Energy Efficiency 101

Energy Efficiency 101

Renewable Energy 101

Global Warming 101

Tighten Up

Energy Efficiency 101

In the United States, decades of inexpensive energy resources have led to an abundance of inefficiencies and waste in our use of energy.  With 4% of the world’s population, the US consumes 25% of the world’s energy resources.  Worldwide energy demand is expected to triple within the next three to four decades. At the same time, many of the resources that have traditionally supplied our energy needs are shrinking at an alarming rate.  As we face increasingly volatile energy costs, ageing and vulnerable energy delivery infrastructure, and growing human health and environmental consequences attributable to our insatiable thirst for energy, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is more than a virtue – it’s a necessity.

Many people confuse efficiency — doing more with less – with discomfort or hardship – doing less or doing without.  Misconceptions about the cost, payback, and availability of energy efficient technologies, as well as a general lack of public awareness limit their enormous potential for curtailing our energy supply needs.

In fact, energy efficiency has a proven track record. Since 1973, focused efforts on improving the efficiency of energy use have reduced America’s rate of energy consumption. Today we use 47% less energy per dollar of economic output than we did 30 years ago. That equates to less air pollution and related respiratory ailments, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear waste, and mining operations.

Yet, we still have a long way to go.  The U.S. buildings sector is number one in electricity consumption; number one in greenhouse gas emissions production and the sector with the greatest potential for improvement in these areas through the use of energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation.  Energy efficiency is the most economical and immediate, but overlooked and misunderstood way to provide future energy resources.

There remain ample opportunities to increase our energy efficiency with readily-available, proven technologies.  Energy efficient products – once thought to be out-of-reach or too expensive for many consumers – are now widely accessible and affordable. In fact, today’s energy efficiency technologies and practices are bringing greater benefits at a lower cost than ever before.  Compact fluorescent lamps that cost $20 two decades ago are now less than $3. Window coverings that reflect heat now cost one quarter what they did just five years ago. The costs of many energy efficient appliances are coming down to the range of inefficient ones.  When life cycle costs are considered, energy efficient products are a far better value than their inefficient counterparts.

Energy Efficiency as a Resource

In 1976, Amory Lovins coined the term “negawatt” to denote energy efficiency as a resource, a unit in watts of energy saved.  In other words energy efficiency “generates” power capability, by doing as much or more with less energy, thus reducing demand on existing power plants.

“Every negawatt generated has the potential to increase our wealth and health as few other investments can,” says Lovins, world-renowned energy guru and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). “The opportunities are almost boundless. Energy efficiency is the great new energy resource of our future.”

Because energy is lost at every stage of the generation lifecycle – from mine to plant to the end-user – even small reductions in the home are amplified in upstream reductions in energy consumption.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, if over the next 15 years Americans bought only Energy Star products we would shrink our energy bills by more than $100 billion and eliminate greenhouse gas pollution equal to the emissions of 17 million cars for each of those 15 years. Refrigerators in the U.S. alone use the equivalent of the output of about 60 300-MW power plants. If all the nation’s households used the most efficient refrigerators available, electricity savings would eliminate the need for about 30 average-sized power plants.

Even the smallest energy efficiency improvements can lead to huge benefits if they were widely adopted. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculated that home electronics such as TVs, VCRs and cable boxes, even when idle, account for 5 percent of total domestic energy consumption. If this equipment were plugged into power strips that were turned off when not in use, we could reduce our annual energy costs by more than $3 billion and carbon emissions by 18 million tons.

If you replaced just four 100-watt incandescent bulbs that burn four or more hours a day in your home with four 23-watt fluorescent bulbs, you’d get as much light and save at least 1,356 kilowatt-hours of electricity and $108 over three years. In Colorado this avoids the release of 1400 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

The Benefits of Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency saves consumers money. According to the RMI, preventable energy waste – from the power plant to losses in the home – costs Americans hundreds of billions of dollars a year. In 2003, before energy prices began a steady upward trend, the average American household paid $1500 a year in home energy costs.  Reducing the amount of energy we consume in our homes has an immediate impact on utility bills. Even very small changes, like sealing air leaks, switching to more efficient light bulbs or using a programmable thermostat shows up in reduced energy bills. Higher investments energy efficiency measures, such as adding insulation, energy efficient windows or a more efficient water heater can reduce utility bills by hundreds of dollars annually.

Some additional, less obvious benefits to energy efficiency include:

  • Energy efficient equipment is typically higher quality and more reliable.
  • Energy efficient homes are more comfortable homes. When the building shell is well-sealed to air leaks and heating and cooling systems are tuned and sized to needs of the home it is more comfortable.
  • Studies have shown that natural light (“day-lighting”) improves mood and productivity in work and learning settings.
  • Energy efficient motors are often more quiet, reliable and controllable than their less efficient counterparts.
  • Home insulation and high efficiency windows not only keep the internal temperature comfortable, but also shields the home from outside noise.
  • Using energy efficiency in our homes now buys time while cleaner energy generation technologies can be developed and implemented.

Energy efficiency reduces negative impacts on the environment. The U.S. has 4.6% of the world’s population but produces roughly 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. EPA estimates the energy consumption of the average American house creates 22,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually compared to a typical car’s 11,500 pounds of CO2.  Residential energy consumption is expected to increase 7.5% by 2010. According to the Energy Information Administration, by 2025, U.S. energy consumption will increase 40% — an amount equivalent to the current consumption of California, Texas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The negative environmental impacts of energy production are well-known: pollutants from fossil fuel generation are showing up in our food chain and are know to cause a host of human health problems; coal fired electricity generation causes 37% of greenhouse gas emissions – the leading cause of global warming; as of 2003, 54,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel had accumulated in the U.S., with no available solution for its storage or disposal; the electricity power industry accounts for 39% of fresh water use; the safety and security of our nation’s power infrastructure is highly vulnerable to disruption – through accident or malice. Every kWh saved reduces these impacts. In Colorado, where 92% of our electricity comes from burning coal, each kWh saved prevents about 1 lb. of CO2 from being pumped into the atmosphere.

Energy efficiency enhances national security. Many experts believe that our civilization’s dependence on fossil fuels represents the greatest threat human kind has ever faced.  Conserving energy supports national security by prolonging the availability of finite domestic energy resources, reducing the environmental impacts that are weakening our planet’s ability to support us, and reducing our dependence on imported resources, such as natural gas and oil, from socially, politically and economically unstable, foreign regimes.  A distributed and diverse energy supply system may be our greatest defense against the health, economic, social and security threats to our country.  Treated as a resource, negawatts not only reduce the need to import our energy supplies and build new power plants but help to create a diversified energy resource base.

Energy efficiency promotes economic growth. Energy efficiency provides a number of national and local economic benefits. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels provides a hedge against rising fuel costs. It also helps to keep our energy dollars invested at home instead of exporting them overseas to oil and gas suppliers. Investments in energy efficiency tend to create more local and in-state jobs than comparable spending on energy consumption. More importantly, the money saved on energy allows consumers to spend more of their income on other products and services, thereby stimulating economic growth in other areas. At the state level, an investment in cost-effective energy efficiency is an investment in the state’s infrastructure that improves Colorado’s competitiveness in a global economy.

Renewable Energy Basics

Worldwide demand for energy is expected to triple within the next three to four decades. Given the environmental, economic, and security consequences that come with our fossil fuel dependence, we have no choice but to embrace renewable energy resources. Ensuring sufficient resources and reliable infrastructure to deliver electricity at a cost that people can afford demands that U.S. energy supplies become diversified, distributed and efficient. Renewable energy offers a clean, reliable, cost-effective solution to our nation’s long term energy needs.

Renewable resources generate reliable power that is compatible with the U.S. electric grid and produces no toxic air emissions, water pollution or waste. Renewables add an economically stable source of energy to the mix of US generation technologies. They can be installed closer to local electric loads and distributed throughout the Country. Decentralized power generation reduces the burden on our overtaxed and fragile electric grid, allows incremental capacity increases that more closely match demand and creates new markets in cutting-edge, high-efficiency generation and power management technologies. Such a system would also reduce the potential for disruption as well as the costly waste intrinsic in transmitting electric energy over long distances (about 30 percent of electricity is lost in transmission).

Renewable fuels are inexhaustible and free, tapped and developed locally. Towns that own renewable energy projects are more economically sustainable, keeping a larger portion of economic value within the community. Renewable energy projects generate revenues, property taxes, land lease fees, and stable, long-term, good-paying jobs that help to stimulate the local economy and contribute to the economic base. Studies have shown that communities located near coal-fired power plants suffer from higher rates of birth defects, asthma, cancer and other illnesses. Communities that develop and own local renewable energy projects enjoy better air and water quality: asthma sufferers breathe easier, and children splash in the local creek without fear of mercury contamination. Because the environment is healthier, people and families are healthier, too.


On a sunny day, the sun emits the equivalent of 1000 watts of energy per square meter of the planet’s surface. Just a tiny fraction of this energy (around a hundredth of a millionth of a percent) is enough to meet all of our power needs many times over – if we could simply harness it effectively.

There are several ways to harness the sun’s energy for useful purposes. Two different approaches are often referred to as “passive” and “active” solar. Passive solar is an architectural design approach in which south facing windows are incorporated into building designs, often with an adjacent stone floor or wall to absorb heat, which is then distributed throughout the house via fans and/or vents.

The two active solar technologies that are the most common are Solar thermal and Solar photovoltaic (PV).

Solar thermal technology has been around for many years. During the “energy crisis” of the 1970s and early 80s, the Carter Administration began an aggressive incentive program for home solar thermal systems and many thousands of these systems were installed throughout the US.

Solar thermal technology is fairly simple: solar collectors contain small tubes with water or some other liquid running through them and are covered with a heat absorbing, flat, black plate. They are installed on a south facing surface like the roof. Sunlight heats up the water, which is then pumped into a well-insulated hot water storage tank.

The cost of a solar hot water system varies. As an example, a family of 4 uses about 100 gallons of hot water per day. A typical solar thermal system that would heat a significant percentage of this family’s hot water needs might cost about $5,000 and would save the family about $500 per year when utility prices are in the 7¢ per kilowatt hour range, giving an economic payback of just under 10 years.

Today’s solar thermal systems are simpler than in the past, with fewer moving parts and are easier to maintain, but the basic technology is still pretty much the same as it was in the 1970s. They are generally very reliable and will last 25 years with minimal maintenance.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric technology converts sunlight directly into electricity. This is the same technology that is often used to power calculators or watches. Solar electricity requires no fuel, emits zero pollution and has no negative health or environmental impacts. Solar technology is efficient and reliable and requires virtually no maintenance; once installed, solar panels can provide heat or electricity for many years.

There are several different ways to configure PV systems, but most commonly, systems are wired directly into the home’s electrical system. Here’s how it works: Solar cells contain a semiconducting material – usually silicon, although other materials are starting to be explored and used. When sunlight hits the solar cells, it heats up the atoms in the silicon, and electrons start bouncing around to produce DC electricity. Multiple solar cells are generally configured into modules and installed into a PV array. The array is wired through the roof into an inverter that converts the DC electricity into AC, and then is connected directly to the home’s electrical supply.

In many cases, the PV system is interconnected with the electricity grid and net metered. Interconnection allows homeowners to add excess generated electricity from their PV system to the grid, and draw from the grid when they need to. For example, during the day when the sun is shining, the PV system may generate more electricity than the home needs, in which case that excess electricity is allowed to flow into the grid. Then at night, the home may need to draw more electricity than the system produces, and the home’s needs are supplemented by grid electricity. Net metering involves installing a single meter on the home that runs forward when electricity is being drawn from the grid, and backward when excess electricity is being added to the grid. Net metering increases the economic benefit of PV since it allows homeowners to essentially sell excess power back to the utility.

Like solar hot water systems, the cost of PV varies considerably with the size of the home, number of occupants, electrical energy use and especially regional electric utility rates. The overall cost effectiveness of a PV system can be substantially increased by ensuring that the home is as energy efficient as possible.

A 2,000 watt (2 kW) PV system could reasonably provide about half of the electricity needs of an energy-efficient 2,000 square foot home. A 2,000 watt PV system costs about $16,000 to install. With net metering, a 2,000 watt system would save the homeowner about $530 per year on their electric bill, yielding a payback of around 26 years at current electricity rates. As electricity prices rise, the yearly electricity savings increase as well.

In November 2004, Colorado became the first state ever to adopt a renewable energy standard by popular vote. Amendment 37 requires that qualifying Colorado utilities generate 10 percent of their electric supply from renewable energy sources by 2015. Amendment 37 stipulates that four percent of the renewable energy requirement come from distributed solar electric systems and requires that the state’s two largest utilities – Xcel Energy and Aquilla – implement a rebate program for PV. While details of that program are still under negotiation, it is likely that Xcel rebates will help to cover up to half of the cost of installing a PV system.

Economic Value of Installing Solar Technologies in Colorado

When considering an investment in a home solar energy or solar hot water system, homeowners typically want to know how much it will cost, how much it will save and how long it will take to recover their investment. Yet an investment in solar energy pays back dividends that are often difficult to quantify and as a result, usually overlooked. Does a homeowner consider the payback of installing granite countertops or stainless steel appliances? Considerations like the increase in property value, as well as other local and global benefits of going solar are often more important to homeowners than their straight economic costs and payback. Generally people that install PV understand that these benefits may not necessarily be something they can see and feel every day, but they take a more global view of the impacts of their consumer spending choices.

Many homeowners invest in solar systems as a hedge against future energy price volatility or for other “value-added” or non-tangible economic benefits. For example, solar electric systems combined with battery storage can increase the reliability of power supply and ensure electricity is available for key functions during utility outages. The link between fossil fuel use and national security is also a factor for some people who choose to go solar. The nations and regions where oil and gas resources are concentrated are hotbeds of political and social instability. The US spends many billions of dollars every year protecting its oil and gas interests in these regions and many people prefer not to support these activities with their energy dollars.

For some, environmental considerations are often a major factor in the decision to go solar. Purchasers of solar energy systems contribute significantly to the reduction of pollutants emitted from conventional fossil fuel generation.

In Colorado, over 90% of our electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants. Generating electricity from coal is probably the most toxic and polluting process known to man and contributes to health problems, like off-the-charts asthma rates in children, cardiac disease, and respiratory problems. The EPA estimates that fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to 300,000 deaths per year. That’s 100 times more deaths than 9/11 EVERY YEAR. Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants are contaminating fish and other wildlife up through the food-chain, and mercury is showing up at dangerous levels in people’s systems all over the world. The effects of mercury contamination are largely unknown, but thought by many scientists to contribute to low birth weight and birth defects, autism, and other neurological problems. Coal-fired electricity generation is also the largest contributor to global climate change, which many consider to be the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.

Over its 30-year expected life, a 2 kW solar electric system will eliminate over 260,000 pounds of CO2, nearly 650 pounds of SO2, and over 530 pounds of NOx that would have been produced from an equivalent amount of conventional generation in Colorado. The reduction of CO2 alone is equivalent to:
• Not driving an automobile over 250,000 miles (effectively taking a car off the road permanently);
• Keeping over 130,000 pounds of coal in the ground; or
• Planting nearly 53 acres of trees.


Wind power plants generate efficient, dependable and cost-effective electricity from a limitless, free resource. No fuel is explored for, extracted, transported, refined, or combusted. Wind energy generates zero emissions, zero atmospheric pollution and zero toxic waste. Creating electricity from wind requires zero consumption of natural resources, very little water, and minimal land.

Technological advances in today’s wind turbine designs have made wind technology more efficient – harnessing more of the wind’s energy and at lower wind speeds – and more cost-effective than ever before. Wind power technology is now 98% dependable; it is increasingly competitive with coal and nuclear energy and is significantly cheaper than natural gas or any other new clean energy technology. With today’s energy infrastructure and today’s technologies, wind could comfortably generate 20% of our nation’s electricity requirements – as it already does in other countries.

Wind power also supports our Nation’s energy independence and security and can strengthen our struggling rural communities by increasing local tax bases, providing new sources of income to farmers who house turbines on their land, and creating long-term, permanent jobs. According to a study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, “wind energy produces 27% more jobs per kilowatt hour than coal plants and 66% more jobs than natural gas plants”


Organic wastes, such as agricultural and forest residues, can also be used to generate electricity. When these materials are burned, the heat is used to produce steam, which drives a turbine to generate electricity. Likewise, the heat from biomass can be used more directly to heat homes or for other uses, such as when you burn wood in your fireplace.

Biogas is another form of energy created when organic matter is converted into liquids and gases, or captured when gases escape from landfills or livestock waste in the form of methane. Biogas has a wide range of uses, including electricity generation. Transportation fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel are also forms of biogas.

There are multiple advantages to using biomass to generate electricity. Biomass offers an additional source of income to farmers and rural communities, while reducing waste disposal costs. Utility companies can generate electricity from biomass with the same equipment power plants use to burn fossil fuels.

Outside the US, biomass is rapidly becoming one of the most important and useful fuels.

For example, it accounts for one third of the total fuel use in India. In the US, it is estimated that biomass has the potential to supply 14% of electricity use and 13% of the nation’s motor fuel.

Global Warming

Excerpt from Handout on Global Warming

“There is now overwhelming consensus among reputable scientists that the atmosphere is warming and human activities are responsible. Continued, accelerating growth in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution is well documented as are increasingly extreme, disruptive and costly weather events…. “

Tighten Up! – Energy Efficiency Tips

Energy efficiency tips to implement now and start saving money

Colorado residents can expect about a 35% increase in their home energy bills this year. By implementing simple energy efficiency measures – many of which are no-cost or low-cost – homeowners can help alleviate higher energy bills this winter.  These guidelines can help you learn ways to increase your home’s energy efficiency and save an average of 10 to 15% on monthly utility bills.

Heating & Cooling:

Space heating and cooling account for about half of a typical home’s energy use.  Ensuring that your home is heated and cooled as efficiently as possible requires addressing two important factors: 1) building envelope – that is, making sure your home is well-insulated and tightly-constructed to avoid loss of heated or cooled air (see the next section for more tips) – and 2) space heating and cooling equipment.


Heating EfficiencyThermostat

  • Install an Energy Star® programmable thermostat if you don’t already have one, and keep it set at the lowest comfortable temperature: 68 to 70 degrees during the day and 55 to 60 at night, and when you’re away from home for an extended period. Every degree above 70 will cost an additional 7 to 10 percent on heating bills.
  • Routinely maintain your furnace, air conditioner and/or heat pump and clean or replace filters every month or two.  This can save you up to 5 percent on the cost to operate the furnace.
  • Insulate heating ducts and keep them well maintained. This can reduce your heating up to 30 percent.  Exposed ductwork joints should be sealed with mastic (a gooey substance that is applied with a paintbrush) to reduce heat losses.
  • Keep areas around heat vents clear of drapes and furniture so that they do not block the flow of air.
  • Using a space heater when the thermostat is set low can be an efficient way to heat a small, closed-off area when the heat in the rest of the house can be turned down. But use it sparingly!
  • Adjust the fan on your central heating unit to the “auto” position. Keeping the fan on all the time will add unnecessary costs to your monthly heating bill.
  • Consider installing an energy efficient heat pump – it can trim the electricity use for heating by 30 to 40 percent.
  • If you are using a heat pump, adjust the thermostat in small increments and keep it at a steady temperature. This will avoid activating the less efficient resistant heat strip in the system.
  • Heat pumps are most efficient when there is free flow of air; so don’t close off more that 10 percent of your home at one time.
  • Consider hiring a professional energy auditor to identify leaks and other areas for efficiency savings.  If an energy audit isn’t in your budget, you can identify many opportunities for efficiency with a Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit.


Cooling Efficiency

  • Never block, cover, or stack anything on an outside heating or A/C unit and keep the unit clean by removing any dirt, leaves, grass, etc. on a regular basis.
  • Turn off kitchen, bath and other ventilation fans as soon as they have done their job.  TheCeiling Fanse can pull a houseful of warm air outside in just one hour.
  • Use ceiling and other fans to provide additional cooling and help air circulation to cut down on air conditioning costs.  Ceiling fans use less electricity than AC.
  • In Colorado’s climate, evaporative coolers are much more efficient and less costly than central AC.  They also add moisture to the air, while air conditioning dries the air.
  • If you have central air conditioning and are an Xcel Energy customer, sign up for the Savers Switch program.  Xcel will give you a $25 credit on your utility bill for each year you participate.  Once you sign up, a licensed electrician installs a small remote-controlled switch on the outside of your home near your central air conditioner. On hot summer days, Xcel Energy may activate Saver’s Switch.  This cycles your air conditioner off and on at 15- to 20-minute intervals. However, the furnace fan stays on, circulating already-cooled air throughout your home.  Most customers don’t even notice when Saver’s Switch is activated.
  • When purchasing new air conditioning units, look for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 or higher.  These use 20 percent less electricity than a standard unit and can save about $600 in summer cooling costs over the system’s lifetime.  For room A/C units, look for the Energy Star® label and be sure it’s the right size for the room.
  • Plant evergreens and shrubs on the north side of your house to create a windbreak in winter.  Plant leafy trees and shrubs on the south, west and east sides of your house to block the summer sun.  In the winter, when they loose their leaves, they allow winter sunlight to warm your home.  Plant trees or shrubs to shade your outdoor air conditioning unit in summer.  Just three trees, properly placed around a house, can save between $100 and $250 annually in cooling and heating costs.
  • Xcel Energy offers rebates of up to $200 for the purchase of high efficiency evaporative coolers (a.k.a. swamp coolers) with an Industry Standard Rating (ISR) of 2,500 CFM (cubic feet per minute) or higher.

Building Envelope:

A home’s envelope (walls, windows, doors, foundation, roof, attic, etc.) can account for 25-40 percent of the load on your heating and cooling system.  You can reduce these losses by looking for ways to plug holes and seal cracks that allow heated or cooled air to escape.

  • Close outside doors and windows when the heat is on.
  • Fireplaces are a significant source of heat loss. Add glass doors to prevent excessive heat loss and keep the flu closed when not in use.  If your fireplace still feels drafty, block off the chimney with a piece of rigid insulation from the hardware store that fits snugly into the space.
  • Consider hiring a professional energy auditor to identify leaks and other areas for efficiency savings.  If an energy audit isn’t in your budget, you can identify many opportunities for efficiency with a Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit.
  • Check around your house for air leaks.  Look for places that feel drafty on a windy day and check for obvious gaps or cracks around the usual culprits: utility cut-throughs for pipes; around ducts and electrical outlets; gaps around windows, doors, chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings; and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.  Seal these leaks with caulk and weather-stripping.
  • Install door sweeps or thresholds to doors.
  • Install electrical outlet gaskets. Energy Efficent Window
  • Install energy efficient windows. Look for double or triple pane windows with a low-emissivity (low-e) coating, which will reflect heat back into a room during winter months and can reduce heating loss at the window by 25-50 percent.  In cold climates, low-e windows can reduce heating bills by 34 percent compared to uncoated, single-pane windows.   Always look for the Energy Star® label to ensure the highest efficiency windows.
  • If new windows aren’t in your budget, think about high efficiency window blinds or draperies with insulated linings.  These can raise the R-value of single-pane windows from R-1 up to R-6.  Look for shades or drapes that fit into tracks to keep the air from passing around the edges.  White window shades, drapes or blinds reflect heat away from the house in the summer.  A triple cell honeycomb or cellular shade is one of the most energy efficient.
  • If frost or water condensation appears on your windows or they feel drafty, install storm windows or tape clear plastic sheeting to the inside of the window frame.
  • In winter, utilize the sun’s heat by keeping the blinds open during sunny days; then close them at night to reduce heat loss
  • In the summer, keeping the blinds and windows closed during the day and open at night to can eliminate the need for air conditioning on all but the hottest summer days!  A whole-house fan or window fan will help to circulate night-time breezes.
  • Check the insulation in your attic and crawlspaces. If you have less than R-22, or about 6 or 7 inches (bring a tape measure), add more. Homes in Colorado should have between R-38 and R-49 insulation.
  • If your attic is under-insulated, your walls, ceiling and/or floors may be as well.  Call a contractor to have it checked.  Insulation can reduce heating and cooling needs by 30 percent.


Hot Water

After space heating and cooling, water heating is usually the second largest energy user in a home.  New water heaters on the market can save significantly on water heating costs, but there are lots other ways to increase the efficiency of your existing hot water eating system as well as easy ways to cut down on water use and save on your water bill.

  • Set your water heater at 120.
  • Wrap your water heater with an insulating blanket; it will pay for itself in one year or less!
  • Make sure you have adequate insulation on your hot water pipes wherever they are accessible.
  • If your gas water heater is more than 12 years old, consider replacing it with a more efficient model or a tankless or on-demand system, which heat the water coming into your house only when it is needed.  For low water use homes, they are 8 to 14 percent more efficient and for higher water use home, 24 to 34 percent more efficient than hot water storage tanks.
  • Install timer controls on your hot water.  Turning it off at night can save 5 to 12 percent of water heating energy.
  • Turn off the water heater if you’ll be away for more than two days.
  • Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators (3 gallons per minute).
  • Take showers instead of baths and keep them short (5 to 10 minutes).  Showers generally account for 2/3 of water heating costs.
  • When adjusting the temperature in the shower use less cold water instead of adding more hot water.
  • Use cold water when washing clothes instead of hot.
  • Routinely check pipes for water leaks and seal potentially leaky joints with acrylic tape (not duct tape).
  • Consider installing a solar thermal domestic hot water heating system. Federal tax credits beginning in 2006 will help cover 30 percent of the capital cost up to $2,000.
  • Consider an air-source or geothermal heat pump.  These are 30 to 50 percent more efficient than using an electric water heater.
  • Install a drain-water heat recovery system.  These are especially effective with on-demand water heaters and solar thermal systems with paybacks ranging from 2.5 to 7 years.

Appliances & Lighting

About 20 percent of all the energy used in your home goes into running appliances.  Refrigerators and freezers run constantly and are a significant energy draw; often they are the third largest electricity end use in homes.

  • When it’s time to purchase new appliances, always look for the Energy Star® label.
  • Give thought to replacing ageing appliances with new energy efficient ones.  You might be surprised at how quickly they can pay for themselves in energy savings! For example, a new Energy Star® refrigerator uses about half as Energy Guidemuch energy as one made in 1980.
  • When you’re shopping for appliances, think of two price tags. The first is the purchase price—think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You’ll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years.  Carefully review the energy guide label, which estimates the annual cost to operate the appliance and helps you to compare it to other models.  And, always look for the Energy Star® label.
  • Use the energy saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers.
  • Turn everything off when not in use.


Refrigerators & Freezers

Energy Efficient Refrigerator

  • If you are in the market for a new refrigerator, avoid side by side models and those with through-the-wall ice and water dispensers; they are generally less efficient.
  • Position your refrigerator away from heat sources like ovens and dishwashers and out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep your refrigerator’s motor, coils and vents clean and maintained regularly.  Use a vacuum or brush to clean coils.
  • Keep your refrigerators’ temperature between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezers should be set at zero.
  • Check the fridge for leaky gaskets.  If you feel cold air around the closed door or if moisture collects around the door, you’re losing energy.
  • Turn off the extra refrigerator in the garage if it’s not absolutely necessary.  In the winter, your extra beer and soda will stay cold enough without it. If you really need the extra storage, keep it as full as possible. The fuller a refrigerator or freezer is, the more efficiently it operates.  You can fill it with plastic jugs full of water and the lids on to take up space.
  • Consider putting a standard programmable timer on your refrigerator and set it to cycle off for a few hours at night when the fridge stays closed.  If you put a gallon jug of frozen water in the freezer, you should be able to safely program the timer to turn the fridge off from 10 PM to 1:30 and from 2:30 to 6 AM without impacting your food.


  • When cooking, keep the lids on pots to retain heat and don’t open the oven door. Or, use the microwave; they use 30 percent less energy than a conventional range or stove.
  • Copper bottomed pots and pans use heat more efficiently.
  • Using the oven in the summer will increase air conditioning loads and make the house less comfortable.  Use and outdoor grill or microwave instead.


Energy Efficient Washing Machine

  • Only wash full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Wash clothes in cold water whenever you can.
  • Set the washer’s automatic water level sensor if you have one, if not remember to adjust the water level accordingly.
  • Keep the dryer’s lint trap clean.
  • If you have a moisture sensing setting on your dyer use it.  Avoid over drying clothes – it wastes energy and causes static and wrinkling.
  • A warm dryer uses less energy, so try to wash and dry several loads in succession.
  • Separate light and heavy fabrics for the most efficient drying times.
  • Make sure the dryer is vented to the outside to avoid heating up the house in the summer and making your air conditioner work extra hard.  Better yet, use a clothes line whenever the weather is nice.


Electronics & Lighting


  • Set your computer to go to “sleep” when it’s not used for 5 minutes.  (Note: screen savers do NOT save energy).  If you plan to be away from the computer for more than 30 minutes, turn it off. This does not damage the computer.
  • Unplug electronic devices and chargers when they are not in use.  Alternatively, plug these devices into a power strip with an “on/off” switch and turn it off when not in use. Even when they are turned “off” these devices can collectively and constantly draw 50 watts in a typical household.
  • Install motion detectors on outdoor lights instead of leaving them on at night.
  • Turn off lights when leaving a room, or install motion detectors on indoor lighting.
  • Use energy efficient Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).  CFLs use only one-fourth the energy that incandescent bulbs use and last 10 times longer.  They also give off less heat than incandescent bulbs, reducing summer cooling loads.  If every household exchanged four 100-watt incandescent bulbs with four 23-watt CFLs it would save the energy consumption equivalent to seven million cars.
  • Avoid heat producing halogen torchiere lamps.  They are inexpensive to buy but expensive to operate (and a fire hazard too).
  • Consider installing a solar photovoltaic system to generate electricity for your home.  People in Xcel Energy’s service territory are eligible for rebates that will pay for up to half of the cost of a new PV system.  Federal tax credits up to $2,000 for residential PV will be available in 2006.



  • Turn off everything not in use.
  • Refinancing your home to take advantage of lower mortgage rates?  Consider an energy efficiency mortgage to finance home efficiency improvements.  The interest is tax deductible in many cases.
  • Think about every dollar you spend.  Consumers can make a big impact on market forces by directing their dollars toward sustainable, low impact products and services.

Vehicle Use


  • Walk or bike when possible.  Not only will you save money, save energy and reduce air pollution – you’ll get some exercise too!
  • Carpool and use public transportation whenever possible.
  • If your employer allows it, telecommute a couple of times a week.
  • Combine errands to minimize vehicle use.
  • In the market for a new car?  Rule #1: Don’t buy an SUV.  Rule #2: Look for a vehicle with high gas mileage.  Use the same rules when renting a car too. Rule #3: if you can, buy a hybrid. (Federal tax credits of $2,000 to $3,000 are available for the purchase hybrid cars.) Not only does it save energy and reduce pollution, it let’s auto makers and policy makers know that consumers are concerned about energy conservation.
  • Keep your vehicle tuned and running properly to improve mileage.
  • Have air filters changed regularly.
  • Keep tires properly inflated in accordance with elevation and season.
  • Use recommended motor oil depending on vehicle and season.
  • Drive 60mph, each 5mph over 60 reduces efficiency.
  • Use cruise control whenever possible
  • If your car is equipped with an overdrive gear, use it when possible to save gas and decrease engine wear.
  • Avoid idling.


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