Friday, April 30, 2010

Add some energy efficiency to your spring cleaning

This time of year, we’re all busy getting the house and yard ready for summer. But, did you know that while you’re cleaning out winter’s cobwebs you can also gain some energy efficiency? Here are some tips:

  • Have your HVAC unit serviced.
    Cooling your home in the summer accounts for approximately 50 percent of your bill. Regular maintenance will ensure that your unit is working efficiently. And, don’t forget to replace the air filters in your return air vents and clean off the metal grate that holds them in place about once a month for most efficient operation of your unit.
  • Check your attic insulation.
    Most people only think to check their attic insulation in the winter, but the fact is sufficient attic insulation should be a year round consideration. Proper attic insulation (we recommend a minimum of R-38 or 12-14 inches) helps keep conditioned air in your home; this can help save on both heating and cooling costs. You also may consider building an insulation box for your attic access if you do not already have one.
  • Examine windows and doors.
    Caulk, seal and weatherstrip around all seams, cracks and openings to protect against drafts. Pay special attention to windows and exterior doors.
  • After scrubbing your bathrooms, install low-flow shower heads.
    These handy devices will decrease water flow and therefore the amount of hot water you heat. Water heating accounts for 14 percent or more of your monthly bill, so this could be another place you could see savings!

Looking for even more ideas? Check out these tips to save energy around your house.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring planting could save on cooling costs

Now that some of the pollen has calmed down a little bit, getting outside and working around the house can be very enjoyable this time of year. Summer’s heat and humidity hasn’t kicked in, completely. Still, we know it’s coming. And when it does, we’ll all be cranking up the air conditioning in our homes.

But, did you know that the right landscaping could 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 the low-angle winter sun to warm your home when it’s cold. 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.

Staying Cool
To help keep your house cool in the summer, the key is shading your rooftop. Planting deciduous trees – the ones that lose their leaves in the fall – is the best choice. These trees help keep your house cool in the summer, yet allow the sun to warm you in the winter.

When considering where to plant trees, consider your home’s location and unique characteristics. 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:

  • Taller trees that shade the roof are good for the south side of the house.
  • Trees that grow lower to the ground should be planted on the west, to block lower afternoon sun angles.

Also note, trees planted more than 35 feet from your home are probably too far away to provide adequate shading. And, you’ll want to be sure not to plant trees below power lines so that as the tree grows, it doesn’t interfere with the lines.

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)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Going on vacation? Check out these energy savings tips!

This time of year, lots of people either take a spring break vacation or start planning their summer vacation. Making plans is exciting – Where should we go? Where will we stay? Will we save money on our utility bill? Wait. Scratch that last one. Very few people consider their utility bill when they’re out of town. But, should you?

There is a misperception that while you’re away from home, your utility bill should drop dramatically. At first, this makes sense since you’re not there to watch TV, use the computer, do laundry, etc. But, other big users of electricity aren’t going on vacation with you. Check out these tips before your next trip:

  • Turn up the thermostat – Since you’re not there to enjoy the air conditioning, adjust your thermostat accordingly. In the summer, we recommend a setting of 78 degrees. While you’re away, consider bumping your thermostat up to 80 degrees or more. Each degree above 78 will save about 10 percent on your cooling costs. This is good news, because cooling your home accounts for about 50 percent of your bill each month!
  • Turn off ceiling fans, close the drapes – Ceiling fans don’t actually cool your home, they only circulate air to make you feel cooler. Therefore, they are most effective when you’re home to enjoy their benefits. So, turn them off when you’re not home and save some energy. Also, closing your drapes or blinds will keep the hot sun out and cause your air conditioner to run less.
  • Manage your water heater – Unless your cats are taking secret baths while you’re out of town, you may want to consider turning off the water heater at the circuit breaker; if you have a natural gas water heater, use the “vacation” mode. There’s no reason to heat water all day long, every day while you’re gone. Just remember to run the hot water from a sink before turning the water heater back on to ensure the tank is not empty. Another option, of course, would be to install a natural gas tankless water heater.
  • Unplug electronics – Even though your TV and other appliances are turned off, the ones with the little standby light are still drawing electricity. Unplug any unnecessary appliances until you return home.
  • Use light timers, motion detectors – Many people like to leave a light on to indicate someone is home. Use a light timer instead; this also gives a more realistic impression of someone being at home. And, rather than leave your porch light on the entire time you’re gone, install a motion detector.

Happy and safe travels!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Energy Tip: Feel the difference with a Natural Gas Water Heater

We all use hot water every day and probably don’t think too much about it. We just turn on the faucet, wait a little bit and then … hot water! But, did you know there are some pretty major differences in water heaters and these differences can affect your comfort, convenience and energy costs every month for many years?

Water heaters use a lot of energy
Depending on how many people are in your home and your water use habits, you could be paying up to 25 percent of your energy costs for water heating. That’s a lot of money running “down the drain.”

We recommend natural gas water heaters because they cost less to operate, are better for the environment and give you the most hot water. And, the new condensing natural gas tank water heaters are ENERGY STAR® rated. Standard electric tank water heaters are not ENERGY STAR® rated.

Want to know one of the best things about natural gas tank water heaters? When the electric power goes out during a storm or bad weather, you can still take a hot morning shower.

Natural Gas Tankless Water Heaters
If you are buying a new water heater today, whether it’s for the home you are building or if you are just replacing your old one, you will want to check out a natural gas tankless water heater. While these water heaters have been used for many years in Europe and Asia, and in commercial buildings in the U.S., over the past few years they have taken the residential water heating market by storm!

Here are some benefits of natural gas tankless water heaters:

  • the lowest energy costs
  • an almost unending supply of hot water
  • environmentally friendly in many ways
  • can be installed in many locations including on an exterior wall
  • last much longer than a tank water heater
  • ENERGY STAR® rated

No wonder builders and homeowners are installing them like crazy. If you check them out, you’ll probably want one, too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Building or buying a brand new home? Read these new construction tips!

There is an old adage in the energy business about when you build or buy a brand new home - "You get one chance to get it right." That saying has never been truer than today ... you really do get one chance to make sure your new home gives you the maximum comfort and convenience. And, in today's economy, the absolute lowest energy costs.

Reduce your heating and cooling costs
Heating and cooling your home uses about 50 percent of your total annual energy. So, it’s real important to keep the cool air in and the hot air out in the summer and vice versa in the winter. The best time to do this is during construction.

Make sure you select the right insulation levels, and that your home’s ductwork, windows, doors, sole plate, pipe and wire penetrations and other framing areas are sealed properly. If the home is already built, ask to see what levels of insulation are installed and how these areas were sealed. Diagnostic testing equipment, like blower doors and duct blasters, can be used to verify the home is properly sealed.

Efficient Appliances
In most homes, your appliances account for about 20 percent of your energy use. So, you’ll want to look carefully for ENERGY STAR™ rated appliances.

Go with natural gas
One great way to lower energy costs is to make sure that your home has high efficiency natural gas water heating and natural gas heating.

And if you want to lower your energy costs even more, consider natural gas tankless water heaters. They are one of the few types of water heaters that are ENERGY STAR™ rated and you’ll get a virtually unlimited amount of hot water. So, if you’re always the last one to take a shower (or you’re the one that pays the energy bill!), be sure to install a natural gas tankless water heater. Our customers just love them! And, new homes built with natural gas water heaters may qualify for our Value Rate – the lowest natural gas rate available.

Could you use $800 in rebates and SCE&G bill credits?

In case you haven’t heard, SCE&G customers who purchase new appliances this week as part of the S.C. Energy Office rebate program could be eligible for up to $500 in rebates and $300 in SCE&G bill credits, plus up to $1,500 in federal tax credits.

But, if you want to get in on the state’s rebate program you’d better act fast. As of 10 a.m. on April 1, only $133,700 in mail-in rebates and $1,627,550 in instant rebates remained. This is less than half of the original $3.9 million available.

SCE&G’s bill credits, however, are not time sensitive. At any time, customers who switch from an electric heat pump or water heater to a highly efficient natural gas furnace or water heater are eligible for a $300 SCE&G bill credit for each conversion and may qualify for the ValueRate, which offers the lowest natural gas rate available for customers who use natural gas water heating.

Additionally, customers who purchase and install ENERGY STAR® certified appliances, such as a natural gas tankless water heater, may qualify for up to $1,500 in federal tax credits until Dec. 31, 2010.

For more information, visit:

SCE&G Rebate and Bill Credit Info
S.C. Energy Office Rebate Site
Federal Tax Credit Info
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.