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Utility Bills Expected To Increase By Double Digits This Winter, But Xcel Energy's Home Energy Squad Can Help

DENVER (CBS4) – Winter is coming. So is a higher price to keep your home warm this season.

Xcel Energy expects natural gas prices to increase through the winter as production has not kept up with demand during the pandemic.

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"If our customers use exactly the same amount as what did last year, they should expect to see a $28 increase every month through the season," Hollie Velasquez Horvath, Xcel's Vice President of State Affairs, told CBS4.

Horvath explained Xcel customers pay about $90 on average for their utility bill. That won't be the case this winter, however.

"We anticipate that our customers will see a higher increase in their utility bills over the winter season unless they do some adjustments and change a little bit of their habit," she said.

That's where the Home Energy Squad can step in. It's a program Xcel Energy offers where a team of technicians will visit a customer's home for an energy audit. They look for ways to make the home more energy efficient to save the customer money, like adjusting appliances that may use a lot of that now pricey natural gas.

"The first thing we look for in houses is we take a peek at the water heater," said Luke Snyder, a field supervisor. "If you have it up too high, it's constantly running all day even when no one is using it. So, if you turn it down, it'll only kick on a few times a day and be efficient and save on gas."

Snyder has been conducting home energy audits for seven years. He said he commonly finds houses do not have ideal insulations, and several could use a furnace upgrade.

"Upgrading a furnace will cut down on the gas usage in the house," he explained. "If it's running at 98% efficiency, the easiest way to think about that is every dollar you spend to heat it only 2 cents is getting wasted. So, if you have an 80% efficiency, 20 cents out of every dollar you spend on it is going up the flue and not being used to generate heat."

Of course, replacing a furnace is not cheap. So, there are other ways people can save money.

"The other thing you want to check in houses is the weather stripping," he said, pointing to some around a doorway. "Anywhere it's compressed, or not a tight seal, you'll see light coming through and so air is coming through, too."

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As part of the 2-hour visit, the Home Energy Squad will check for any air leaks around doors and windows. Some techs use infrared cameras to see where heat may easily be escaping, and in some cases will replace faulty weather stripping.

Perhaps one of the simplest steps to save is the "out with the old and in with the new" approach. For example, updating old shower heads that use more gallons per minute.

"Older shower heads are around two gallons per minute," Snyder explained, showing where on the shower head a person can find the flow rate number. "That can cause the water heater to run when it doesn't need to, so upgrading these can save a good amount of heating prices for water heaters."

Snyder said the Home Energy Squad will install shower heads that use 1.5 gallons per minute. It will cutdown on water usage, but not water pressure.

Another easy solution: flipping the switch to LED light bulbs. Snyder said the Home Energy Squad will replace every incandescent bulb in a person's home to LED, which can save a few bucks.

"Every incandescent bulb replaced with an LED bulb is about $5 in savings per year per bulb," he said.

So, as temperatures drop it'll be time to turn the heat up. Xcel Energy wants to make sure everyone can do so without breaking the bank.

"Now is the time to really think about how you can conserve and save," Horvath said.

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If you'd like the Home Energy Squad to visit your home, there is a fee. However, the $50 covers a full replacement of light bulbs, weather stripping, even a new programmable thermostat. Some homeowners may qualify to get the Squad's help for free.


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