Solutions for keeping utility bills down during extreme weather

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - For many homeowners, turning on an air conditioner in the summer and the heater in the winter means big bills.

But local home auditor Mary English, owner of Small Steps Energy Solutions, LLC, says homeowners don't have to make the choice between staying cool or paying a high bill. Likewise, she said, they don't have to freeze in the winter or pay a high gas bill to stay warm.

"We've just grown up thinking that we need to live in uncomfortable houses; pile on blankets in the winter and space heaters because that's just how houses are," English said. "We're here to say, ‘No, that's not the way it is, it doesn't have to be that way.' There are upgrades that you can do that will impact your comfort and going to impact your health."

As a home energy auditor, English examines a home from top to bottom, outside and inside.  She looks at the energy usage and whether the home is running efficiently.

"One of the largest chunks of energy waste through the house is the system," English said.

At Jennie Mae's home in Kansas City, Kan., English found some problems that are costing Mae a lot of money.

"$250 was my last month and I keep my thermostat at 80 degrees," Mae said.

It is a monthly electric bill that English calls astronomical for a home that size.

Using an infrared sensor, English found a number of hot spots in Mae's house. The hot spots show areas where there is poor or no insulation, so nothing is trapping the cool air-conditioned air inside the house.

She found the original part of the house had no insulation in the walls. The addition to the house, Mae's dining room and master bedroom, was built on a crawl space. The crawl space was not constructed correctly, English said, and had poor insulation.

"The fiberglass batts in the floor are installed backwards," said English. "They're falling down and they're gapped so there's unfortunately, no insulation underneath this floor."

English also found hot spots along the ceiling. One peek in the attic revealed holes in the insulation, so air is leaking out of the top of her house.

"It's insulated with fiberglass batts that are not the right size and are rolled and crunched and incorrectly installed," English said.

By properly installing insulation, English said Mae should be able to immediately start saving money on her bills.
But, English found some other issues as well. One of which can cause health problems, too.

"There are studies through the EPA and Dept. of Energy that show leaky duct work in a leaky house can be negatively impacting your health or your family," English said.

She said fixing leaky ducts is something Mae can do herself.

"It's a little boring, maybe, going into your basement and taping your duct work with foil tape," she said. "But that's something that a homeowner, for example, can do right away."

English also tested Mae's equipment, like her heater and water heater, for leaks. Once she has identified all the problems, she will issue recommendations.

Mae said this is a house she fell in love with from the first moment she stepped inside. So she's hoping by implementing some of the recommendations, she will start to save money.

"Bills are always great to get lower, if I can," she said.

Currently in Missouri, there's a program that can give a homeowner up to $1,200 back on their electric and gas bills if they make certain improvements to their house.

To learn what the program requires and whether you qualify, visit: http://www.hpwes.net/

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