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Extremely Cold Weather Can Cause Big Problems and Big Bills

Temperatures are expected to plummet Friday afternoon and continue that way for the next several days, through Christmas. Cold snaps like this can really drive energy usage higher and with it, higher bills. Why? Because during severely cold weather, customers use more electricity and natural gas to heat their homes and businesses.  

While none of us can control the weather, we do encourage customers to take steps to reduce energy usage and lower bills as much as possible during the winter months. We advise that you focus your efforts on the biggest energy users – heating/cooling systems and water heating. 

A heating system on average uses 60% of a home’s energy. As outside temperatures drop, heating systems must work harder to maintain a home’s set temperature. The efficiency of a heat pump is reduced in severely cold weather, forcing the back-up heat supply to come on more often. This back-up heat could be three times more expensive than the heat pump alone. 

It’s not just heating that’s affected, but hot water as well. With low temperatures, the water coming into the hot water tank is colder. When the tank sits in the garage, carport or other unheated area, it takes longer to heat up the water and uses more electricity. Also, some people tend to take longer, hotter showers in the winter than they do in the summer. That adds up to more energy used to heat more water. 

What can I do to lower my usage? 

Energy use differs based on lifestyle, size and age of the home, efficiency of heating equipment, home insulation, and other variables. There are many ways customers can reduce their usage, and their bills. We advise the following:  

Electric Heat Pumps: 

  • Set your thermostat at the lowest comfortable setting. Every degree you lower the setting will save you money. The Department of Energy recommends a setting of 68 degrees. Every degree is worth 3-5% in operating costs. Once you find a comfortable setting, don’t turn it up and down. Set it and forget it. Keeping the same setting throughout the season will give you the greatest savings.  
  • When you adjust the thermostat on a heat pump system, even by just one degree, it could automatically force the less economical back-up system to start running.  
    This can be costly!  
  • In winter only, if you are leaving your house for a few days, turn your heat down on your heat pump system…but not so much that your pipes will freeze.  

Other Forms of Heat: 

  • For other forms of heat (natural gas, oil, propane, geothermal, electric furnace and electric baseboard), adjust your thermostat as needed daily, and throughout the day. The Department of Energy recommends a setting of 68 degrees (or lower).  
  • If you’re gone for several hours or more, set the thermostat at 55 degrees.  
  • Be sure to turn the thermostat down at night and cover up with blankets.  
  • It is less expensive to turn your heating system down during the day when the home is unoccupied. It takes less energy to bring the inside temperature up to your desired comfort level than it would if you left the system up all day. 
  • Space heaters are electrical resistance heat and are expensive to operate. It can be economical, however, to use a space heater in a small, unheated area such as a bathroom for short periods of time. If you use the space heater to warm up one small room for 30 minutes in the morning, you can have that added comfort for less than $2.70 on your monthly bill. It is cheaper to heat a small room with a space heater than to raise the temperature of the entire home with the central heating system. Space heaters running on high cost about 18 cents/hour to operate. That may not sound expensive, but there are 720 hours in a month. Running a space heater constantly will cost $129.60 by the end of the month. 
  • Be sure to keep furnace filters clean, and make sure your heating system is operating efficiently. You can save 10–15% on energy costs by keeping your filters clean. 
  • Make sure your home is well insulated and airtight.  
  • Weather strip and caulk windows and doors to seal small cracks.  

Water Heating 

Next to heating the home, water heating is the second largest user of energy—accounting for about 20 percent of the family’s energy budget. In order to save on your water heating use, GUC advises the following: 

  • Fix the drips. One drop of hot water a second is nearly 500 gallons of wasted energy a month down the drain, not to mention the wasted water. 
  • Take a shower instead of a bath. An average shower requires half the water of a bath.  
  • Install a flow restrictor on your showerhead to save hot water. Flow restrictors limit the flow to 3 gallons or less per minute and can save up to $25 a year.  
  • Don't keep hot water running while washing dishes or shaving.  
  • Insulate your water heater, but first check the manufacturer’s specifications as some cannot be insulated, due to safety hazards. 
  • Set the temperature as reasonably low as possible. Although manufacturers used to set water heater thermostats at 140ºF, most households usually only need them set at 120ºF. For each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs. 

Frozen Pipes 

Freezing temperatures can also cause unprotected water pipes to freeze, causing damage to your home as well as problems for our system’s water pressure.  

Here are some ways to make sure your pipes survive freezing cold temperatures: 

  • Insulate pipes in unheated parts of the home (like crawl spaces). 
  • Open doors on cabinets below sinks to allow warmer room air to circulate around the plumbing. 
  • Disconnect water hoses from outdoor spigots. 
  • Protect your lawn sprinkler systems. Irrigation line breaks and sprinklers spraying onto sidewalks and roadways will quickly lead to serious public safety hazards and expensive repairs. 
  • Locate the master water shut-off valve in your home now in case you experience a burst pipe and need to cut your water off in a hurry. 

Our website contains additional tips and videos on lowering your energy bill as well as more information about freezing pipes. You can also call Energy Services at 252-551-1521 for specific information about reducing energy and water usage and lowering your bill.