Review ways to be energy efficient

Propane could be worth its weight in gold if this cold winter continues.

According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, inventories of propane in the region are 43 percent lower than levels of a year ago.

To make matters worse, a facility in Wisconsin that supplies fuel is closed for maintenance.

It’s so bad that Gov. Rick Snyder has declared an emergency because of the shortage. He issued an executive order Jan. 10 loosening rules for trucks carrying propane and fuel oil through Jan. 31.

The order allows the trucks to be on the road more hours and more days in a row.

Some 23 other states have also declared propane emergencies.

“An already tight supply of propane will get even tighter beginning (this) week and lasting through at least the end of the month,” Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman John Quackenbush said in a press release. “That means propane customers in the Upper Peninsula should use their propane supplies wisely in the coming weeks by reducing usage and avoiding energy waste.”

The Upper Peninsula may have thick forests, but that doesn’t mean we’re dense. With high temperatures in single digits, we doubt anyone is wasting energy.

Still, it’s always a good idea to review ways to be as energy efficient as possible during the propane shortage.

The Michigan Public Service Commission’s BeWinterWise website suggests:

– Install a programmable thermostat to lower utility bills and manage your heating and cooling systems efficiently.

– Air dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher’s drying cycle.

– Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees.

– Take short showers instead of baths and use low-flow showerheads for additional energy savings.

– Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.

– Check to see that windows and doors are closed when heating or cooling your home.

– Look for the Energy Star label on light bulbs, home appliances, electronics, and other products.

Sealing air leaks. Air leaks can waste a lot of your energy dollars. One of the quickest energy- and money-saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weather strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside.

Tips for sealing air leaks

– Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other places where air may leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weatherstripping.

– Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows that leak air.

– Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.

– Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.

– Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose and install house flashing if needed.

– Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may indicate air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists, and caulk them.

– Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low-emissivity windows.

– Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.

– Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.

– Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire.

– Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.

– Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use.

– Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces, and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheetrock and furnace cement caulk.

Insulation tips

– Consider factors such as your climate, home design, and budget when selecting insulation for your home.

– Use higher R-value insulation, such as spray foam, on exterior walls and in cathedral ceilings to get more insulation with less thickness.

– Install attic air barriers such as wind baffles along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Ventilation helps with moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills, but don’t ventilate your attic if you have insulation on the underside of the roof. Ask a qualified contractor for recommendations.

– Be careful how close you place insulation next to a recessed light fixture-unless it is insulation contact (IC) rated-to avoid a fire hazard.

– Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions, and wear the proper protective gear when installing insulation.