Frugal students learn to shrink utility bills by lowering energy consumption

As winter weather approaches, students are having energy audits conducted in an effort to stay warm without shoveling dollar bills into the fireplace.

A utility services energy analysis, or an energy audit, generates a report recommending low or no cost practices that can help use energy efficiently.

The city of Tallahassee offers these audits free of charge and only requires that customers call and make an appointment.

In addition, Tallahassee offers energy assistance program insulation grants.

To qualify for the grant a representative determines the existing level of ceiling insulation, and if insulation needs to be added.

The city pays 100 percent of the cost of the installation up to a maximum cost of $500.

“We get a good number of students,” said Ken Hochstetler, an energy services representative from the city of Tallahassee, in reference to the audit program.

“A lot of people are concerned.”

Many students are surprised to learn their bill is not considerably lower following extended vacations like Christmas break.

Ayeesha Brown, a 23 year old senior pharmacy student from Cincinnati, was shocked to receive her $200 utility bill following the holiday season.

“I was gone for half the month,” exclaimed Brown. ” I don’t understand how my bill was more than when I was in town. I’m definitely going to get my place audited. I can’t afford not to.” “Sticker shock is how I would describe students’ reactions to the higher bills.

Especially if you’re not careful with the thermostat during cold or hot weather – they can’t believe it,” Hochstetler explains.

Over the past year there has been a 20 percent increase in utility bills for many Tallahassee residents, including students.

The price increases are because of increased worldwide demand for natural gas and disrupted production in the Gulf Coast as a result of last year’s intense hurricane season.

Despite its rising costs, natural gas is Tallahassee’s main source of energy, followed by coal.

“Heating is the most costly – followed by air conditioning, hot water usage, and refrigeration. These four components make up 75 percent of your electric or gas costs.”

Tameka Barber, a 21 year old junior math student from Tallahassee had her apartment audited three months ago.

“I have saved about $50 a month on average,” she said. “It was difficult getting used to a 68 degree house.

When I’m home, I wear layers of sweats now. I can’t complain though, I was surprised how my bill was immediately reduced just by doing little things consistently.”

Aside from residences, some offices have also tried to conserve energy by reducing heating and turning off lights when not in use.

“It’s a little uncomfortable,” says Elaine Howard of Volunteer Florida Foundation as she adjusts her sweater, “more so now because the temperature is beginning to drop.

But you make do. I have a little space heater. I guess we all have to do our part.

Helpful Tips: Winter Thermostat Settings: Set electric strip heat, gas or oil furnaces to 68 degrees or less. Lower to 55 degrees, off or as low as tolerable at night or during daytime vacancy of three or more hours.

Summer Thermostat Settings: 78 degrees or higher. Off or up 5 degrees during daytime vacancy. Operate thermostat on “AUTO”, not “FAN”.

Fans: When air conditioning, set the thermostat up 2-5 degrees and use fans to provide comfort at lower costs. Turn off when room is unoccupied.

Air Filters: Clean or replace monthly during heavy use. Consider a pleated, Dacron filter.

Vacation: Turn off your water heater when your residence is vacant for two or more days. Electric water heater: Switch off at breaker. Gas water heater: Dial to “PILOT” or “VACATION”, or to the lowest heat setting.

Limit Hot Water Flow: Fix hot water leaks or drips promptly. Turn on a less forceful flow by changing a habit or reducing the shut off valve below the faucet.

Dishwasher: Run full loads. If dishwasher heats its own water, lower water heater setting to 120 degrees. If house needs moisture in winter, let dishes air dry.

Washing Machine: Try warm wash/cold rinse or cold wash/cold rinse.

Dryer: Run conservative loads. Sort clothes: fast drying together, slow-drying together. Do not over dry. Clean lint screen before each use. Make sure outdoor dryer vent is not blocked. If possible, use a clothesline instead.

Refrigerators/Freezers: Refrigerator temperature: 40 degrees at middle shelf. Freezer temperature: 4 degrees. Deep freezer temperature should be maintained at zero degrees.

Caulking: Reduce air leaks by caulking cracks around windows and door frames. Some all-purpose caulks are silicon, silicon-acrylic and siliconized acrylic latex.

Weatherstripping: Tighten against air leakage by weatherstripping windows and doors. Suitable materials include adhesive-backed closed cell foam tape, spring metal strips and V-shaped plastic strips. Servicing: Have heating/air conditioning system serviced annually for greater efficiency. Have evaporator coils cleaned every spring.

Window Coverings: Use shade, drapes, curtains and blinds to manage sun heat. Close them to block summer sun; open them overnight to reduce heat losses.