The 2020s have been difficult for most people. But 2022 introduced a new challenge for everyone to overcome: skyrocketing energy costs. New Orleanians have seen bill increases in the hundreds of dollars in the past year. So what are reasonable tips local residents can employ to make the energy bills sting a little less?
The Department of Energy (energy.gov) recommends switching to energy-efficient lighting because lighting typically accounts for about 15% of an average house’s electricity use. If you still use incandescent light bulbs, a quick way to cut your energy bill is to use LED bulbs that use up to 90% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs. For best results, check to see if the lights have an Energy Star certification. Energy Star is a certification handed out by the the Environmental Protection Agency on products that contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
If you’re uncertain which of your appliances are using the most energy, the Department of Energy recommends electricity usage monitors that can measure the usage of any device that runs on 120 volts. It cannot be used with large appliances that use 220 volts like central air conditioner units, water heaters or electric clothes dryers. Electricity usage monitors are available at most hardware stores at prices ranging from $25-50. If you’re willing to spend more to monitor the bigger appliances, whole-house energy monitors can also be purchased.
Z Smith, principal and director of sustainability & building performance at Eskew Dumez Ripple, said if your heating and air conditioning system is 15 years old or more, it might be time to replace it. He said new systems use half as much energy as the old ones while providing the same cooling and heating.
When replacing HVAC units, Smith advised homeowners to consider a heat pump. Heat pumps move heat in either direction (inside or outside the house), and can both cool your house in the summer and heat it in the winter. Heat pumps run on electricity and leave users less vulnerable to fluctuations in natural gas rates.
Just like HVAC units, newer water heaters are more energy efficient than the older ones. So if your water heater is over 15 years old, consider replacing your conventional tank-style electric water heater with a heat pump water heater.
Many New Orleans houses have a/c ducts running in the attic. Smith said it is smart to have installers verify the ducts are well-sealed and well-insulated. The most current energy codes recommend “R8” insulation for ductwork in the attic. While many New Orleanians enjoy the city’s historic architecture, the downside of all those quaint houses is they are often not energy efficient by modern standards.
“When my family moved into our 1880s house in New Orleans in 2009, we spent about $2,000 per year on utilities in the first year … by today’s rates, that would be closer to $3,000 per year,” said Smith.
Smith set about working to make his home more energy efficient piece by piece. He improved some windows and replaced others. He added insulation between the floor joists and on the underside of the rafters. When his old appliances failed, he replaced them with Energy Star appliances. Finally, he added rooftop solar panels.
“Our house is now net zero electric and uses only a few dollars a month for gas water heating. Most of our typical $35 a month utility bill is what Entergy charges us as a connect charge,” Smith said.
If you’re considering making the leap to solar, Smith added that it is a hassle to take solar panels off when it is time to replace the roofing. As a result, the best time to install solar panels is shortly after you have re-roofed. He added that recent legislation allows some homeowners to qualify for a 30% federal tax credit if they go solar.