AUSTIN (KXAN) - Gina Hinojosa lives in a Central Austin home built in 1936, which presents its challenges for the conscious mother of two always striving for efficiency in all aspects.
"But then it also has some advantages," she said. "The walls are really thick, so really, it keeps in some cool air. We updated a lot of the windows to keep it insulated. So really, in some ways, it is already energy-efficient."
Still Hinojosa said she does what she can around the home to make sure she's not being wasteful -- keeping lights off and consistently aware of the thermostat temperature.
Plus, the old home came with some big bonuses: tall trees that keep the lot and home shaded. That's something energy officials said is a great way to shield the sun from coming inside your house, especially if it's on the west side.
"There are some things, like the doors could be better sealed," said Hinojosa. "One thing I want to do -- and if I get around to it -- I would like to insulate the attic."
Hinojosa did that at the house she was in before, also an older home. And that was a big help during the summer.
"It cut down our [air conditioning] bills by about 20 percent," said Hinojosa. "Not only does it save money, but you feel better about not wasting that energy that you don't need to."
"Insulation is a real huge way to save energy inside of your home," said Sopko. "What Austin Energy has learned is that most older homes in Austin have little or no insulation."
In fact, the average home only has 4 inches of attic insulation. Sopko suggests you have 12- to 13 inches.
Escaping air has an impact in multiple ways on peoples' bills and the energy being wasted. Having your duct system inspected is one of most important things you can do to help make your home more energy-efficient.
"We have found that most older homes in Austin leak one-third of heating and cooling into their attic," said Sopko, which she said translates to wasted air.
To see if they're leaking, check out whether there is sealant at the base of the ducts -- called mastic. Home 10 years or older are likely leaking if you don't see mastic.
"[It's a] huge energy-waster and one that can save you a lot of money if you make simple repairs to your home," said Sopko.
"I feel like, not only does it save money but it's kind of everyone's responsibility to do what they can to minimize energy use in their homes," said Hinojosa, who is very conscious of the strain on the electric grid.
One of the reasons: Her home was in one of the neighborhoods last year stuck in the dark due to the rolling blackouts.
Deemed on a nonessential grid, her neighborhood was without electricity for several hours during the summer.
"There's only so much energy that can be used, and so we all need to do our part to try to minimize what's used," she said.
While the repairs at her home have been done incrementally because it's been an undertaking due to the amount of work to the aging structure, Hinojosa said she plans on continuing that progress.
As for the major offender? Air conditioning.
"Every single degree you go lower than 78 degrees can increase your electric bill by 3 to 4 percent," said Sopko. "And that's a big chunk of change at the end of the day when you're looking at your electric bill."
Heating and cooling account for 56 percent of energy use in the average U.S. home, where 60 percent of electric bills during the summer months is due to air conditioning. That's likely due to the fact that energy consumption is highest during the summer months of June, July, August and September.
You can save 10 percent a year on your bill by setting your thermostat back about 10- to 15 degrees for eight hours daily.
And a Wi-Fi thermostat can help you stay on top of that. It connects to a smartphone app or computer that you can use to control the temperature.
"If you're leaving your house for an extended period of time, we suggest setting your thermostat at 82 degrees," said Sopko.
Contrary to popular belief, turning off the unit is not better.
"When you leave it on, that means your unit won't have to work as hard at the end of the day," said Sopko.
Plus, your home will be less humid because it helps to dehumidify your house.
The unexpected energy-waster: Phantom power
Phantom power comes from those appliances that are turned off but are still draining energy because they're plugged in, such as toasters and blenders. Also, phone and laptop chargers are a culprit.
"I never thought of that, so I guess that's something that we probably need to do as well because we do keep things plugged in ... probably so we can locate them when we need them," chuckled Hinojosa.
That's where the smart power strip would come in handy, if you did choose to leave those items plugged in.
The strip actually turns off devices still consuming power while in standby mode.
- Inspect and repair ducts if
- needed. Many older homes in Austin leak a third of their cooling and heating into the attic.
What's in it for you?
Austin Energy offers rebate incentives to help you make these energy-efficient improvements inside your home. Check the agency's website to see which improvements are eligible for rebates.
Contractors head to house for free and will do visual inspections to see what needs to be done. Austin Energy will inspect the work and quality-assure it for you -- handing you the rebate to get those things done.
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