Over the summer Behram Irani's monthly electric bill jumped from $91 to more than $150, a 67% increase.
When the Montvale resident asked his electric company about the spike, it told him, "It is what it is," he recalled.
His prospects for reducing these costs improved a few months later, when he received a postcard offering an energy audit from PSE&G, for free.
"I thought, "Wow this is great,'" Irani said. "It's good for the planet and good for the pocketbook."
Irani was just one of the 300 or so PSE&G customers who opted last week to undergo a home energy audit in hopes of reducing both costs and carbon footprints, officials from the utility said.
With temperatures dropping and heating costs rising, identifying energy waste could make a substantial difference.
Last week, the cost of home heating oil was up by more than 50%, or $1.20 per gallon, over November 2020, according to the New York State Energy Resource and Development Agency. Natural gas prices have nearly doubled this year.
Even with the release of inventory from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, announced Tuesday, energy bills will rise — but there are some things you can do.
What to expect from an energy audit
Energy audits can range from free — like PSE&G's and those offered by other utilities — to a few hundred dollars.
Last Tuesday, PSE&G was in Irani's Montvale home for about an hour, changing bulbs, examining insulation, inspecting heating and cooling systems, and taking stock of appliances.
It took about an hour. The auditor spent most of his time exchanging light bulbs.
Although about 20 years ago, an energy audit prompted Irani to switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs — the bulbs that typically have a corkscrew shape — the good news is that LED bulbs are even more efficient.
"They also turn on right away," Irani said.
It was also recommended that Irani change some of his weatherstripping, and the auditor brought some aerators for the kitchen faucet and bathroom shower head, which should help reduce water use, and hot water use in particular.
Other than that, Irani's house seemed to be in good shape. He'll probably reap the $110 average homeowners save when they change light bulbs and cut out "phantom energy" use, PSE&G officials said.
It's cold outside
However, the Montvale homeowner may not be the norm. Many people live in homes that leak heat through windows, doors and poorly insulated walls.
PSE&G says weatherstripping is an excellent way to cut down on home heating costs, and there are products in all price ranges, starting with removable caulk. Early in the cold season is the best time to look for heat leaks.
Professional auditors can perform more intensive examinations like a door blower test or infrared scanning, both of which can take longer and provide more comprehensive information, pinpointed areas that lose heat. Doors and windows are prime areas of concern.
For those who do not want to spend the extra money, the DIY method involves holding a stick of incense near doors and windows and watching the smoke: Even a small leak will be detectable.
Other air-leak detection methods include shining a flashlight at night over all potential gaps while a partner observes the house from outside. Large cracks will show up as rays of light — but is not an effective way to detect small cracks.
Or, shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull the dollar bill out without it dragging, you're losing energy.
Comparing forecaster predictions: Is New Jersey due for bad winter weather?
Here are a few other simple tips for lowering heating costs
Open window blinds and curtains when the sun is shining, but keep them closed at night for extra insulation. Even the weak winter sun rays can warm up a room.
If you have ceiling fans, reverse the direction to distribute warmer air to the room below. If done properly, you should not feel air blowing.
Lower your thermostat to 63 degrees at night and when no one is home. (Bonus: Cooler room temperatures lead to better sleep, many studies have found.)
Add foam gaskets behind your power outlets and switch plates. Receptacles can leak lots of heat.
Put on a sweater! And keep blankets handy for evenings in front of the TV.
Phantom power usage
Another energy-waster is phantom power usage. The multitude of appliances we have plugged could be using significant amounts of power, even when they are not in use. Home improvement stores sell electricity usage monitors that can tell you how much power these devices use even at rest.
Turn off the lights and walk around to see what appliances and other devices are using power — you'll see the glow of LED indicator lights. Typical culprits include entertainment-related devices, like set-top boxes for recording TV shows and gaming consoles, which can drain energy while in standby mode.
Help is available
Reducing energy costs does not have to be expensive.
New Jersey has a clean energy program that offers rebates and other means of assisting people willing to upgrade their homes. Help through the New Jersey Comfort Partners program exists for those of modest means. To find out if you qualify, visit NJcleanenergy.com and look for Comfort Partners.
There are ample programs available from utilities, including PSE&G and JCP&L with incentives to reduce energy costs.
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ heating bills increase this witner. Here are ways to save