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Home investments that pay you back!

Last month we talked about simple – and inexpensive – ways to save money on energy for your home. Our list included things like checking for drafts, layering your clothes and learning the best way to use your thermostat. But sometimes you’ve got to spend money to save money. And that’s certainly often true of home energy costs.

Today we’re going to focus on getting those costs down in bigger ways.


Heating is typically a homeowner’s biggest energy expense. We make no bones about it, for our moderate climate, we’re sold on a heat pump for most homes. If your current heating system needs to be replaced, definitely consider a heat pump.

The technology of any heat pump basically recovers heat from the outside air and transfers it via a closed-loop refrigerant gas to the inside air handler-furnace inside your house. The air handler blows circulating air through its radiator coil that was heated by the gas and delivers warm air throughout the house in your ducts and floor vents.

One bonus of this form of heater is that in the summer, it will do the reverse – drying out the indoor air and pulling the heat out of the air from inside the house and blowing it off outside. The returning air feels cool, providing you with a nice air-conditioned space.

Many newer homes have ducted heat pumps. However, if you are changing heating systems you may want to consider a ductless heat pump. They are relatively easy to have installed and like regular heat pumps, provide filtered air.

Both kinds of heat pumps are relatively easy to maintain and inexpensive to operate, typically paying for themselves in just a few years.

Right now, the Grays Harbor PUD offers an $800 rebate for qualifying installation of a ductless heat pump. Restrictions apply, so it’s critical to talk to the PUD’s energy services department ahead of time.

Water heaters

After the home’s heating system, the biggest use of power typically comes from the water heater. One way to help efficiency is to install a timer to control the on/off periods for best use.

When you’re on vacation, or even away over the weekend, hit the off switch, timer or not. The working temperature should be set at 120 degrees, by the way. If you need to replace your hot water heater, consider the size needed. If your family size has gotten smaller, a 40-gallon tank might work just as well as a 50-gallon tank and you avoid constantly heating more water than you need.

You may also save money by using use the cold-water settings on your washing machine, shorten up those showers, and don’t turn on the hot water faucet unless you need hot water! That’s because the hot water won’t reach you in time to use it for your short task. As hot water moves down the pipes, it then cools and the water that replaces it in the tank must then be heated – an unnecessary waste of water and energy!

One solution may be a heat pump water heater which could be twice as efficient as a regular water heater tank. And, right now the Grays Harbor PUD is offering rebates from $700-$900 on the purchase of a heat pump hot water heater for qualified purchases.

Washing and drying clothes

Clothes dryers are another big energy user. Dryers run most efficiently (and safer) when the lint filter is cleaned after each load. Also, check the vent system monthly to see that it is clear – something that is also critical for fire safety.

A proper dryer vent system is as short as possible, uses straight, smooth-wall rigid aluminum pipe, and is vented outside the house through a hinged flapper vent.

Reduce wash loads by wearing things longer and hanging things up outside if the weather is nice. When using your washing machine, use the cold or warm water settings and wait for a full load to wash.

ENERGY STAR-rated washing machines and ENERGY STAR-rated dryers can use significantly less energy, saving you money in energy costs. In addition, the PUD offers a $30 rebate for the purchase of an ENERGY STAR-certified clothes washer and a $50 rebate for an ENERGY STAR dryer.

To get the rebates, first fill out the application, which can be found online at (Go to “energy efficiency,” select “residential programs” and then select “residential rebate applications.”) Then submit the application along with an itemized receipt for the appliance to the energy services department of the Grays Harbor PUD. Call the PUD’s Energy Services at (360) 538-6383 if you have questions.

Refrigerators and freezers

Did you know that cleaning the refrigerator coils of dust annually will improve efficiency?

To do so, unplug the refrigerator and look underneath for the flat coils. Simply ream with a bottlebrush or sock-covered hanger and vacuum. Finally, check to see that the refrigerator’s temperature setting is set in the middle of the scale.

It takes less energy to operate a packed freezer than a half-full one but don’t over pack it as there still needs to be room for air circulation. A couple of ice packs help volume-cool when you get low on groceries and when the power goes out.

Eric Bjella is the executive director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor, where Pat Beaty is the construction specialist. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, housing counseling for homebuyers, renters and landlords, homebuyer education and financing, call 360-533-7828, listen to the extension picks that will best help you and leave a callback name and number. Our office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday.


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