Watch Your Waste

Saving money on energy bills is more important than ever.

First, the economy has us all looking for ways to save money. And second, we want to be good ecological citizens.

Fortunately, it’s possible to cut your heating bills this winter by 36 percent without ever feeling a chill. The answer lies in this simple formula: For every eight hours a day that you reduce your heat by one degree, you’ll save 3 percent on your heating bill. So, dial your thermostat down by six degrees overnight while you sleep.

That’s six degrees times 3 percent, for an 18-percent savings. If you work during the day, and can reduce your heat by six degrees while you’re away, that’s — again — another savings of 18 percent.

The key is to install a thermostat that allows you to pre-program the temperature, synchronizing it with your habits for sleeping/waking and coming/going.

Programmable thermostats are available at most large hardware stores and can be installed yourself, or you can contact your heating and cooling contractor. This one step can truly make a difference in your wallet and on our planet.

After addressing your personal energy-use, it’s time to confront the energy wasters in your home. A professional energy audit offers an eye-opening examination of just how much energy gushes out of your home. Energy audits use blower doors and infrared cameras to identify specific leaks. That includes cold air escaping in the summer and heat escaping in the winter. The audit allows you to actually see and feel temperature variations around doors, windows, walls, and fireplaces.

The results of this testing become the foundation for creating a plan for insulation, replacing broken seals or caulking, replacing ill-fitting doors or windows, and other remedies.

Energy audits typically cost $300 to $400, if done by a reputable professional — an outlay that pays for itself in savings for years to come.

More information is available on energy audits at

Bob Dein, of Applied Building Sciences in Royal Oak, says audit results are nothing short of amazing. “We regularly see a 58-percent reduction in unwanted air leakage and a 35-percent reduction in energy use,” he says. “Not only do our homeowners lower their heating-and-cooling bills, but it truly makes the home more comfortable, because it’s less drafty and has more consistent humidity and temperature.”

Of course, even small, everyday choices can lower energy use. Changing household light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), for example, can mean a 75-percent lower energy use as compared to standard incandescent bulbs.

The appliances you choose also directly affect household energy consumption. Energy Star-rated appliances use 10- to 50-percent less energy than other models. Other basic changes in habits — turning out lights when you leave a room, unplugging appliances when they’re not in use — also help reduce utility bills.

Consider making energy-reduction a family project this season, and you’ll be rewarded when heat and electric bills arrive with lower figures. It’s a contest with benefits everyone.

Helfman is host of Hire It Done and Listen to him 7-9 a.m.
Saturdays on WRIF (101.1-FM) and Sundays at 7 to 8:30 a.m. on Detroit  Magic (105.1-FM).