Energy drains and how to fix them

Irene Shonle, Director CSU Extension, Gilpin County.  Our lingering warm fall weather just dramatically shifted to winter. This probably means we have all been stoking our fires and turning up the heat in the house. The long dark nights mean we are using more electricity as well, making this an expensive time of year (and that’s not even counting holiday spending)!

There are ways to reduce the pain in your wallet. Let’s first take a look at where we spend the most money. About half our energy use over the year goes to space heating, with water heating and appliances splitting the other half. Clearly, this is a good place to begin.

Your home’s envelope (the walls, windows, doors, foundation, roof, attic, etc.) matters a lot when it comes to heating because cold outside air comes inside and hot inside air can leak outside. Floor/wall/ roof gaps and plumbing/electrical/HVAC penetrations make up about half of the leaks in the home, with the other half coming from gaps around ducts, doors, fireplaces, and windows.

If you want to find these leaks, you can pay a professional for a blower door test, or you could do it yourself with a simple incense stick. Hold it up near windows/doors/penetrations and watch for the smoke to drift or even disappear into gaps. You could also check out a home energy audit (HEAL) kit FREE from the Extension Office and use the infrared thermometer to look for temperature differences. Where leaks are found, caulk and weather-strip cracks and holes. If you have older windows and don’t have the funds to upgrade, use special shrink-wrap window film to reduce air inflow and to provide extra resistance to heat loss. You can weather-strip around doors and even use a “door snake” to block air from coming in at the bottom of doors. These are easily found in stores, or if you’re a crafty person, you can even make your own out of sturdy fabric filled with rice.

If you have a forced air system, be sure to change the filters regularly for optimum functioning. Think about your thermostat setting – could you set it a little lower and still be comfortable?  What if you added a sweater and slippers and even long underwear? I’m fond of my hoodie sweatshirt. Set the thermostat lower at night – and if that is hard to remember, then consider buying a programmable thermostat. It can even warm your house just before you return home!

If you turn down your hot water heater a few degrees and insulate the outside (or upgrade to a more energy efficient heater), that will improve your bottom line on water heating.

Finally, to address electrical usage, consider using a power monitor (free to check out from the Extension Office) to look at your refrigerator, TV and other appliances. A fun tip for this time of year is to consider changing holiday lights to LED lights, especially if you need to buy new ones anyway. Depending on your usage, that can save quite a bit of money, and they now come in some really fun varieties, such as the tiny and flexible copper wire string LEDS and the solar-powered ones.

For more information on energy and how to save it, go to

The CSU Gilpin County Extension Office is located at the Exhibit Barn, 230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422, 303-582-9106, Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research-based information about horticulture, natural resources, and 4-H youth development. Colorado State University Extension is dedicated to serving all people on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.