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What Do You Spend On Energy?

Here’s a tough question: what part of your family budget goes toward energy?

Energy used in the home and around a farm often includes combinations of electricity, natural gas, and propane. Then there’s fuel for cars, trucks, lawn mowers, and farm machinery. Add in seasonal variations for each kind of energy and other changes in costs, and the question gets even tougher.

That’s why so many families are asking what they can do to keep energy expenses manageable. How can a family balance the budget when energy costs change so often?

Peggy Powell, Extension agent for Family and Consumer Science in Montgomery County, says, “In my weekly radio program on WMST in Mt. Sterling, during the first four months of 2006 I talked about energy issues at least four times. My show is only a few minutes long, so I give tips, such as how to reduce transportation energy costs, then tell listeners about other sources of information.”

From his office in Lexington, University of Kentucky Extension professor Dr. Robert Fehr says, “Extension agents statewide get so many questions about energy we’ve organized a quick-response team. This team of specialists and Extension agents met for the first time just before Christmas 2005. Working together, we can get answers about energy questions for homeowners and agricultural producers quickly.”

Printed publications, local demonstrations, and personal conversations are still vital, but Internet resources continue to grow. Dr. Fehr says, “So many people want to reduce their energy consumption to save money. We’ve created a Web site with lots of practical ideas at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/energy/.”

Among the features of the site is an “energy calculator” to help you figure out how much money will be saved over several years by replacing old energy-wasting items with new, more efficient versions. Since spending money to increase efficiency can further complicate the family energy budget, the energy calculator includes step-by-step instructions to balance the initial cost against future savings.

Another informative and popular service is the traveling energy exhibit. Extension associate Gerald Hash takes the display booth to many weekend home and garden shows throughout the year, and sets up in Louisville for the full run of the Kentucky State Fair. Colorful posters and stacks of handouts provide a wide range of energy information, with many tips for new homebuilders and buyers.

For people looking for ways to get the most from every energy dollar, Dr. Fehr says, “At local shows and the state fair, we always recommend that our visitors get in touch with their local electric co-ops because their energy advisors are so well-trained. They have good access to the right tools to analyze energy use. Electric co-ops have excellent resources to help consumers manage their energy budgets. And we are especially looking forward to setting up our booth and giving out information at every electric co-op annual meeting this year.”

Ron Sheets, president of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, says, “Local electric cooperatives can provide literally hundreds of options to members who want to lower their electric bills. And it’s critical to remember that what we pay for energy helps make our lives more comfortable, our work more productive, and our leisure more enjoyable.”

To find out more about saving energy and saving money, visit this Web site: www.kaec.org/energy/efficiency.htm.


SAVING ENERGY ON A BUDGET

Home economists group energy-saving ideas for the home into three categories.

No-cost methods of reducing energy use include turning off lights when not in use, lowering thermostat settings in winter, and lowering the temperature setting on water heaters year-round.

Low-cost strategies include replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, adding weatherstripping and caulking to prevent air leaks, and replacing older, less efficient appliances with Energy Star appliances.

Higher initial cost options include adding insulation, or replacing windows, furnaces, and air conditioners with new highly efficient equipment.

The last two methods involve spending money now to save money later. You can figure out how long it will take for those savings to pay for the initial investment on an energy calculator on the Web site of the Extension Service at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/energy/.

Next month: Protecting birds and power lines

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