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Posts Tagged: energy

Don’t be bamboozled by these 5 home energy myths

Posted On: Filed Under: Home energy audit 3 Comments on Don’t be bamboozled by these 5 home energy myths

In the spirit of April Fools’ Day, we’re exposing a few of these myths so that you can save yourself from being bamboozled.

MYTH #1: Leaving the lights on saves more energy than turning them off and on.

The story goes that leaving the lights on for short periods of time saves more energy than turning them off and on again. This is untrue. Sure, there’s a tiny burst of energy when you flip the switch, but it doesn’t compare to the energy loss from keeping them on. Turn off those lights!

MYTH #2: If the switch is off, the appliance or electronic is off.

Not quite. There is a phenomenon called “phantom power” or “vampire power”, which occurs when a plugged-in item steals energy even though it’s switched off. Combat this creepy energy loss by simply unplugging electronics or appliances whenever possible.

MYTH #3: An energy-efficient furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump alone is enough to save on energy costs.

This one has a major caveat, and it has to do with the quality of the installation and the size of the system. If the system is too small, it has to work hard to heat or cool the home. If it’s too large, it uses more energy than it needs to. Either way, you lose potential energy and cost savings.

An energy-efficient furnace, A/C, or heat pump will help you save on energy costs, but only if you have an expert installer who performs a thorough inspection of your home’s size, ducts, and vents. This will help him or her recommend the proper size of the heating or cooling system for your unique home.

MYTH #4: Your thermostat will cool or heat your home faster if the temperature jump is a major one.

In general, thermostats will raise or lower temperature at a steady rate, regardless of how high or low it must go. The incremental time for each individual degree change is the same whether you’re going from 50° to 70°, or 65° to 62°.

MYTH #5: Closing vents in unused rooms can save on energy costs.

If only it were this simple! Most heating and cooling systems don’t differentiate between closed vents or open vents, so they work at the same efficiency and power regardless. Closing a vent can alter the system’s stability and allow pressure to build in the ductwork. This can cause leaks, which leads to decreased efficiency and higher energy bills, which was what you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Home energy myths and misconceptions are everywhere. For concrete, realistic ways to lower your energy bills, browse our site and learn about innovative products and helpful practices to make your home more efficient. So while you may fall victim to pranks from family or friends this April Fools’ Day, home energy efficiency is one area in which you’ll have the upper hand.

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From the Washington Energy mailbag: heat pump vs. propane

Posted On: Filed Under: Ductless heat pump, Heat pump 2 Comments on From the Washington Energy mailbag: heat pump vs. propane

“I’ve been reading your articles on heating and cooling with a heat pump vs. AC with great interest. Being from Northern Nevada and now living in Graham, WA, I’m rather suspicious of heat pumps. My wife and I just bought a house that needs renovation which includes replacing the heat pump. I’m used to the traditional furnace / central AC systems. I don’t understand how running a 230 volt, 30 amp compressor all the time along with electric heating coils is more efficient than propane. When I do a cost comparison of BTUs I find that propane generates 91,000 BTUs per gallon. To convert electricity to BTUs there is a multiplier of 27x the current electrical rate per kilowatt hour. This equals approximately $2.50 per gallon for electricity as opposed to currently $1.59 per gallon of propane. In this vein, propane is much cheaper to us. Plus when the power goes out, I can’t heat my house, whereas if I had a propane furnace that runs a simple 110-volt blower, I can plug into a small generator and be toasty. I don’t see where electric only is such a good advantage. I would think multi-fuel would be a better advantage to cost and survivability. Please help me out where I may be wrong.” – Roger in Graham, WA

Roger, thank you for the comment. It is clear you have done a tremendous amount of research into this and are very well versed in the same types of comparisons we look at. We use a slightly different approach, where we apply various “costs per unit” of energy (kwh – electricity, gallon – propane, therm – natural gas, etc) to equations that factor in equipment efficiency to get all the choices on the same page of “cost to product one million BTUs of heat”.

One of the challenges with propane and oil is that they are free market commodities that can swing pretty wildly from one year to the next. If you can consistently get propane around $1.59 per gallon, that certainly makes that a strong contender, as you have outlined.

Electricity and gas are obviously regulated, so they are a bit more predictable over time. That being said, it certainly warrants a full look at any given situation to get the full picture.

As a starting point, a heat pump is generally preferred in this area over just propane, oil, or electric resistance heat due to our electric rates. A heat pump is rated with a variety of “efficiency ratings” (SEER, HSPF, COP), but the one that is the easiest to look at is COP. This is the “coefficient of performance”, which is an exact efficiency at a given outdoor temperature. When it gets colder outside, a heat pump is a bit less efficient. Even at 32 degrees, a heat pump can often have a COP of 3. This means it is three times as efficient as electric resistance heat (baseboard or electric air handler “furnace”), or uses one third of the electricity. If you apply that to your math, you will see why heat pumps are more efficient that propane.

With our fairly consistent electric rates, it would take propane dropping below $1.00 per gallon to be cheaper than a heat pump.

The second part of your question is around the “back up” heat source – propane vs. electric resistance air handler “furnace”. You need one or the other (or a gas furnace) as the fan the heat pump hooks up to and as the back up heat source for when it drops below roughly freezing. Since you can add a heat pump to either, this is point of personal preference.

Some people live in areas or have had experiences where they can’t get propane consistently and affordably, so they prefer the predictability of all electric. Other people live in areas where there is not good place for a propane tank or they don’t want a tank on their property.

propane tanks for heat pumps lynnwood washington

However, in circumstances as you have outlined, a propane furnace as the “back up” may be the best choice. You can much more easily use it with a generator when the power is out, and if you can get affordable propane, it is indeed more efficient than “electric resistance” back up. In a case like yours, it is very likely we would suggest a heat pump with a propane furnace as a very viable solution to consider.

Bryant Heat Pump Installed and sold lynnwood washington seattle area

The trick beyond that is choosing which furnace and heat pump – as there are many choices of each and how they match up. For that, we offer free in-home estimates, no obligation, so we can better match them with your specific home and other possible preferences.

Schedule your free estimate

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Solar power adoption in Seattle

Posted On: Filed Under: Air conditioning, Home energy audit No Comments on Solar power adoption in Seattle


Is it the weather? Nope, Seattle gets as much, if not more sun than Germany, the world leader in solar implementation. Even with our grey days, we get enough sun to effectively run solar systems.

Is it the availability of solar systems? We have plenty of imported and local system choices. Washington State is home to 35 manufacturers of solar systems and components. It’s a growing industry employing 2,400 people as of 2014.

Electric Meter

Is it the incentives? Washington State provides ample incentives including:

  • Net metering which allows you to give power back and take it off your bill. There are limits and requirements from each utility, but the idea is that you get credited for the power you produce at retail price, and your electric bill is only the difference (if any) between what you generated and what you used.
  • In-State Production incentives: In addition to net metering, you can earn a bonus payment starting at $0.15kwh up to $0.54/kWh (max $5000 per year), for use of made-in-Washington parts and systems. While China produces a large number of the solar systems available, Washington State wants to encourage us to use our local producers. By using solar modules and inverters that are made in state, you can collect these incentives. The local utilities may call these by different names and implement them on your bill slightly differently. For example, PSE calls the production incentive REAP (renewable energy advantage program). These incentives are set to expire in 2020. Some local community utilities have their own incentives as well.
  • One time benefits: From now until June 2018, when you install a solar electric or hot water system you can get a sales tax credit which varies with the size of the system. Smaller systems may get a 100% rebate on sales tax and larger systems can qualify for 75% tax rebate. Plus the federal energy tax credit gives you a tax credit for 30% of the system cost when you install before the end of 2016.

The number one reason that Seattle-ites haven’t jumped on the solar bandwagon is because the cost of electricity in our state is so low that the payback could take a decade or more.

Power Cost Comparison Chart

Source: SolarPowerRocks.com

According to Seattle City Light, “If we divide the initial cost of a system by the total electricity produced over 30-years, the cost of solar electricity (without incentives) is about 3 times what City Light residential customers now pay for electricity. With net metering and new federal and state incentives the economics of solar become more favorable”.

If you consider the benefits of net metering and plan to stay in your house, this investment may be a good one. As SCL points out, this should be looked at as “a long term investment for you and the environment.”

While many families have been reluctant to make the $15,000 to $25,000 investment in a solar system for their home, there are energy saving benefits from less expensive alternatives that could reduce your energy consumption. The Department of Energy’s recommendation for energy saving in older homes is to start with a home energy audit and ensure you have air sealing and insulating to code. These steps alone can reduce energy costs substantially.

Washington Energy is committed to enhancing the lives of our Puget Sound neighbors through energy saving solutions and helpful information. While we do not provide solar systems, we have many alternatives to make your home comfortable and energy efficient. For home energy audits, insulation, and more, contact us.

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Are there now federal energy tax credits for 2014?

Posted On: Filed Under: Ductless heat pump, Furnace 6 Comments on Are there now federal energy tax credits for 2014?


If you did some energy upgrades like high efficiency heating, cooling, insulation, windows, doors, a boiler or a tankless water heater in 2014, this free money could be for you!

Only the most energy efficient products can quality for federal tax credits. Here’s a short list, and the full details can be found at EnergyStar.gov. Contact your tax preparer or the IRS to determine your complete eligibility.

What is a federal energy tax credit? This is a credit you can take against taxes owed on your 2014 federal income tax form. The IRS previously had a restriction about how many of these credits you can take. We did not see anything published about that this year, so be sure to ask your tax preparer.

What is the amount of the 2014 tax credit? (source: energystar.gov)  

  • Windows/Doors: 10% of material cost up to $500, windows have a max of $200. Excludes installation portion of cost. Must be EnergyStar rated. (All of ours are).
  • Insulation/Sealing: 10% of material cost up to $500, excludes installation cost.


HVAC & Water heater system requirements to qualify:
Air Source or Ductless heat pumps $300: HSPF >= 8.5, EER >= 12.5, SEER >= 15
Central Air Conditioning $300: SEER>= 16; EER >= 13
Gas, Propane, or Oil Water Boiler $150: 95% AFUE or higher
Gas, Propane or Oil Furnace: $150: 95% AFUE or higher
Advanced Main Air Circulating Fan* $50: uses 2% or less of furnace’s total energy
Gas, Oil, Propane Water Heater $300: EF >= 0.82 OR a thermal eff. 90%.+
Electric Heat Pump Water Heater $300: EF>=2.0


This can be an added bonus on top of the great energy savings and comfort you can expect when you upgrade your heating, cooling, and water heating plus exterior products. If you are a Washington Energy customer, we can provide you with any product information your accountant requires for this tax credit.

*An Advanced Main Air Circulating Fan is an efficient fan, or blower motor which blows the air that your furnace heats up through the duct system. Requirements : Must use no more than 2% of the furnace’s total energy.

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Whoa! My utility bills are too high!

Posted On: Filed Under: Heating, Cooling No Comments on Whoa! My utility bills are too high!


My electric bill is too high

Do you have electric heat? Every year rates do go up and keeping the same temperature you can have higher bills. Consider:

  • Switch from electric heat to natural gas if available on your street. There are great utility rebates from PSE, plus your ongoing heating cost will be about 25% lower.

  • Switch from baseboard heating to ductless or air source heat pump, to lower heating costs by up to 50% and get air conditioning as a bonus. Prices are coming down on ductless systems and there are excellent utility rebates up to $1500.

  • Add a programmable thermostat to lower the heat while you are not home. These used to be difficult to figure out but technology has improved, making it easy to lower heating costs by about 10%.

  • Maybe it’s not your heating system but an increase in cold air leaking into your house. Besides caulking windows and weather stripping doors, professionally air sealing and insulating your home can reduce drafts, and allow you to utilize less heating to achieve the same level of comfort.

  • And there’s always that one you don’t want to imagine… but it happens. Is your neighbor plugging something into an outlet on the exterior of your house?

My gas bill is too high  

Do you have gas heat? Besides annual rate increases or a broken meter, there are several factors that could be causing an increase. Consider:

  • How healthy is your gas furnace? A furnace that is older and/or not maintained is using extra natural gas to keep up with your demand for warmth. Gas furnaces lose energy efficiency as they age and parts wear. The less efficiently it operates, the harder it works to keep a constant temp for you. The same goes for natural gas water heaters. If your heating system is more than 15 years old, your 90% efficient appliance might only be 80% at best.

  • Check for leaky ducts. A significant portion of your heat can be wasted by escaping through leaky ducts. Combine that with some plumbing or electrical penetrations that are not sealed in the attic, and your heat can just be pouring out of the house. This is something that most homeowners are not able to ascertain on their own. A certified Home Energy Auditor will use specialized equipment to measure the heat loss, air leaking and air flow of the home and show you how areas of concern.

  • Has the insulation lost its fluff? The EnergyStar folks at the US Department of Energy start their discussion of energy saving with insulation for a reason – it’s really the number one way to make a significant difference in the amount of heating you will need for your home. Right now there are great rebate incentives to add insulation and it can benefit homeowners with reduced heating and cooling costs.

  • Check your heat pump settings. If you have an air source heat pump attached to your gas furnace but still see your furnace turning on more than expected or using more gas than expected, you may have the heat pump set to switch over to backup heat at too high of a temperature. Heat pumps can get below 40% without having to switch over. Consult a professional heating contractor if you have a question about this.

  • Change your air filter (furnace filter) as scheduled. Clogged filters make your equipment work harder.
  • Check for a gas leak. A large leak would be something you can smell and you should call your utility immediately. Small leaks can happen in and around older gas appliances and in an open space like a basement or garage you might never smell them. This is also something that a home energy audit would test for.

If you have a propane heater or oil heat, you are in a different category of bills altogether. These fuels are up to four times the cost of gas or electric heat pump heating. Even if you want to keep your propane or oil fueled heating system, the same options are available to you to lower your bills. Just follow the items we have outlined under the Gas bill section, and you can see lower energy costs too.

We’ve heard it all, and we’ve helped customers with all of these situations, bringing their energy costs down and increasing home comfort. For your free estimate or for a service appointment contact Washington Energy at 800-398-4663 or click to send your request via email.

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True or false? Energy savings trivia to stump your friends

Posted On: Filed Under: Home energy audit No Comments on True or false? Energy savings trivia to stump your friends

1. Running ceiling fans will keep empty rooms cool.

False. Your ceiling fan creates a breeze that makes your skin feel cool, and does not actually change the temperature in the room. So, just like the lights, you should turn your ceiling fans off when you exit a room.

2. Closing your vents will save energy.

False. Closing vents in unused rooms does not save energy, it just pushes the air that is sent into the ducts into another space. If you close too many vents, the system may not be able to get air through. That creates pressure back onto the furnace fan, causing it to work harder, use more energy and wear out faster. Ooops.
3. Any home can be energy inefficient, even a brand new one.

True. A home of any age can be built inefficiently. And just because today’s builders talk about being green, doesn’t mean all aspects of the design are. Many new homes focus on how they use “green” building materials but may not have the most energy efficient heating, water heating or windows. Or they may feature energy saving appliances and have insufficient insulation. There’s often room for improvement. If you are in the process of building or remodeling a house pay close attention to insulation, sealing, plumbing and all the energy using systems in your home.

4. Using an electric space heater instead of running the furnace will save money.

False. Running a couple of electric space heaters can cost as much as heating an entire home with natural gas, and create a fire hazard.

5. We waste more power turning lights on and off than just leaving them on.

False. There is no additional power draw when turning on a light, and it won’t hurt today’s bulbs. The more energy efficient practice is to turn lights off each time you leave the room, even if just for a few minutes.

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