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For immediate release: December 20, 2002
Media Contact: Rob Schlichting - 916-654-4989

Energy Commission Offers This New Year's Resolution:
Keep Saving Energy and Money in 2003

Sacramento - The State's energy crisis in the winter of 2000-2001 made most Californians acutely aware of how they use energy. When natural gas bills skyrocketed and tight electricity supplies caused power outages, many consumers invested in energy efficiency as a way to control their bills and help protect the State's energy supplies.

The result was a dramatic drop of up to 14 percent in electricity use in California in 2001. And while the electricity crisis has abated, Californians are still using less in 2002 than they did in 2000. This summer, roughly a third of the residential customers of California's investor-owner utilities cut their electricity use by at least 20 percent over their usage in 2000.

When differences in weather and economic conditions are factored in, Californians cut their electricity consumption this November by an estimated 3.3 percent over November 2000. For the three-month period between September and November, 2002, Californians reduced their electricity use on average by 4.2 percent when compared to 2000, the base year.

"Californians seem to be making some important lifestyle changes in the way they consume electricity," said Energy Commissioner Robert Pernell. "Consumers are using it more wisely, with less waste. Simple improvements that have been put in place - like energy efficient construction practices, for example - will automatically deliver positive energy savings for years to come. Other simple energy tips require effort, but can pay off for consumers in big dividends."

The arrival of cold weather can make energy efficiency even more important. An average of 30 percent of all the energy used in a typical home goes for heating. "Unfortunately, unless a home is new or has been upgraded to take advantage of new technology, a good deal of that energy expense can be squandered," Pernell said.

As an example, he noted that the heating bills for a three-bedroom, 1,700 square foot home built today will be about 75 percent less than the bill for the same house built in 1977, the year the California Energy introduced the first Energy Efficiency Building Standards. Thanks to improved methods of construction and new products required by the Standards, newly built homes are not only more energy efficient but also more comfortable than pre-1977 houses.

The regulations, part of California's Title 24, require new home construction and additions to meet certain minimum standards in order to reduce energy waste.

"Since these standards went into effect, they have saved Californians an estimated $12.5 billion in electricity and natural gas bills," said Pernell.

Here are some simple ways that homeowners can upgrade their homes to cut their monthly gas and electric bills this New Year.

Tips for saving electricity this winter

Since we use electric lighting more as the days get shorter, consider replacing existing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents to save on lighting costs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs are easier to find on store shelves this year than last year. The bulbs have also shrunk in size and the price has dropped to as little as $4 each. Best of all, the new fluorescent bulbs last as much as 15 times longer than incandescents and use only one-quarter as much electricity. Install them where you have the lights on frequently and you'll recoup the up-front cost more quickly.

Because appliances account for approximately 70 percent of your household electricity use, you should always buy models that are Energy Star®-certified for energy efficiency. A new Energy Star® refrigerator, for example, uses nearly 20 percent less energy than a standard new refrigerator; even better, it uses 46 percent less electricity than a similar model made in 1980. A new Energy Star® clothes washer uses nearly 50 percent less energy than a standard washer.

Since the cheapest kilowatt is the one you don't have to buy, don't consume electricity you don't need. Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms, for example, and don't leave the appliances like televisions, stereos or computers on when no one is using them.

Try not to run your appliances at times of peak energy use - typically the middle of the afternoon. When you do use them, do so efficiently. Wash only full loads in your dishwasher and clothes washer. Use the cold water setting on your clothes washer as much as possible - using cold water reduces your washer's energy use by 75 percent. Be sure to clean your clothes dryer's lint trap after each use. Use the moisture-sensing automatic drying setting on your dryer if you have one.

Plug "leaking energy" in electronics. Many new TVs, VCRs, chargers, computer peripherals and other electronics use electricity even when they are switched "off." Although these "standby losses" are only a few watts each, they add up to over 50 watts that is consumed all the time in a typical home. If possible, unplug electronic devices and chargers that have a block-shaped transformer on the plug when they are not in use. For computer scanners, printers and other devices that are plugged into a power strip, simply switch off the power strip after shutting down your computer.

Heat your home efficiently

If you rely on electricity to heat your home, heat pumps offer the most efficiency. A heat pump can cut your electricity use for heating by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

The majority of California homes burn natural gas for heat. Even natural gas furnaces, however, use electricity to run fans to distribute the heat. Using your furnace wisely will save both forms of energy.

"In December 2000, Californians saw the price of natural gas skyrocket," said Pernell. "Some natural gas bills increased by 50 percent or more. Fortunately, this year's supply of natural gas is much more substantial, and the Energy Commission doesn't anticipate those sorts of price increases. But the fact remains, by being energy efficient, you can save on all of your energy bills."

The simplest way to cut heating costs is to turn down your thermostat. When you are home during the day, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower, and set the thermostat back to 55 degrees or to "off" at night or when leaving home for an extended period of time. Remember - it takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long. (Owners of heat pumps should only set their thermostats back five degrees to prevent the use of backup strip heating built into the system.)

Adjusting the temperature during the day is easy with a setback or programmable thermostat. It will automatically turn down the heat when you're away at work or when you're sleeping at night, and then boost the temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. New homes in California already come with a setback thermostat, and you can have one easily installed in an older home. Properly used, such a thermostat will cut your heating costs. (If you have a heat pump, select a model designed especially for heat pumps.)

If your heating system is old, consider updating it. A pre-1977 gas furnace is probably only 50 percent to 60 percent efficient today. That means only half of the fuel used by an older furnace actually reaches your home as heat. Modern Energy StarĘ gas furnaces, on the other hand, achieve efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent. By replacing an old heating system with one of the most efficient models, you can cut your natural gas use substantially.

There are several other tips to getting the most out of your heating system. Have a routine maintenance and inspection done each autumn to make sure it is in good working order, and replace your heater's air filter monthly. Your heating system will work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.

If you have ceiling fans, reverse the switch on them so they blow upward, toward the ceiling, in the winter. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it's cold, however. By reversing the fan's direction, the blades move air upward in winter, forcing the naturally rising heat away from the ceiling and back down into the room. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms.

Always use the ventilating fans in your kitchen and bath, but turn them off after they've done their job; these fans can blow out a house-full of heated air if inadvertently left on.

Plug the leaks in your house!

There's no point in trying to heat the great outdoors all winter. Weatherstripping and caulking is probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to cut down on energy waste during the cooler months. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of the homeowner's heating dollars. Take these steps:

  • Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping, and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors to the outside seal properly.

  • If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Keep in mind, however, that replacing windows can be expensive - it could take you quite awhile to recover your costs from the energy savings alone. But new windows also provide other benefits, such as improved appearance, reduced noise and increased comfort.

  • Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the wall or ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal around them all with caulking or weather-stripping.

  • Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air in. Purchase simple-to-install, pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate and effectively prevent leaks.

  • Don't forget to close the damper on your fireplace. Of course the damper needs to be open if a fire is burning; but if the damper is open when you're not using the fireplace, your chimney functions as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft. Close that damper when the fire is out - it's an effective energy-saving tip that costs you nothing!

  • Hire a trained contractor to pressure test your house's heating and air conditioning ducts for leaks (you can find out what contractors in your area are trained to do the testing by contacting your utility). Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Old duct tape will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling heated and air conditioned air into your attic or under the house. Duct leaks just waste your energy and they also can bring pollutants into your house. According to field research performed by the California Energy Commission, you can save roughly 10 percent of your heating and air conditioning bill by sealing leaky ducts.

  • Insulate your attic. In an older home, that can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Before the 1977 California energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, large amounts of heat can be lost through walls, floors and - since heat rises - especially ceilings.

How much insulation should you install? Typical framed homes now being built in California's Central Valley must meet insulation requirements of R-38 insulation in ceilings, and R-19 for walls and floors.

"By following these tips, California homeowners can lower their wintertime energy bills," said Energy Commissioner Pernell. "Just as importantly, by adopting these simple energy ideas, we will ensure that our California remains the most energy efficient state in the nation."

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