Energy Adviser: Avoid retirement surprises

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Clark County is graying. One in six residents is older than 60 today. By 2030, one in four will be.

Perhaps you are among those aging boomers born between 1945 and 1964 who planned to make their homes more comfortable for retirement. You planned everything to fit neatly into your fixed-income budget. Then, after settling into a retirement routine, higher than expected utility bills roll in. Ouch!

Surprised by an increase in your utility costs, you call an energy counselor to ask why. The answer is so obvious that it's easily overlooked. Retirees spend more time at home — and often use more energy as a result.

As a worker, you set your thermostat at a lower temperature when you left in the morning and back to about 70 degrees when you returned in the evening. While you commuted and worked, the temperature was several degrees lower for eight to 10 hours a day. Now you're home during those hours and keeping the temperature at a comfy 70 degrees.

You're also using lights longer and electrical devices more frequently — watching more TV or spending more time at the computer. You've just added 40-50 hours a week more energy use.

You can remain comfortable and bring your utility budget back in line at the same time. It takes some effort, planning and changing of your behavior, but it can be done

Prior to living on a fixed income, those still planning should consider making changes to make your home more comfortable. Keep in mind that heating, cooling and lighting are important considerations as you age.

• Weatherize your home. Eliminate air leaks from outside by adding extra insulation to the attic and crawl spaces. Insulate or cover exposed pipes with thermal heating strips. Caulk around outside windows. This helps protect your home during a long cold spell and keeps you warm. It may even be time to install that energy-efficient heat pump you've contemplated.

• Swap out any incandescent bulbs for CFLs or LEDs. If you still own an older kilowatt-hungry television, replace it with an energy-efficient model. Install smart strips for all electrical devices you use frequently. Weigh the convenience of that old, extra fridge in the garage with the cost to keep it cold all year.

• Changing behavior means turning lights off whenever you're not in a room. Consider shutting off areas of your home you don't use and having a portable space heater that moves easily from room to room to keep you warm, rather than heating your entire house. When it isn't needed, remember to turn it off.

• If you're traveling for three days or longer, set your thermostat between 50 and 60 degrees. If your home has remotely controlled thermostats and lights, adjust the heat and switch the lights on and off as you travel to mimic someone using the home. For lights, using inexpensive timers works.

Before you're constrained by a fixed income, consider turning your home into one where you can age in place. Funding the needed changes on a fixed income can be harder.

"It's worthwhile for seniors to make their homes more energy efficient and comfortable so that they can reduce costs and live in them for as long as possible," said Colette Anderson, a Commission on Aging staff member for the county. "Especially homes built before 1992, when more stringent weatherization codes appeared."

The Council on Aging and Clark Public Utilities are currently working on continuing a grant program that focuses on improving the energy efficiency of homes in moderate-income areas of Clark C ounty. The grant is designed to focus on households with occupants older than 60. Customers can expect an announcement of when the grant program will begin later in the year.


Low-income seniors should also call the utility at 360-992-3000 to see what assistance is available.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.