Energy adviser: To increase efficiency, invest a little or even a lot



Whether you have $50 or $15,000 to spend, you can make improvements that will increase your home’s energy efficiency.

“If you’re shopping for new appliances or heating systems, investing in energy-efficient models can lower your electric bills for the long term,” said DuWayne Dunham, an energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. “But even if you’re not in the market for more expensive upgrades, there are plenty of affordable changes that will help you cut down on wasted energy and give you a big bang for your buck.”

For a little

With about $50 to $100, you can make a few easy fixes around the house that will easily pay off over one winter, Dunham said. Here’s what he recommends:

• Caulk around windows and doors on the outside of the house.

• Add or replace weather-stripping around exterior doors.

• Use spray foam insulation to plug larger holes under sinks where plumbing enters the house.

• Add foam gaskets to the backs of switch and plug covers.

• Swap incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent ones. “A 60 watt incandescent bulb costs a penny every two hours. You can burn a 15-watt CFL, which would be the equivalent, for eight hours before it costs a penny,” Dunham said. They last longer than traditional bulbs, plus, if you bring a burned-out CFL to any of the Clark Public Utilities’ offices, you can get a new one to replace it for free, as many as six bulbs per visit.

For a bit more money

The next level of improvements will cost you more and take longer to pay off, but they also have the potential to save more electricity.

• Buy appliances with the Energy Star label. “When a customer is in the market to replace an appliance that’s either not working or no longer fits the style of the home, we recommend investing in an Energy Star model,” Dunham said. “The higher purchase price will pay off in energy savings over time.”

• Seal ductwork. Hiring a qualified contractor to do the work costs an average of $1,000, but it could save you $100 to $150 a year by ensuring that heated or cooled air isn’t leaking into the crawl space. It can increase the indoor air quality and comfort of your home as well.

• Add insulation. Most contemporary homes have wall insulation, Dunham said, but many have inadequate insulation in the attics and floors. It could cost $1,000 or $2,000 to improve insulation in each of those areas to make heating your home easier.

Go all out

The biggest — and costliest — step you can take is to replace your old electric heating system. A ductless heat pump costs about $4,000 to $5,000. If you install a heat pump with new ductwork, that could hit $15,000. But upgrading to a heat pump could save $300 to $350 a year, Dunham said.

New windows are also a big investment — at minimum, $25 per square foot installed — and something worth doing if your home has single-paned windows, Dunham said. Replacing them with dual-paned windows can save $2 per square foot of window a year.

If you have some big projects on the horizon and are unsure what your priorities should be, Clark Public Utilities’ energy counselors are available to take a look around your home and offer suggestions.Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.