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Al's Tips For Saving Natural Gas

Al Zelicoff's Tip For Saving Natural Gas

Since the price of natural gas is almost certainly going to be much higher this winter than last, here are some things you can do to lower your use. Some may be much more important than you think depending on your household makeup and the construction of your house.

The average house uses about 600 therms for air heating (as opposed to cooking or water heating which are addressed below).

To lower house heating costs:

  • Turn down the thermostat at night (or when you leave the house) to 62 or 65 degrees. It is a myth that you'll end up using more energy overall when the furnace starts up again when you turn up the thermostat later because you haven't lost nearly as much heat all night (or when you're out). It is also a myth that you'll "catch cold" or "catch pneumonia" (I know! I'm a doctor!) if the air temperature is a bit cool while sleeping. In fact, because we have very dry air in Albuquerque, heating the air drives the humidity down even more which is quite irritating to the respiratory system especially in children with asthma.
  • Install a ceiling fan in the one or two rooms you use most to circulate warm air that gathers at the ceiling around the room.
  • Close off the heating vents to rooms that aren't used much (like a guest room) and then close the door to that room.
  • If you can insulate your attic space (which is often impossible in flat-roofed houses) make sure you have reasonably up-to-date insulation. A total "R" value of 30 - 35 is desirable (we have R-40). You can add insulation over existing insulation (it adds to the total R value) as long as the old insulation isn't moldy or damaged from leaks. Fill in any existing insulation gaps (there are usually some in every house). Always be careful not to cover vents, light fixtures in the ceiling just below the attic level and other electrical equipment or connections.
  • Windows, even double-pane, well-sealed windows, lose about 1 therm of heat per square foot of glass if they don't have shades. Since most houses have at least 200 square feet of windows, at least 200 therms will be lost through uncovered or "untreated" windows in a typical Albuquerque winter. So, insulate windows with shades that have good R values. The most cost effective are air-cell shades that literally have an air-gap in them and are available from any home-improvement store. They let light in but keep heat loss down, reducing it by about 2/3 even with old metal frame single-pane windows. These shades even help in the summer because they limit heat gain (which is huge in Albuquerque) and thus less cooling is required.
  • Look for and repair air leaks around windows and doors. Even small air gaps between your doors and the door frame (ditto for windows) can cost you a hundred therms every winter. That's $150 - $200 in natural gas costs at expected winter prices.
  • Also insulate any electrical sockets (plugs and switches) on exterior walls. This is frequently overlooked and easily remediated. Preformed socket insulators are available for 25-50 cents each or less and pay for themselves in no time.

Water heating

  • The normal setting on a water heater heats water to 140 degrees. That's MUCH hotter than you can stand, and is a serious scalding danger to young children. Turn down the water heater so that your shower temperature is low enough so that you don't need to mix much cold water in the shower to be comfortable. Anything hotter is just wasting natural gas and it is substantial - at least 70 to 80 therms a year in a typical household
  • put an insulating blanket around your hot water heater. It'll pay for itself in a month or two.
  • If your water heater is old (more than 15 years) it is cost-effective to replace it. If you can't replace it and if the drain valve still works (some are rusted shut), drain out about 10 gallons of water every few months to get rid of mineral buildup and the bottom of the tank which reduce efficiency in heating.
  • Install a low flow shower head (a few gallons per minute as opposed to 10 gallons per minute). Try to limit the time the water is running to 5 minutes or less.
  • If you do all of the above these things (especially the first and the last) you'll reduce you monthly water bill by about $15 to $20 on water heating alone.
  • Cooking

  • Although you may think it makes little difference, for things that take a long time to heat up (like water brought to a boil for pasta or cooking sauces) you can save a lot of energy just by putting a lid on the pot or pan. Think about how many times you do this. It really adds up.
  • For small amounts of hot water (like for tea or a cup of coffee) use the microwave. At current electricity and natural gas rates, it is MUCH cheaper to use the microwave.
  • For reheating dishes, try to avoid using the oven. Use the microwave or a stand-alone small electric oven. The latter is especially good for reheating pizza or even for small pre-prepared meals.
  • And here is the proof: our house uses about 300 therms of natural gas in the winter even though it is larger than the average Albuquerque house -- a 50% reduction.

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    Al Zelicoff

    Alan Zelicoff, a former senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, provides the energy-saving tips for the Journal. If you have a question or tip for Dr. Zelicoff, you can email him at Journal Energy Tips.

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