GULFPORT, MS - Energy vampires. They're everywhere, lurking in dark corners or sitting in plain sight, masked by our day-to-day routines. It can be as simple as changing a light bulb or replacing an air filter. Or, it may require a little more work like properly sealing doors, windows, and HVAC lines. Whatever the case, cutting back on these energy phantoms can really save you some money on your summer power bill.
Meggan Gray visited a home in Florence Gardens, Gulfport, to identify some of the biggest energy vampires literally sucking efficiency and money out of our homes. Here are some of the solutions to the problems she found.
Problem: Keeping the cool air in, and the hot air out.
If you were to ask for an energy audit of your home, one of the first things power company representatives would do would be to look at air infiltration. Windows and doors are your first line of defense against our south Mississippi heat.
Mark Wallace of Coast Electric Power Association says, "That can add up to 20% of your heating and cooling load, is the air infiltration around your doors and windows."
Wallace is the director of residential energy management for Coast Electric. He suggests everyone look at their doors and windows, to see if they're properly sealed. It's easy - just look for any daylight that may be visible around the edges of your door / window frames. If you see daylight, it's not sealed well.
Also, take a look at your light switches and wall outlets. If you see dust or dirt surrounding the openings, that means unwanted air is seeping through.
Solution: Use caulk, rope caulk, or weather stripping to plug up any unwanted gaps surrounding your doors and windows. Also, buy foam inserts to place behind your light switch and outlet plates, to eliminate any leaks.
Problem: Maintaining an efficient cooling system in your home.
Air conditioning can account for up to half your electric bill each month, which is why it is so important to do some routine maintenance.
Dirty air filters can clog the system, forcing your unit to work even harder to pump air through the house. Rule of thumb – change your filters at least once a month.
Thermostats that are often turned up or down, also put extra stress on your cooling system
Phillippe Michel with Coast Electric Power Association says keeping your thermostat set at a certain level can make a big difference.
"We recommend 78. For every degree that you can raise your thermostat, it can save you about three to five percent on your heating and cooling bill."
Now for the heart of the operation – the HVAC unit in the attic. Michel says you want to make sure every connection to the HVAC system is sealed properly, making it air tight.
"We also look at the flex duct runs. Make sure they're hung properly and not kinked up to make sure don't restrict air flow," says Michel.
Solution: Change air filters throughout the house at least once a month. Your power bill can be your reminder.
Also, set your thermostat at 78 degrees. Programmable thermostats can save you even more, by programming your system to a higher setting when the house is empty. For every degree you bump up the thermostat, you can save up to five percent on your heating and cooling bill.
Make sure your attic is well ventilated, and all connections to the HVAC system are tightly sealed. Also make sure any flex duct is properly hung, so as to eliminate any kinks in the line and allow smooth airflow.
Problem: Many appliances and electronics stay plugged in, draining power even when they're not being used.
They're no myth. Phantom loads can put a serious strain on your energy consumption each month. Just take a quick assessment of how many things you keep plugged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week - flat screen televisions, game consoles, DVR's, phone chargers, computers, kitchen appliances . . . they quickly add up.
As Mark Wallace with Coast Electric Power Association explains, "Anything you see that has an LCD control on it and you can see date and signatures or times, things like that, it has to have something to power it."
Wallace, says phantom loads have become more and more relevant in today's world, a world where we're all "plugged" in, all the time.
"We don't even really open a can anymore without electricity. You can't get ready in the morning without electricity."
Kitchen appliances are big energy vampires. So many of us leave our coffee pots, toasters, or electric mixers plugged in. They all add up.
Home offices also drain our wallets.
"Fax machines, laptop computers, computer stations . . . All these are pulling electricity. And the thing, too, that people will do is plug in their chargers (and I'm bad about this), is just unplug the laptop, throw it in the bag and leave. But they leave the chargers plugged in."
Yes, they're still using power. The same goes for phone chargers. If it's plugged in, it's still draining power.
Solution: Unplug appliances or chargers when they're not in use. Another option – plug popular electronics and appliances into a power strip, and when you're not using them just flip the switch on the power strip to 'off.'
Also, always look for Energy Star appliances. Many of those already have built in technology that minimizes, or eliminates, phantom load altogether.
If you want to test 'phantom loads' in your home, you can visit any library in Harrison, Hancock or Pearl River Counties to check out a "Kill-A-Watt" meter (free of charge) to see how much power your electronics are using each week. Coast Electric will be distributing those meters to libraries the week of July 18th.
Coast Electric Power Association provided the following information, to give you an idea how much energy appliances can use in a given year, and how much it can cost.
*Cost figured on an average of 11 cents per kWh
Each of south Mississippi's three power companies, Coast Electric Power Association, Mississippi Power, and Singing River Electric Power Association, offer excellent energy-fighting tools to their customers. Not only can you request an energy audit on your home, but you can also personalize your own energy assessment online. It's as easy as clicking on the links below. Each company has provided its own, easy-to-use guide on energy conservation, so you can learn how to save money on your monthly power bill.