Expo offers tips for conserving energy and reducing electric bills
COLUMBIA - This year's Energy Efficiency Expo offered tips, seminars and demonstrations on how mid-Missouri residents can conserve energy and save money on their electric bills.
Officials from the Columbia Water and Light Department, Boone Electric Cooperative, Ameren Missouri and other organizations were on hand at the Central Missouri Events Center to answer questions Oct. 4.
Their advice ranged from simple do-it-yourself tasks to whole-house energy audits. Here are some highlights:
Use energy-efficient light bulbs. For residents just starting the process of becoming more energy-efficient, "it's the first thing they can do," said Rachel Barker, a general manager at Service Concepts. The Indianapolis-based organization provides services to consumers and utility companies.
Barker said homeowners should first educate themselves on the different types of bulbs available, such as LEDs and compact fluorescents, and how to select the ones that best fit their needs. If not used in the right setting, bulb life expectancy and savings can be greatly reduced.
Change air conditioner and heater filters regularly. This is another quick way to save energy and can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 15 percent, Barker said. Filters that are not changed regularly can reduce a unit's efficiency and cause damage.
Conserve water. "Anytime you take a shower, you're going to use hot water," said Tim Pohlman, the energy management specialist for Columbia Water and Light.
Even though it takes energy to pump water and heat it, people often do not associate water conservation with energy conservation.
"If you get the low-flow showerhead, it will aerate the water and make it feel like it's the same pressure," he said.
Plant a tree. Terry Freeman, the residential energy services supervisor for Water and Light, said properly placed shade trees can reduce cooling costs by 30 percent.
He said Water and Light's Tree Power program offers customers a free landscape energy audit and a free 6- to 10-foot shade tree, with a limit of one per electric meter.
Take advantage of rebates. Water and Light offers rebates for a variety of purchases, including central air-conditioning systems, air-source heat pumps, solar water heaters and solar panels, Freeman said.
Boone Electric Cooperative offers rebates for energy-efficient window-unit air conditioners, ground-source heat pumps and electric water heaters.
Use technology to monitor and manage energy use. Many devices now enable homeowners to more efficiently control their appliances' energy use, Barker said.
Smart power strips can be used to shut down power to devices like computers that go into standby mode. These devices would otherwise continue to draw power.
Programmable thermostats can also reduce heating and cooling costs by moderating temperatures when no one is in the house. "Little changes can add up to big savings," Barker said.
Request an energy audit. For residents who want to upgrade their homes themselves, Water and Light offers a free energy audit.
"Instead of just looking at one component of your house, we look at everything because it's all connected," Freeman said. "What we're doing is giving you a roadmap of what you should do first."
Water and Light and Boone Electric Cooperative also participate in the Home Performance with Energy Star program, in which approved contractors are hired to evaluate and upgrade the homes. Rebates are available for some of the work.
"We want to help you to help yourself," Freeman said. "It's in your best interest to buy the highest energy-efficient system you can because it's going to pay off down the road."
(Photo: Terry Freeman, right, the residential energy services supervisor for the Columbia Water and Light Department, answers questions for area residents at the Energy Efficiency Expo on Oct. 4 at the Central Missouri Events Center.)