Columbia encourages free, easy ways to save on energy bills

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COLUMBIA — Saturday is Earth Day and the City of Columbia has a series of recommendations on how to save money on energy bills and to help the environment.

"Energy efficiency doesn't have to mean huddling in the dark, and being cold in the winter and hot in the summer," said Eric Hempel, Columbia Water and Light energy educator.  

"Affordable comfort is possible," he said.

Columbia Water and Light estimates 50 percent of an energy bill comes from heating and cooling.

Significant savings could be made by adjusting the thermostat. By turning up the thermostat by a degree this summer, Columbia Water and Light estimates households could save up to 5 percent on their cooling bill.

"It makes the air conditioner run less, and you have to pay for less energy," Hempel said. 

Water and Light recommends setting the thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter to maximize savings. 

The city also recommends the following things citizens can do for free for cheaper energy bills during the summer:

— Leaving window shades down which receive direct sunlight during the day

— Using ovens, dishwashers, and other heat-producing appliances during the late evening or early morning when the outside temperature is cooler

— Turning up the thermostat before leaving the house

— Wearing comfortable and loose-fitting clothes to remain cool

— Keeping fireplace chimney dampers closed

— Setting the water heater temperature to 120 degrees

— Don't block radiators and vents

— Only run full loads in dishwashers and washing machines

— Washing clothes in cold water

The department also offers free individualized energy audits to apartments and homes.

"You can find out how to save energy on your utility bill by having some of our experts coming out and helping you there," said Barabara Buffaloe, Columbia sustainability manager.

In addition to the energy audits, the city offers free landscape audits. These allow the city to determine where any trees would maximize shade on homes and what type of trees would be best.

Landscape-audited households get one coupon for a shade tree, which would save money on the cooling bill by shading the house.

More expensive but energy efficient ways of reducing bills include attic insulation and the installation of solar panels.

"Set it and forget it. That's the way it is with insulation in the attic," Hempel said.  

"When you blow the insulation or install the insulation in the attic, it starts working right away and really doesn't stop working until somebody gets up there and moves it around," he said.  

The city provides energy bill credits to homes with solar panels. Some homes are better positioned for the panels than others.  

"What we are looking for is a south facing roof with no shading," Sabrina Schively, a solar consultant with Missouri Solar Applications.

Schively said solar panels are a significant investment but will reduce energy bills in the long term. 

Buffaloe said she encourages those who are curious about how to lower energy bill to give the city call at 573-874-CITY (573-874-2489).