Home & Garden

Energy audits help save cash

SCE&G energy audits help homeowners save cash - and resources

John Elmore is doing everything right when it comes to conserving energy in his Elgin home.

He turns off lights, keeps the water heater and thermostat at recommended levels, changes air filters every 30 days "whether they need it or not" and even blows the dust off his refrigerator coils once a year.

So he couldn't figure out why his monthly electric bill was $20 to $40 higher than most of his neighbors, who live in similar and even slightly bigger houses.

"When it's that far off, you start questioning yourself," he said.

Elmore, who moved into the new 1,600-square-foot home four years ago, called in SCE&G to give his house a free energy audit that could help him save money on his electric and gas bills.

His bill averaged $133 over the past year, but has topped $200 in hotter months.

The utility started offering the service last year to all of its customers as a way to reduce demand on resources. So far, they have given more than 800 audits.

The biggest offenders energy consultant Matt Derrick usually finds are insufficient insulation in the attic (the recommended level is 12 to 15 inches) and temperatures set too high on water heaters (they shouldn't be set higher than 120 degrees).

"Water heating is the second-biggest energy user in the home," Derrick said.

Derrick found a few things wrong with Elmore's house:

- In the attic, an air duct had a small leak where it connected to the air handler.

- Elmore has not yet made a complete switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use less energy and give off less heat than incandescents. After recently seeing some of the new styles of bulbs, Elmore said he will replace his canister and flood lights.

- His freezer was a tad too cold at -6 degrees. The recommendation is zero to -5 degrees, Derrick said.

- Elmore has his electronics plugged into power strips, "but I do not turn them off like I should," he said.

- He also had torn insulation around the piping leading from his heating and air unit into the house.

Do all of these add up to $20 to $40 a month, assuming his neighbors are all as meticulous as he is?

"Absolutely not," Elmore said. "I don't think I've gotten to the root cause yet."

The small changes he will make as a result of the audit will save him some money. But he likely will hire a company to evaluate all of his ductwork and the heating and air unit.

Derrick said every house and every heating and air unit is different, so it's hard to get a true "average" electric bill even for similar-sized homes.

He left Elmore with a copy of the report, a two-year electricity usage history and several brochures offering tips to save money and information about tax credits that are available.

Elmore said even though the audit didn't find any glaring problems, it was beneficial and he would recommend it to anyone who hasn't had one.

"Why not? It's a free service," he said. "Some of their tips were very, very useful for energy conservation."