While Juneau’s winter has failed to meet the expectations set by the La Nina conditions in place so far, the capital city still a few months away from a possibility of nicer weather.
So what are some ways one can help keep the costs of staying warm low until it’s sun and surf season once more?
“Energy efficiency is the big one,” said Margo Waring, president of nonprofit Renewable Juneau, in a phone interview. “Wasted energy of any kind doesn’t do us any good.”
There’s a number of fixes Juneau residents can make, especially for older homes, that’ll limit inefficiencies and cut energy costs, said Steve Behnke, chair of the energy committee for the Juneau Commission on Sustainability.
One of the quickest and easiest fixes is simply using LED lightbulbs, Behnke said, which are more efficient and generally brighter.
“There are some pretty good resources out there for selecting LEDs,” Behnke said.
LED bulbs are generally available online or at hardware stores, Behnke said, in a variety of options, including networked lights capable of changing color depending on settings.
The next is something a little less intuitive, but more important as the world looks more closely at the problem of water scarcity already killing people around the planet.
“You’d think there’s a lot of water in Juneau. But it has to move up and down hills. It’s actually the single biggest user of electricity, water and sewage,” Behnke said. “A big chunk of our water comes from wells, up in the Perseverance Basin above Juneau. It has to get pumped out and moved around a hundred miles of pumps around town.”
To limit water used, and thus the cost of pumping, water restrictors can be very useful, Behnke said.
“Your typical water restrictor that reduces the flow of water in toilets and showers and faucets,” Behnke said. “It’s one of the things that if you put five bucks into it, you save four or five hundred times that in water savings.”
Flow restrictors are available at hardware stores and online.
Plug Heat Leaks
Would you leave door open in midwinter? Your house may be doing it for you all the time whether or not you like it, Behnke said.
“The average house has the equivalent of a 4-foot-by-4-foot open window with all those leaks,” Behnke said. “If you put a little work into blocking those up, it makes all the difference.”
Blocking can be as simple as talking caulk or foam sealant and plugging leaks, Behnke, or it can be more involved.
“You can put plastic sheeting on the windows if they’re single pane. They sell kits that have strips that go around your window,” Waring said. “Anything people can do to increase the energy efficiency of the homes they live in. Make sure there’s caulking where there are drafts. You don’t really need a lot of money to get into the air source heat pump world.”
Heat pumps, simply, are electrical devices for warming a home.
“If you’re paying for electric resistance heat, you’re paying three times as much as you would with a heat pump,” Behnke said. “Juneau has fairly low electricity costs, but high oil costs. Stuff where there’s a possibility of converting oil to electricity — it’s the single biggest thing you can do, with the fuel costs.”
Switching to a heat pump is an order of magnitude more involved than caulking a hole, Waring said, but still a long-term good idea.
“For people who have oil or fossil fuel heating, don’t wait for the last minute to learn enough about heating alternatives,” Waring said.
Alaska Heat Smart and Renewable Juneau both have more information about the costs and benefits of heat pumps.
Another option, usually executed while buying a house, is an energy audit, Behnke said.
“The next step up from that is you can pay for an energy audit,” Behnke said. “They will get an assessment of their home.”
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation has a list of energy auditors around the state. While this can be several hundred dollars, Behnke said, there are also resources online for a DIY audit.
“It’s always been a bigger problem for renters because they have to convince landlords,” Waring said. “There’s not always a lot of incentive for landlords to cooperate with tenants.”
All of these methods — and more — can help save you money and keep you warmer if winter does ever show up in Juneau. For more information, visit JCOS on the City and Borough of Juneau website.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.