Many homes in the rural areas of the valleys are situated under trees or shaded by sheer walls, making the heat offered by sunshine a scarce commodity and some sort of indoor heating a must for many.
But that’s no cheap proposition.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical American household will spend about $1,400 per year on energy bills, with a large percentage of that amount going toward indoor climate control.
Darren Nix and Bruce Whitehill, both of the energy division of Santa Cruz-based Ecology Action, say there are several low-cost strategies — and some more extravagant ones — Santa Cruz County residents can employ to reduce energy consumption during the winter months.
Not only does electricity use typically go up in winter months because of the longer sunless period each day, Whitehill said gas use increases, too.
That means the goal for any household, Nix said, should be to keep the heat from escaping as much as possible once it’s generated.
“Once you’ve heated (the house), keep it in there as long as you can and only when you plan to occupy it,” he said.
Nix and Whitehill advise residents to:
- Install a seven-day programmable thermostat on heating systems to ensure that they don’t heat during times of the day people are not home. “The thermostat could probably pay for itself in gas savings in the first year,” Nix said.
According to Whitehill, the ideal setting for a thermostat should be just lower 70 degrees, as anything higher tends to waste energy.
- Install weather stripping on the exterior doors and windows to reduce lost heat.
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, a move, Nix said, that will use about 70 percent less energy.
- Install high-grade insulation, such as spray-fill insulation, in attics and crawlspaces to seal heat inside.
- Turn off any automated sprinkler systems once the rainy season begins. When they are used, they sprinklers should run early in the morning to avoid frost and mildew and minimize water lost to evaporation
- Install high-efficiency and/or tankless water heaters, with the temperature maintained at approximately 140 degrees
- Avoid energy loss due to “sleep mode” electronics. Use power strips for items such as plasma-screen televisions and turn them off when not in use
- Switch over to LED holiday lights and put them on a timer
- Conduct a formal energy audit, which pressure-tests a home for air leaks in accordance with the state’s Home Energy Rating System program, a step that is required, according to Whitehill, for eligibility for government energy efficiency rebates.
- Make sure the flue is closed to any chimneys when the fireplaces are not in use.
- Take shorter showers.
- Use the economy settings on dishwashers and hot tubs.
- Set washing machines on cold.
As is the case for many homes in the area, particularly in the San Lorenzo Valley, a woodstove is the primary source of residential heat.
Tex Anderson, owner of John Tex Anderson Enterprises, has installed, maintained and cleaned woodstoves in the valley since the 1970s, and he also shared some tips to maximize the efficiency of fireplaces.
Understanding how to properly and safely use and maintain a wood stove is crucial, Anderson said.
“You’re burning fire through a hole in your house, and you need to know how the system functions,” Anderson said.
Anderson advises wood stove owners to:
- Burn fires as hot as possible to maximize heat and minimize residue.
- Buy firewood in the spring so it has enough time to dry properly.
- Purchase or cut oak and madrone for fuel, as these woods tend to burn the hottest and leave the least residue.
- Avoid burning pine and fir as fuel whenever possible, because of the high levels of moisture and pitch they contain, translates into a weak, cold fire that generates a lot of residue.
- Clean the screen on the chimney spark arrestor regularly to prevent clogging.
- Keep the roof clear of branches, leaves, needles and other organic debris, which dramatically reduces fire risk.
- Dispose of ashes regularly into an insulated metal bucket with a screw-on lid, never placing the bucket on a wood deck or surface.
- Brush out the inside of stoves to remove residue.
- Maintain a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector.
At a glance
For those looking to learn more about ways to improve their home’s energy efficiency, and take advantage of upgrade rebate incentives, PG&E and Ecology Action will host a free workshop Monday, Sept. 24, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Aptos Library -- located at 7695 Soquel Drive in Aptos. For information: Angela Rocchio, 706-1882, or email@example.com.