Business Monday: Saving energy

Published 9:18 am Monday, November 10, 2008

Heating costs are expected to rise 8 to 12 percent this winter, said Alliant Energy spokesman Ryan Stensland. Preparing in advance can help homeowners compensate for the increased costs.

Alliant is getting a steady response from customers wanting to take advantage of the company’s rebate and incentive plans before winter’s chill descends.

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services has also noticed an increase in customer awareness of heating costs. An increase of 8 to 12 percent might not seem like a major problem for some energy users, but if prices rise consistently at that rate for three years, the overall fuel cost increase could total 30 percent over that time.

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Thinking long term is key to saving money on fuel costs. Energy audits are an essential tool for finding out where your home is losing heat, and are available from fuel suppliers and through the Internet. One resource that can be used is, a Web site sponsored by Alliant that offers a free downloadable energy audit form. The site also provides a program called “101 Ways to Save,” which offers cheap and easy tips on saving energy.

Freeborn-Mower provides a different way to calculate energy costs. A four-step process calculates the amount of energy used by various appliances according to an average estimate of kilowatt hours per appliance. Homeowners can then calculate their daily power costs by dividing the total on their monthly energy bill by the numbers of days in the month. The energy audit form is available on the Internet at and is available in printed form at their offices.

Returning home to a chilly house creates a temptation to jack up the thermostat to heat up the house quickly. That’s guaranteed to increase fuel costs and doesn’t really work, according to Stensland.

Alliant offers a $25 rebate on a programmable thermostat that regulates heat at different times of the day. Adding a warm blanket to a bed compensates for the thermostat dropping to a lower nighttime temperature setting. Keeping window curtains and blinds closed at night helps keep out cold night air. Opening them during the day adds the sun’s warmth to a house. Using cold water as much as possible when doing laundry and cleaning the lint screen in the clothes dryer regularly help save costs.

Cold air will enter a home wherever it can, so stopping air flow is a critical element in any energy saving plan. Caulking and weather-stripping around doors, windows, pipes and ducts will help shut down air flow. If your energy audit suggests that your windows are not tight, an inexpensive option is temporary window film kits, which seal off the windows from the flow of cold air. If you have a fireplace with a damper, keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use.

A smooth-running, energy-efficient furnace is important in controlling energy costs. Furnace filters should be checked monthly and cleaned or replaced as needed. A clean filter will prevent dust and dirt from accumulating in the heating system, which can lead to expensive maintenance costs or even a complete system failure.

For those without Internet access a quick call to your local utility company can provide easy access to programs and services that will help you save energy costs today and plan for the future.

If you are worried about falling behind on your energy bills this winter, Semcac, a regional community development organization, offers assistance to those struggling with high energy bills.

Utility companies also have programs to help those in need.

Alliant Energy offers the Hometown Care Energy Fund, providing free and confidential financial help through community action programs. Those seeking assistance with energy bill payments must meet government established guidelines for household income.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a federally funded energy assistance program which sets the income guidelines for those seeking help. To apply for an application call Semcac at 1-800-944-3281, or by calling the local Semcac office at 373-1329.