Most homes see a spike in their electrical or gas charges during the winter, but is there anything you can do about it? Of course there is! A stunning 50% of an average household's energy usage goes to heating space. There are several ways to stop paying for more heat than you need.

Here's SOCM organizer Katie Greer's story:

I bought a 60 year-old house at the end of 2010. Needless to say, the un-updated home was inefficient. The story of our home updates is easy to see from a year's worth of electricity bills.

The dramatic reduction of energy usage from January to March was no coincidence. We bought our house "as is"; that included a roof with a hole in it and a 20-year-old HVAC unit. We replaced the old shingle roof with an energy star metal one. We also took out a TVA heat pump loan through our utility distributor (Knoxville Utility Board) with 6% interest to replace our HVAC. We were able to use the loan to purchase a quality brand, 14 SEER HVAC. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the unit is. Additionally, our old HVAC was oversized; we were able to install a much smaller system that works less hard to heat the same amount of space.

After two large projects, my husband and I began to focus on smaller improvements that we could do ourselves. It made a huge difference just taking the time to seal the basement over the summer which included sealing the open spaces along the sides of the garage door, insulating our water pipes, and caulking the spaces that were leaking air. 

We also bought 4 blocks of green power through TVA's Green Power Switch program. Each block represents 150 kWh and costs $4 per month. This way, we help support our neighbors and local businesses that are solar energy power providers.

We have so many plans to continue increasing the efficiency of the house. At the end of last year, we had a TVA In-home energy audit. (Renters can take the online quiz). Our auditor suggested we put an insulation blanket around our water heater and spotted a few areas we missed when we caulked air leaks. 

As we see our energy savings through our monthly utility bill, we will continue to invest it back into our home. Here's a list of projects we hope to do with our energy savings: 

  • replace our wood, single-pane windows with low-e windows, 
  • replace our water hog toilet with a water-sense toilet,
  • swap our old, inefficient appliances with Energy Star appliances, and 
  • install a solar thermal water heater.

We can't do these projects all at once due to the up-front cost, but we might be able to accomplish them over the time we live in our house.

There are more stories to tell through our utility bill. A little water leak made a huge difference on our water bill in May. Can you tell we had visitors in Octover? I encourage you to look at your utility, water, or gas bills a little closer this winter. Can you spot a pattern? Don't be shy to compare your bills with your friends or families' bills and find out if they've done something that's made a big difference.