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Conserve energy, beat the heat

As summer heat flows in quickly after winter chills, there appears to be no reprieve from the harsh weather.

And that can mean more energy use and higher costs to heat or cool homes.

But there are alternatives.

Kelly Taute, manager at Don's Mobile Glass in Merced, suggests installing windows with LowE, a heat-saving coating inside the glass. But those who rent or don’t want to invest in new windows can try solar window screens.

Taute has them at her own home. They cover each window with a thicker fabric than regular screening material. “It blocks the sun’s rays but you can still see through it. It’s like putting up a shade tree.”

Utilities companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric offer incentive programs and tips to conserve. The company just wrapped up this year’s 10/20 Plus Winter Gas Savings Program, which gives customers a 1 percent credit for every percent of natural gas they save.

Merced resident John Bleiman took this program as a challenge to see exactly how much he could conserve. “I don’t work for the energy industry,” said Bleiman, a local bookkeeper. “I just take it very seriously.”

As a bookkeeper he’s used to cutting costs. So he applied that skill to cutting energy use.

After a combination of thoughtful techniques and simply freezing through winter, he just received a “thank you” letter from PG&E for his conservation of natural gas. When he called the company to research exactly how much he saved, a customer service representative gasped and told him 82 percent — putting him as the front runner in the Central Valley.

This means he used 82 percent less natural gas compared to his average usage in January and February during the past three years, he explained: “The only two people who came close saved 50 percent.”

So, how did he do it?

He already had winter drapes installed to seal in the heat. For a tighter seal, he added cotton around the windows and a wind seal around his doors to block cold air.

Experiencing a mild winter this year also helped.

He completely gave up the use of his floor heater, although he was tempted to turn it on during two especially cold nights. What kept the ‘off’ switch in place was Bleiman’s desire to have bragging rights over people in Alaska and Colorado.

“I have friends in the snow states who say the snow guys are tougher than you flat landers,” Bleiman said. “I want to have it documented that us Californians are just as tough as anyone in the country.”

More than 25,000 Merced County residents qualified for the natural gas savings program this winter - translating into about $465,000 in rebates on their bills, said Nichole Tam, PG&E spokeswoman.

But now everyone’s thoughts have turned to beating summer heat.

And there are ways to conserve energy and keep air conditioning systems from risking finances and health.

Bleiman's methods avoid the air conditioner all together.

He put Venetian awnings above his windows to deflect the sun. Although he believes solid awnings are a good addition, he likes the Venetians because they allow him to see outside without bright rays leaking in.

Wood is a good insulator, so wood shutters are another way to ward off the sun and keep cool, he said.

For those who chose to use an air conditioner this season, American Home Shield has suggestions for its most efficient use: Have evaporator and condenser coils checked and cleaned; check the area around an outside air conditioning unit for overgrowth of vegetation — don’t let plants or other obstructions impair the airflow. And be sure to change system filters regularly.

Even if you aren’t yet using your air conditioner, it’s a good idea to turn it on now and test it out, suggested Heather Wilson, an American Home Shield spokeswoman. That way, if you catch a problem, there is time to address it before the real summer heat arrives.

Energy-saving tips to deal with heat and cold:*Install shades, awnings or sunscreens on windows facing south and/or west to block summer light*Weatherstrip around windows and doors. *Wrap heating and cooling ducts with duct wrap or use mastic sealant *Replace old air conditioners or heaters with labeled energy-efficient models*Clean or replace furnace and air-conditioner filters regularly*Set the air conditioner at 78 degrees or higher, or the furnace thermostat at 68 degrees or lower — 3 to 5 percent more energy is used for each degree the air conditioner is set below 78 degrees and for each degree the thermostat is set above 68 degrees.For more information about energy saving methods and programs, go to www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney

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