Energy Adviser: Picking the right energy analysis

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Baffled by energy use in your home? Try a home energy review or, what's referred to in the utility industry as an energy audit. You have two choices: online energy calculators or an in-home energy review. Both can reveal energy wasters you might not have suspected, and both can deliver energy-saving results. Both are also free for Clark Public Utilities customers. Which you choose depends upon your lifestyle and personality.

"Customers should think about energy audits as part of a long-term plan to pay less for energy," said Matthew Babbitts, residential services manager for Clark Public Utilities. "They're free and can shave dollars off your energy bill for years to come."

If you're unfamiliar with ways to prevent building heat loss, an in-home energy review is a good choice. An energy counselor will come and visually inspect your home in just an hour or two. If you're curious, you can tag along with the utility energy counselor, ask questions and learn hands-on about cutting energy waste.

If you are considering an expensive project -- upgrading a heating system or beginning major weatherization improvements -- don't hesitate to request an in-home review. You may learn more ways to save energy during the renovation. And the energy counselor can also provide information about the current rebates and incentives the utility offers for energy-efficient appliances or improvements.

The in-home audit can solve mysterious energy losses or sudden, dramatic increases in your utility bill when there's been no change in your living situation.

The downside to the in-home review is that it takes scheduling. When anxious customers want to lower heating bills quickly during the winter, energy counselors are in high demand. So try the "off season" if possible.

Energy counselors are available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. So, you have to schedule a time and be present for the inspection, which might mean taking time off from work.

If an in-home energy review doesn't fit into your schedule, or if you are the do-it-yourself type, then the energy calculators on the utility's website might be perfect for you.

With Internet access, you'll find them at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com/index.cfm/your-home/energy-calculators/ or by signing up for MyAccount. Besides home energy calculators, there are also others for appliances, heating, CFL bulbs and programmable thermostats.

The free tools are easy to use and you can type in various scenarios to find how different energy-efficiency upgrades or behavior changes can affect your usage, then choose the solutions that fit your needs best. The calculators are set up to allow you to go as shallow or deep as you want. See what some light bulb swaps would save you, or plug in appliance or heating system upgrades to see the impact of bigger changes.

Homeowners can use the calculators when they choose, even on weekends. In just a few minutes, the free "home energy calculator" can help you find where you're burning up energy dollars and compare yourself to homes of similar size.

Using the DIY approach, you can find some of the same issues that an in-home audit finds. You can discover inefficiencies in the heating-cooling system, water heater, refrigerator, washer and dryer. You might find your home is insulated inadequately or your furnace has maintenance issues. You could find your thermostat is broken or incorrectly programmed.

The drawback of this DIY approach is that you need some basic knowledge of building science -- what is insulation; the type of heating system in your home; and so forth.

When you've finished your DIY audit, you still could have questions. If you do, you can call the energy counselor of the day at 360-992-3355. An energy counselor is available at that number from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

If you want to shave dollars off those winter bills, it's better to play energy detective during the late summer or early fall before the cold-weather heating season starts. That allows you time to complete any recommended changes before the chills set in.


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.