Discovering Ways and Means
of Energy Efficiency
Helping members use energy efficiently has been an important fixture in United’s overarching commitment to delivering exceptional service and value.
One of United’s most popular energy efficiency services is the free in-home energy audit. This service has assisted many members in lowering their usage, which leads to lower bills.
United started offering this service in 2006 and the cooperative has since performed more than 12,300 audits. In that period, United’s energy experts also have become more experienced in detecting many unique issues that have caused members to have high usage. Other than weather fluctuations, which cause higher demand on HVAC equipment, malfunctioning appliances, or equipment, often cause excessive energy usage.
A stuck heating element in a central heating unit is a typical energy thief. In most instances, a stuck heating element is not readily identified until a member receives a high bill. HVAC units with electric heat have what is known as electric resistance heat strips in the air handler and work like the coils in a blow dryer, but on a larger and more powerful scale.
These coils heat up and air is blown past the coils to create heated air. Each heat strip uses large amounts of energy. Occasionally, a malfunction in the air handler’s control board, a faulty relay for the heat strips or a wiring issue in the thermostat causes the heat strips to stay on. When such an event happens in the summertime, members could be running the A/C and heat at the same time, which could lead to higher usage that can double or quadruple the usage expected in a properly running unit.
Seth Rosser, United Energy Solutions Manager, said stuck heating elements are more common than many people think.
“Many homeowners can easily overlook a stuck heating element. When the HVAC system doesn’t seem to be cooling properly, or if it seems to be running nonstop and never shutting off, or if heat is coming from supply vents when the unit cycles off are all signs of a stuck heating element,” he said.
The good news is that once the stuck heating element has been identified, and an HVAC technician is able to fix the issue, energy usage will dramatically drop. United’s daily usage reports are one of the best metrics available to determine if there is a problem, and when and if a solution has been found.
Water heater leaks are another common culprit for high bills. Traditionally, electric water heaters are the second-largest energy user in the home. Water heater leaks not only waste water, but they also drive up energy usage because the heating elements are continually running.
Some indications of leaks include hearing the water heater run for an inordinate amount of time or standing water around the tank is noticed. Other signs are more challenging to identify. For example, if the water lines are installed in the slab, leaks can often be detected by feeling for hot spots on the floor.
Similar to a water heater leak, a water well leak can cause excessive energy usage. Water wells normally have a submerged electric motor that pumps water directly to a pressure tank with a pressure sensor switch.
The tank and switch keep the lines pressurized, allowing the homeowner to have water on demand. When water is used, or the pressure switch senses the pressure is low, the submerged electric motor is engaged to pump more water to refill the tank.
A leak in the water well system will cause the electric motor to run continually to try to fill the tank. If this issue occurs, the severity of the energy usage will be based on the size of the electric motor. Electric motors are rated in horsepower. Horsepower typically correlates with kilowatts. A two-horsepower motor operated for one hour will equate to 2 kWh in usage on a member’s bill. If this pump runs 24 hours per day, this could cause an increase in a member’s monthly bill by roughly an additional $115.
An additional culprit in a high bill that can also affect the comfort level in the home is a disconnected duct. Ducts distribute conditioned air from the HVAC system through the house. Air ducts are usually located in attics, crawl spaces, and basements. If a duct comes loose or disconnected from the air handler, all the conditioned air is being lost in the unconditioned space, causing the HVAC system to run excessively.
Homes with crawl spaces may have a crossover duct. This duct connects the two sides of the home, and it is the part of the duct system that is exposed and is susceptible to being disconnected. If this duct does become disconnected, only one side of the home will heat or cool. This also causes the HVAC system to run twice as long and as a result can create an enormous spike in energy usage.
United’s energy experts are trained and ready to assist members in finding issues just like these. The cooperative team will investigate every potential for lost or wasted energy usage, just like an energy detective, until the energy experts find the energy bandit.
Members who may have received a bill that seems abnormally high are encouraged to call a local United office.