January 14, 2004 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Since late summer 2003, consumers have heard about rising energy costs for the new year. Now those costs are apparent on natural gas, electricity and other energy bills. Some increases could be as much at 50 percent. 

Historically, Kentuckians have enjoyed lower electric rates than many other states; however that position may be short-lived. Rising energy costs are causing consumers to think more about the energy efficiency of their homes.

“Even with rising costs, consumers have a few options to keep their individual costs down,” said Sue Badenhop, Extension family and consumer science specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. 

Badenhop said the easiest way to save on energy costs is to start from scratch when building a new home.

“People need to think about the energy efficiency of their total building project,” she said. “Contact local utilities to see if they have incentive programs.”

Some companies offer low interest loans, reduced rates, or even cash incentives to consumers who strive to have energy-efficient homes.

UK Extension Housing Associate Gerald Hash said some programs for new construction called Demand Side Management (DSM) programs prescribe high efficiency construction, insulation and air filtration techniques.

“High efficiency water heating, space heating and air conditioning systems usually are required, “ he said. “The features increase construction costs, but monthly energy savings can pay back the difference in about five years.”

But what about existing homes? Badenhop said there are still ways to conserve energy and keep utility bills lower in those as well.

“The biggest thing you can do is find out where your home is not energy efficient,” she said. “Ask the utility companies to help you find out ways to make your home more efficient.”

Utility audits may have a small cost involved, but the U.S. Department of Energy offers some tips that may help consumers conduct their own audit. Check the insulation in exterior and basement walls, ceilings, attic, floors and crawl spaces. Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of a home. Make sure fireplace dampers are closed when the fireplace is not in use. Make sure appliances and heating and cooling systems are properly maintained. Look for ways to reduce the amount and length of time lights are on in and around the house.

“If your have a 1/8-inch crack around a door, it may not seem like a big problem,” Badenhop said. “But, if you add up how much space that is and realize it is equivalent to a big hole in the wall, you’d never allow that.”

Badenhop said an easy way to keep air from coming in around electrical outlets is to add insulation. Most hardware stores carry pre-cut insulation foam to prevent outlet leaks.

Hash said there are some DSM programs for existing homes. 

“Energy audits can be as little as $15 and they will generate a custom roadmap of suggestions for increasing your home’s efficiency,” he said. “The utility company may assist with cash incentives, financing advantages and price breaks on equipment to make your home more efficient.”

Hash said utility companies might even offer free devices such as faucet aerators, showerhead restrictors, compact fluorescent lights, and other things to help. In addition to reducing usage, incentives usually include a monthly billing credit during the pertinent season.

For more information about how you can lower your utility bills and become more energy efficient, contact your Cooperative Extension office.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Sue Badenhop 859-257-1812
Gerald Hash 859-257-3000, ext. 330