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Energy Adviser: Plan to cut energy use in retirement

The Columbian
Published: February 26, 2015, 12:00am

After retiring, many folks see their utility bills rise abruptly. Usually, this follows several years of empty nesting that can lead to lower utility bills. So, it often comes as a shock.

An average household in Clark County uses about 1,200 kilowatts of electricity each month, which makes the electric bill about $115 a month. Empty nesters may see a drop, then see the amount spike as they become retirees. Calls to Clark Public Utilities energy counselors assure them it’s not an anomaly and there’s usually a very logical reason.

Before retiring, empty nesters spent the hours between breakfast and dinner at work, often setting their thermostats down when they went to work and turning them back up upon returning,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor for the utility.

“The temperature was several degrees cooler during working hours, electric appliances were all off and the kids were out of the house. So those customers see lower utility bills,” he said.

Upon retirement, energy use goes up for about 40 hours a week as they spend more time at home and use more resources. Once idle during the day, appliances, heating, cooling, computers, lighting, televisions, radios, microwaves, water heaters, as well as other electrical devices, are now often in service.

However, you can remain comfortable and rein in your utility budget in retirement. It only takes some effort, planning and changes in behavior. Once you hit the empty nest phase, it’s time to start planning for keeping your utility bill low for retirement.

It may also mean an energy upgrade and retrofit plan. To start it’s a good idea to call the energy counselor hotline at 360-992-3355 and talk with a counselor about what you’re your opportunities for energy savings in your home might be. The counselor can advise you about which changes will give you the greatest return on your investment. This can help you prioritize upgrades to increase energy efficiency as you move closer to retirement.

For example, before retiring, you might consider where your larger energy expenses might be and then prioritize them. “For homes, heating and cooling use most of the energy,” said Dunham. “Replacing an older electric furnace with a heat pump could help long term.”

Changing out your old bulbs with LEDs or CFLs can immediately lower the lighting portion of your energy bill. Slowly shifting to more energy efficient appliances — freezer, refrigerator, water heater and clothes washer — can also keep costs down during your retirement years.

Using cold water and running full loads to wash clothes is also a way to cut energy costs. Installing low-flow control devices in faucets and shower heads can cut the water flow almost in half. This saves not only water, but also the energy it takes to heat it.

Other ways you can reduce retirement energy costs is to lower your thermostat just a couple of degrees. Set the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees and your thermostat to 68 degrees. Every degree you lower either saves a bit.

Then you can also pull the plug on energy vampires. Any electronic equipment with a light that stays on or a clock that keeps time consumes electricity. One doesn’t eat much, but look around and you’ll notice that most homes have dozens of these devices on stand-by mode, including everything from your DVR to your PC. Put as many of these on smart power strips that completely turn off any equipment not in use.


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.

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