TVA energy audit may open eyes

TENNESSEE - Well, we flipped the green power switch at our house this month - and I'm not talking about TVA's renewable energy program. We turned off our air conditioner.

Here's why. Our 1950s-era home is poorly insulated upstairs, has lots of large single-paned windows and frankly gets a lot of outside air coming in anyway with the constant indoor/outdoor shuffle of my various children.

So, in lieu of energy efficiency improvements that aren't currently in our budget - and thanks to a kick in the seat of the pants by last month's nearly $500 utility bill - we've decided to go without AC. There are exceptions, of course, such as a visit from the in-laws or during some of the most recent hot and sticky nights.

In the process, I have discovered that one's body temperature can indeed adjust to that of nature (although it is best to sit as still as possible and relegate high-intensity cleaning and cooking jobs for morning and late evening hours).

And, indeed, the electric fan is a wonderful invention.

TVA's announcement last week of a 20 percent increase in electricity rates provides consumers even more motivation to cut back kilowatts.

So, as several sources have been urging me to do, I took TVA's free online Home Energy Audit, available at

For the best results, you'll need your utility bill information for the last 12 months. Questions follow regarding square footage, windows, insulation, when the home was built and how many people reside there. The audit also asks about lighting and appliances, hot water systems and peripherals such as TVs, computers and supplemental heating and air conditioning units.

Most helpful was the electricity usage breakdown for our home. To my surprise, heating, not AC, is our primary power-guzzler, by more than $2 to $1. And I learned our gas-powered hot water heater eats up 21 percent of our overall energy usage.

The audit provided suggestions for energy savings, offering numbers for equivalent dollar savings for specific improvements. Insulating our floors and attic, for example, offers the most potential savings, approximately $636 per year, according to the audit.

But the audit also has its shortcomings. Under each category of improvement are blanks for what the installed cost would be, the savings and the payback period for each measure. In my audit, both the cost of installation and the payback improvement were blank, and a link for more information sent me to an empty link.

Even though such estimates would be general, probably the most important information the audit could provide is: Where will I get the most bang for my buck?

As for me, the to-do list now includes insulating the water heater, biting the bullet on blowing more insulation in our attic and checking out the duct work for leaks.

I'll also be keeping my eyes peeled for sales on wool socks and sweaters. Come this winter, we'll be needing some.


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