Energy Questions Answered
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What's in my energy bills?

Common charges on electric bills include:
Energy (kWh): the base rate per kilowatt-hour
Service: the fixed charge for supplying power to your home
Some utilities also add adjustments to the energy or demand rates as detailed below:
Capacity Adjustment: an adjustment to the base rate based on the generation and transmission capacity purchased from other entities
Commodity Adjustment: an adjustment to the base rate based on the current cost of fuel (i.e. coal or gas)
Demand Side Management Adjustment: an adjustment to the base rate based on the cost of running energy efficiency and conservation programs
Franchise Fee: a percentage fee applied to the total rate to cover charges the utility incurs from your municipality
General Rate Schedule Adjustment: an adjustment to the total rate based on overall utility costs
Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment: an adjustment to the total rate for the purchase of renewable energy to meet legislative standards (2% maximum)
Transmission Adjustment: an adjustment to the base rate based on the capital costs of transmission not covered in the base rate

This video will help you understand common charges on both electric and gas bills and how to calculate the rates you pay for each:

How does my home use energy?

The average home in Colorado uses energy as shown below. Note that homes that do have air conditioners or evaporative coolers can use significantly more than 1% of their energy on cooling.

Energy Use in an Average Colorado Home



Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

How much do I spend on heating, cooling, and other uses?

Calculate your energy expenses by using this Energy Bill Analysis Tool, or watch this video for more information.

Are there financial incentives for home energy efficiency?

Financial incentives for home energy efficiency can change from year to year. Check with your local utility(ies) for incentives. In addition, the federal government may offer tax credits, which would be listed here: Federal Tax Credits for Home Energy

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Home Energy Audits

What is a home energy audit?

A home energy audit is a thorough inspection of one’s home intended to identify areas of energy consumption, options for saving energy, and costs and benefits of energy upgrades. Options for saving energy are usually listed in order of priority and are considered recommendations for the resident. Certain types of home energy audits are more thorough than others. Level 1 audits are simple walk-through assessments that are sometimes conducted by utility companies or residents themselves. Level 2 audits involve a more thorough inspection and often employ equipment such as a blower door to test for air leaks and an infrared camera to test for areas of significant heat gain/loss. Tests for combustion safety can also be run by qualified professionals. Level 2 audits typically include potential costs and savings associated with making efficiency upgrades. Auditors certified by professional organizations such as BPI have been trained in the most effective techniques for conducting Level 2 audits.
DIY online home energy audit

Air Sealing

What is air sealing and why do it?

Air sealing involves sealing the cracks and gaps that allow unwanted air from flowing into and out of the home. For example, a gap between a door and the door frame could let heat escape from the home in winter and heat enter the home in summer. Since we spend energy and money to heat and cool our homes, our heating and cooling equipment has to work harder to make up for this lost heat (winter) or unwanted heat (summer).

When such gaps in our building shell are located close to where we spend a lot of time (i.e. a favorite couch or chair in the living room), the heat loss or gain may also feel uncomfortable. Cracks and gaps in the tops and bottoms of our homes are also significant. This is because as hot air naturally rises it escapes through gaps in our ceilings.  When this occurs, cold air will be pulled in through gaps in our floors, making us even colder in winter (the “stack effect”).

So the ultimate goal of air sealing is to reduce both our physical discomfort and our energy use. Air sealing is also an important step to take before adding insulation to a home. Most types of insulation (aside from foam and very densely blown-in loose fill insulation) will still let air pass. In addition, once insulation is laid down it is more difficult to uncover and plug air leaks hidden underneath the insulation.

How can I find air leaks?

Air leaks can be detected by a variety of methods. Professional energy auditors utilize blower doors and infrared cameras to identify air leaks. Residents can also identify air leaks through visual inspection and other techniques like the one illustrated in the video.

Where are typical air leaks in homes?

Total Air leaks in an average home

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Can a home be sealed too tightly?

It depends. A home that does not provide for enough fresh air intake is susceptible to problems with moisture, radon, and numerous pollutants. It is always critical to provide enough intake air to combustion appliances (like furnaces and water heaters) for complete combustion to occur, as carbon monoxide can result from incomplete combustion. Other parts of the home such as kitchens and bathrooms should provide for air exchange as appropriate. Air exchange can be provided by active equipment such as fans and ventilators, or through passive cracks and gaps in the home. A home can be sealed as tightly as possible if air exchange is controlled adequately through active equipment.

One downfall of the passive approach is that the rate of air exchange will vary based upon outdoor conditions, particularly wind. Windy days will mean greater air flow and air exchange, while completely still days may result in a less than ideal air exchange rate. The specific location of cracks and gaps may not allow for enough air exchange in some parts of the home and may provide more air exchange than necessary in other parts of the home. In addition, homeowners who tend to keep windows closed may have a lesser air exchange rate than homeowners who tend to open their windows regularly. 

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How can I reduce electricity use from appliances?

Appliances can be expensive and use considerable amounts of energy. To reduce your energy use and save money, start by following this checklist.
• Maintain your refrigerator at 35-40 degrees F and your freezer at 0-5 degrees F.
• Maintain stand alone freezers at 0 F.
• Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed whenever possible.
• Regularly clean dust out of the coils behind or under your refrigerator.
• Minimize freezer ice build-up.
• Use microwave ovens for cooking small meals.
• Adjust the flame on gas cooking appliances so it is blue, not yellow.
• If you have a newer dishwasher, skip pre-rinsing the dishes.
• Run the dishwasher only with a full load.
• Air dry dishes in your dishwasher.
• Regularly clean the lint filter on your dryer and inspect the dryer vent to make sure it is not blocked.
• Do not overload your dryer as it takes clothes longer to dry.
• Shut down home computers or put them in sleep mode when not in use.
• Plug small electronics into a power strip so you can turn them all off at the same time.
• Turn off the TV when no one is viewing it.
• Select appliances such as coffee pots that have time-limited shut off switches.
• Replace aging appliances, when needed, with energy efficient Energy Star models.
• Compare the annual energy consumption and operating costs for each appliance being considered by looking at the bright yellow Energy Guide labels.
How to use a power monitor


How can I reduce my cooling costs?

Follow these tips to reduce cooling costs:
• Open windows at night and in early mornings to bring in cool air and close them during the day.
• Close your blinds and shades during the day.
• Shade south- and west-facing windows – cellular/honeycomb shades are particularly effective.
• Try a whole house fan if you want an active cooling system.
• Use room air conditioning only where needed.
• Purchase Energy Star products when shopping.
• Maintain an air conditioned house at 78 degrees F or higher.
• Regularly change air conditioning filters and clean the condenser.
• Plant trees that leaf out during the summer on the south and west sides of your house.
What are the options for cooling my home?

Keeping homes cool can be accomplished by certain occupant behaviors as well as through active cooling equipment. Occupant behaviors include opening windows during cool periods of the day, closing windows during hot periods of the day, closing window treatments to prevent solar heat buildup, and planting trees to provide shade. If these methods do not provide sufficient comfort, options for active cooling equipment include:

  • portable fans
  • ceiling fans
  • whole house fans
  • evaporative (swamp) coolers
  • heat pumps
  • air conditioners

Fans generally use less energy than evaporative coolers. Evaporative coolers generally use less energy than air conditioners but require more maintenance and water. Heat pumps can provide both heating and cooling. Contractors should perform a “Manual J” calculation to determine the proper size of new cooling equipment.

How can I calculate the costs and benefits of a cooling system upgrade?


How can I reduce my heating costs?

In Colorado, heating is the biggest energy user in the home. To reduce your energy use and save money, start by following this checklist.
• When you’re home, set the thermostat as low as comfortable (68 degrees F is suggested).
• At night or when no one is home, set the thermostat to 60 degrees F.
• When the house is empty for more than 24 hours, turn the thermostat to 50-55 degrees F.
• Install a programmable thermostat to automatically provide these varying temperatures.
• When you are not using your fireplace, close the damper or consider use of a chimney balloon.
• Reduce heat settings in unused rooms if controllable, and close the doors.
• Replace furnace filters once a month during the heating season.
• Regularly clean heating registers and make sure they are not blocked.
• Have your furnace checked annually by a trained professional.
• In forced air furnaces, seal all joints in sheet metal ducts with mastic.
• Insulate ducts and pipes passing through unheated spaces.
• Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans only when needed.
• Install insulating gaskets behind electrical outlets and switch plates on exterior walls.
• Caulk and weather strip your doors and windows as needed.
• Caulk and seal leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors, and ceilings.
• Use a door sweep to reduce air leakage under exterior doors.
• Upgrade attic insulation to R-38 or higher.
• Insulate exterior heated basement walls to at least R-11.
• Insulate floors over unheated areas to R-19.
• Open south-facing blinds and shades on sunny winter days, and close them at night.
• Install storm windows over single pane windows or use plastic film window kits.
• Replace single pane windows with energy efficient double or triple pane windows mounted in non-conducting window frames.
• Replace an aging furnace or water heater with an efficient model, such as one with an Energy Star or Most Efficient label.
What are the options for heating my home?

There is a wide variety of home heating options on the market today. Factors to consider when selecting a heating system include your type of heating fuel, upfront cost, operating cost, size, and comfort. Reducing the need for heat as much as possible through conservation, air sealing, insulation, and thermostat control prior to investing in a new home heating system can reduce the size (and cost) of the new heating system you’ll need. Contractors should perform a “Manual J” calculation to determine the proper size of new heating equipment. Combustion safety concerns should be addressed when installing or replacing heating equipment.

Options for heating with natural gas or propane include:

  • furnaces
  • boilers

Boilers used to heat water can distribute that heat through a baseboard, radiant floor, radiant wall, or other hydronic system.

Options for heating with electricity include:

  • air source heat pumps
  • ground source heat pumps
  • electric resistance heat

Alternative options to heating with natural gas, propane, or electricity include:

  • wood stoves
  • pellet stoves
  • solar hot water
  • solar space heaters (typically for a single room)

How do I calculate the costs and benefits of a heating system upgrade?
Learn more


What type of insulation do I have?

Insulation types

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Is my insulation sufficient?

Compare the R-value of your insulation (listed under the question above) to the recommended R-values listed under the question below. Watch this video to learn how to assess your insulation levels.

How much insulation should I have?

insulation R-Value recommendations










Source: Colorado Energy Office

What are the pros and cons of different types of insulation?

insulation types and advantages














Source: U.S. Department of Energy

How do I calculate the costs and benefits of insulating my attic?
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Reference Links

Landscaping for Energy Conservation

How can landscaping reduce my energy bills?

Trees can provide shade for the home, thereby reducing cooling expenses in summer. Trees can also serve as a windbreak and insulating layer in order to reduce heating expenses in winter.
What are common ways to landscape for energy conservation?

Two common ways to landscape for energy conservation include:

  1. Deciduous trees planted east, south, and west of a home can block solar radiation in summer while allowing for solar heat gain in winter.
  2. A thick hedge of evergreen trees planted between the home and the primary direction of prevailing winds can serve as a windbreak as well as a layer of insulating dead air space.

Learn more


How can I reduce my lighting costs?

Lighting costs can be reduced in a number of ways:

  • Turning lights off when not needed
  • Using task lighting instead of space lighting
  • Opening window treatments to allow for daylighting
  • Installing solar tubes to bring in sunlight
  • Replacing less efficient incandescent or halogen lights with LED (or compact fluorescent) lights
  • Using dimmer switches

Holiday lighting tips

Light emitting diode (LED) technology can be used in place of incandescent holiday light bulbs to keep electricity costs low during the holiday season.
A string of 125 large C7 incandescent bulbs using 4 watts per bulb would use 500 watts when turned on. A string of 300 miniature incandescent bulbs using 0.4 watts each would use 120 watts when turned on. In contrast, a string of 300 LED bulbs using 0.04 watts each would use only 12 watts when turned on.
If each of these strings ran for 12 hours per day over a 40 day period, the C7 incandescent string would cost a typical homeowner $24, the miniature incandescent string would cost $5.76, and the LED string would cost 57 cents! Homeowners running multiple strings can experience even greater savings. The increased up-front cost of the LED lights can typically be offset in two to three holiday seasons when compared to mini-incandescents.
Other advantages of using LED holiday lights include:
• their long life span (typically 20,000 hours or 40 holiday seasons);
• their cool temperature (reducing the risk of fire); and
• reduced risk of overloading the wall socket when connecting multiple strings.
The US Department of Energy estimates that if every household used LED holiday lights in place of incandescents, the country would save over $410 million in electricity costs.
How do I compare the costs and benefits of different light bulb types?

New Construction

How can I build an energy efficient home?

There are a number of different ways to build an energy efficient home. Use of certification standards set out by LEED, the Energy Star program, and others can help. The Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index and Home Energy Score offer metrics to target for a home’s energy performance. In general, the concepts behind sun-tempered superinsulated (STS) houses can also be useful:

  • solar orientation
  • an effective air/vapor barrier
  • high levels of insulation
  • controlled ventilation
  • low emissivity windows with low U-value

Learn More

Water Heating

How can I reduce my water heating costs?

In many Colorado homes, heating water is the second largest category of energy use. Following these tips can help you reduce your water heating expenses:

  • Reduce the temperature setting of your hot water until the water from the faucet closest to that heater reaches 120 degrees F.
  • If hot to the touch, add an insulating wrap to an older electric water heater. Consult a professional about wrapping a gas water heater.
  • Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible.
  • Install low-flow showerheads.
  • Install faucet aerators.
  • Repair leaky faucets.
  • When it’s time, replace your water heater with an efficient Energy Star model.

What are the options for water heating in my home?

There is a wide variety of water heating options on the market today. Factors to consider when selecting a water heater include your type of heating fuel, the application (space heat and/or domestic hot water), upfront cost, operating cost, and capacity. Reducing the need for hot water as much as possible through conservation, use of faucet aerators, use of low-flow showerheads, insulating water pipes, and setting the water temperature to 120 degrees F prior to investing in a new water heater can reduce the size (and cost) of the new heater you’ll need. Combustion safety concerns should be addressed by your contractor when installing or replacing a water heater.

Options for heating with natural gas or propane include:

  • storage water heaters
  • boilers
  • on-demand water heaters

Options for heating with electricity include:

  • air source heat pump water heaters
  • ground source heat pump water heaters
  • storage water heaters
  • on-demand water heaters

Alternative options to heating with natural gas, propane, or electricity include:

  • wood-fed boilers
  • solar hot water

How can I calculate the costs and benefits of wrapping my water heater?
How can I calculate the costs and benefits of installing a Low-flow Showerhead?
How do I install a low-flow showerhead?

Learn more

Helpful Links

Helpful Links
Last updated: June 29, 2017 at 13:39 pm