(Image courtesy Connect4Climate)

The costs related to home energy use keep rising, both in terms of dollars and environmental impact.
Worse yet, on average more than a third of household energy consumption is wasted through so-called “phantom power” use and small inefficiencies that snowball into a big issue.
Whether your goal is to address one or both of these pressing issues, the University of Maryland’s Maryland Energy Extension program offers research-based, pragmatic resources for navigating ways to save money and resources and determining which best serves your needs.
Dr. Drew Schiavone, MEE Energy Conservation and Technology Specialist, who collaborated with Energy Select Solar, which is co-sponsoring a workshop series around the state.
At a recent Extension workshop in Easton, Schiavone offered to devote time to any area participants were most interested in learning about. As MEE’s “Energy Guru,” Schiavone often offers one-on-one guidance through the sometimes overwhelming and often updated amount of information to individuals reaching out.
He also pointed out the many resources available on the MEE website, https://extension.umd.edu/programs/environment-natural-resources/program-areas/maryland-energy-extension, including links to additional government, utility service and company sites.
MEE also offers a variety of informational YouTube videos and a quarterly newsletter.
In terms of energy priorities, Schiavone referred to an energy pyramid divided into five successive tiers of tips to save money and resources.
“The energy pyramid is a decision-making tool that can be applied to various energy-related applications including residential and agricultural settings. This tool shows that cost and complexity of energy actions typically increase as you move from energy assessment activities (bottom), to alternative or renewable energy projects (top),” Schiavone said.
The first step in the process, he pointed out, should always be figuring out energy use and needs.
“We see that a lot; people are ambitious and motivated to make changes, but often times it works better in the long run if you focus on efficiency first,” Schiavone said.
While it’s possible to undertake your own energy analysis, several utilities, including Delmarva Power, have joined with the state’s EmPower Maryland initiative to offer professional energy audits to customers; the costs are covered by a monthly surcharge.
The federal Inflation Reduction Act passed last year also offers a tax credit toward an audit.
Maryland Housing and Community Development also offers financial audit assistance for those in low and moderate income brackets.
Schiavone presented several sample electric bill graphics, explaining what to look for in assessing monthly and annual energy use patterns, zeroing in on the bottom line of kilowatt hours used, with the aim of reducing that number.
Turning to conservation and efficiency, Schiavone noted that, while keeping the TV on is an often cited parental talking point, televisions rank relatively low in the home energy use spectrum.
Keeping the lights on, while also contributing relatively minor costs overall, can add up if enough are left on for long stretches of time, he added.
So-called ‘phantom power’ usage is another sneaky culprit. Devices that are, in fact, on and registering power use, make up 5 to 10 percent of residential electricity costs, he added. Among these are gaming systems and other items with clocks, which drain power on standby. Smart power strips and meters can be used to shut off a whole bank of these appliances when not in use.
Schiavone said HVAC-related costs make up over 50 percent of home energy expenditures, making those items vital to zero in on.
He cited numerous ranges of efficiency levels corresponding to such crucial components as insulation type and proper insulation, windows complying with EPA designated Zone 4 U factor readings (“the more panes, the better,” he noted).
He also pointed out the benefits of more efficient showerheads, which can save up to 2.5 gallons, and tankless water heaters, which “work great” but need more initial lead time to heat.
Schiavone also offered a comparative overview of the most commonly used home heating methods, placing wood/pellet stoves at 71.5 percent and fireplaces the least efficient at 10 percent.
Drawing on his own home experience with baseboard electric heat, he noted that though extremely efficient, it was still costly to operate.
He also contrasted air cooling systems, including central and room air conditioning, evaporative coolers and ductless mini splits, similar to heat pumps in operation, and despite their high initial cost, automatically adapt energy output and help allergy sufferers reduce dust and pollutants.
While systems already in place can have energy output better managed with regular cleaning and maintenance, air filter replacement, and other measures, those over 10 years old will see huge increases in energy efficiency by replacement with a newer system, Schiavone said.
For more information, contact Schiavone at 301- 432-2767, ext. 342, or at dschiavo@umd.edu.