
  • Never raise the thermostat higher than needed. Bump your thermostat up 2 degrees at a time until your desired temperature is achieved; adjusting this setting by more than 2 degrees could activate your heat strips.
  • Avoid manually setting the thermostat to emergency heat.

Also remember that on those days when temperatures are below freezing, your heat strips will activate. On these days in particular, it’s important to limit your use of exhaust fans (which can carry conditioned air outside) and keep windows and doors closed to limit the loss of heat.

Check out the Energy Star Web site for more information on heat pumps.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Holidays and cold weather impacting your utility bill?

The holidays may be just a memory by now, but little reminders are likely landing in your mailbox: bills from your credit cards and other businesses. Spending time with family and friends creates priceless memories. But, one cost that we often overlook is directly related to your utility bill.

Hosting that holiday party or sharing your home for several days with out-of-town family increases your energy usage. A number of factors can contribute to this increased energy use, including leaving lights on later, using your stove more for home cooked meals, doing extra laundry and all those extra showers, and burning that gas fireplace late into the evening. After several days, it all adds up.

Of course, the biggest thing likely to impact January bills is the extreme cold weather felt throughout South Carolina this past month. Did you know that for the first 13 days of January, we had 12 days with temperatures below 30 degrees? In 2009 we only had three such days for the same time period. In fact, this January ranks the fourth coldest dating back to 1979.

That cold weather is going to impact all of our utility bills. During abnormally cold weather, your heating system has to work harder to maintain your thermostat setting. As a result, your energy bill may be higher than normal. To see how changes in temperature can affect your energy bill, check out the Energy Analyzer.

So, when your utility bill arrives this month, don’t be surprised if it’s quite a bit higher than usual. If you find that you need assistance paying your bill, know that we’re here to help. Call Customer Service at 1-800-251-7234 to make payment arrangements, sign up for budget billing or learn about Community Action Agencies that help local, low-income residents pay their home energy bills.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Natural gas space heaters – a safe, energy-efficient way to warm up a room!

Natural gas space heaters are a great way to compliment your home’s heating system, especially if you just need to warm a room that isn’t often used, like a garage or workroom. They’re also great if someone in your house is really cold-natured and you want to keep a specific room warmer than the rest of the house.

Natural gas space heaters are compact, energy-efficient units that come in a variety of types and sizes, usually between 10,000 and 40,000 Btu per hour. Units can be sized to warm one specific room or several rooms.

Vented heaters vent directly outside using a conventional chimney or flue vent. This allows the unit to use outdoor air for the combustion process, rather than heated air from within your home. Unvented models also are available and can be used in certain rooms.

Some units are “radiant” heaters and have a glowing panel that warms people and surfaces within close proximity and are very good when you need heat for a short time period. Others rely on “convection” which uses the circulation of air in a room to spread the heat.

Whenever you use any space heater, remember these important safety tips:

  • Only purchase newer models that have all of the current safety features.
  • Make sure the heater has the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label attached to it.
  • Choose thermostatically-controlled heaters, since they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
  • Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
  • Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
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.