Your Place: Ways to hold down winter energy costs

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Where does the time go?

Just when you finally get the central air-conditioning working well enough to make the house comfortable, cold weather threatens to show up.

Here are some ideas that might help cut your energy costs this winter, courtesy of Sunnova, the solar-power company:

Does your house really need hot water when no oneís home? Probably not. Consider installing a timer on your water heater, to turn it off when youíre not there.

Use cold water instead of hot when washing clothes. The EPAís Energy Star program says almost 90 percent of the energy consumed by washing machines goes to heating the water.

Put electronics ó your computer, for example ó in sleep or hibernation mode when youíre not using them.

Unplug certain electronics and appliances to avoid their consuming "phantom power," which means theyíre still sucking in energy from the outlet even though they arenít in use.

Cut as much as 50 percent of energy consumed to prepare a meal by putting a slow cooker and microwave to work, rather than a range and oven.

If you are going to use the stovetop, match the pan size to the diameter of the heating element, to eliminate wasted heat. A 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner can waste more than 40 percent of the energy delivered by the appliance.

To improve refrigerator efficiency, consider one with a bottom freezer, keep the fridge between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer between zero and 5 degrees, and be sure to defrost ice build-up thicker than a 0.25 inch.

Sunnova recommends a home assessment to determine whether your house is properly insulated and to make certain air isnít escaping. Itís also important to keep doors closed and to heat only rooms where you need it.

Depending on the type, a homeís heating system can use anywhere from 100 kWh to 3,500 kWh each month. Minimize usage by regularly replacing filters, insulating ducts, and considering a programmable thermostat that will help heat only when and where needed.