Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) recently announced that just as the utility prepares for winter weather, customers should also take proactive steps in anticipation of increasingly colder temperatures. During the winter months, heating systems typically account for more than 40 percent of customers’ energy bills and when temperatures are extreme, usage will increase even if the thermostat remains at a set temperature. This is because heating and cooling systems must work harder to maintain the set temperature during periods of extreme weather. Without taking steps to reduce usage during these times, energy bills will reflect additional usage and will likely be higher than in months when temperatures are more moderate. BGE provides customers with a number of steps they can take to reduce energy consumption and lower heating bills on its website at www.bge.com.
“BGE remains committed to helping all of its customers prepare for colder months and we encourage our customers to take advantage of the many tips and tools for managing energy usage, available in the Winter Ready section of BGE’s website,” said Jeannette M. Mills, senior vice president and chief customer officer for BGE. “While we can’t control the weather, we can control how we use energy, even during periods of extreme temperatures. BGE is committed to providing customers with important information to help them take action now to maximize the energy efficiency of their homes and minimize the impact of the cold weather.”
The Winter Ready section on BGE’s website is specifically designed to help customers weather the cold temperatures that affect Central Maryland each year. The Winter Ready section includes an interactive virtual home tour, which provides detailed information on how energy is used in the home and recommendations for improving a home’s energy efficiency. By clicking on “hot spots,” customers get helpful information about heating systems, insulation, appliances, electronics, meter reading, third party energy suppliers and more.
The many Winter Ready recommendations for improving a home’s energy efficiency include but are not limited to:
- Get a heating system tune-up and seal leaks in furnace ducts. BGE offers rebates for these and other home efficiency improvements through the BGE Smart Energy Savers Program®.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater, and conserve hot water when you can. Heating water is the second biggest energy user in your home.
- BGE residential customers with electric water heaters in good working order can choose to have a switch installed on their unit through the PeakRewards Electric Water Heater program, part of the BGE Smart Energy Savers Program®.
- Seal gaps around windows, doors and wall outlets.
- Check/add attic insulation to reach a level of R-38 or 12 inches.
- Install a programmable thermostat and save 9 – 25 percent on heating and cooling costs year-round.
- Set the thermostat to 68 degrees or lower if health allows. For every degree below 73 during the winter, customers will save two to four percent on heating costs.
- Customers who heat with natural gas should consider setting the thermostat to 68 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night.
- Customers who heat with electric heat pumps should only lower the temperature setting at night if the programmable thermostat is specifically designed for heat pumps.
- Change furnace filters monthly.
The weather is the primary driver for increased energy usage during periods of extreme cold, but there are many other contributing factors, which may not be as obvious. When it’s bitter cold outside, many families spend more time at home, especially on weekends, when they are also more likely to use stoves and ovens more frequently, spend more time on computers and electronic video games and watch more television.
BGE reminds customers who heat with older model electric heat pumps that they are especially vulnerable to sharp increases in usage when the temperature drops to below freezing because auxiliary heating, which uses more energy, may be activated. With many units, auxiliary heating is activated even before the temperature dips to below freezing.
Additionally, while holiday lights do not typically cause significant spikes in electric usage, the degree to which holiday lights affect a customer’s bill largely depends on the types of lights used, quantity of lights and length of time the lights are on. BGE recommends customers use energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) holiday lights as well as timers to limit the increase in energy usage caused by holiday lights.
BGE also encourages customers to use natural gas prudently this winter, especially during extremely cold weather. While the utility expects to have sufficient natural gas supply to meet demand, customers should still consider conserving even during periods of bitter cold. While rare, increased usage can stress the natural gas distribution system and interrupt service to customers, leaving them without heat for a period of time. In addition, extreme weather triggers an increase in demand, which can also cause natural gas prices to rise. Conserving, especially in periods of extreme cold, will assist in offsetting the likely increase in prices.
To counteract unpredictable swings in the weather, BGE offers a Budget Billing program, which allows customers to spread their BGE bills out evenly throughout the year, limiting the impact of seasonal fluctuations in usage.
Customers also have the option of purchasing natural gas and electricity from third party suppliers who may offer rates lower than BGE’s Standard Offer Service. For customers who choose a third party supplier, BGE remains the energy delivery company and will continue to respond to power outages and other emergencies. Information about energy choice and third party suppliers can be found at www.BGE.com.
Despite the many options that BGE is making available to help customers reduce energy usage and lower their energy bill, the utility recognizes that some of its customers are still challenged to pay their bills. Energy assistance is available and limited income customers are strongly encouraged to apply for assistance before they are in crisis. For more information, contact the Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) at 800-352-1446. Residents of Baltimore City should call 410-396-5555.