Crank the heat or wear a sweater?

Some try to keep bills down despite extreme cold

  • Photo

IOWA CITY — The cold snap has some cranking the heat, but others are trying to brave the cold while staying energy-conscious at home.

Rick Dunbar, 63, of Iowa City, adds extra layers, thick socks, and a stocking hat around the house when it gets cold. If his apartment is too frosty, he can flip on an electric wall heater, but he shuts it down when he leaves.

“It makes more money for the landlady (to pay),” Dunbar said. “So I’m pretty conservative with the heat.”

One local college student said his roommate wanted to save money by leaving the heat off all together. Then the pipes burst, soaking his carpet and the one in the apartment downstairs, he said. He declined to give his name in case it winds up in litigation.

Many are more comfort-minded, though. When the temperature drops, energy consumption goes up.

“They know it’s 10 below outside, so they crank it up to 75 or 80 just to feel good,” said Justin Foss, spokesman for Alliant Energy. “A lot of it is about perception on how warm you need to have your heating devices when it gets cold.”

The immediate comfort can lead to a big bill at the end of the month, so people should consider alternatives before adjusting the thermostat, he said.

Wednesday was the third coldest day of the year. With a double-digit negative windchill, the Iowa City school district called late starts on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Solon and Anamosa school districts have two hour delays on Thursday.

Still, the increase in consumption during this cold spell has been nothing compared to the polar vortex in 2014.

MidAmerican Energy reports this year’s heating season through the end of January has been about 2 percent warmer than normal and about 12 percent warmer than 2014.

“MidAmerican Energy’s natural gas systems are built to withstand extreme cold like today,” said spokeswoman Ashton Newman. “We have a good supply of natural gas and don’t foresee any problems with distribution.”

On Wednesday, Alliant and MidAmerican reported a combined three power outages among their customers around the state.

Lisa Alger, supervisor for the housing stabilization department at Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, said there’s been an increase in people applying for propane assistance, which is a common heating source in rural areas.

“When we get a cold zap like this we get more applicants for that kind of use,” she said. “When their tank gets empty, they need more fuel to run their furnaces.”

On average, the agency receives 8,000 applications a year for help through LiHEAP, or the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which subsidizes energy costs based on income and the number of people in a home.

Xiaohui (Joe) Zhou, the energy efficiency program manager at the Iowa Energy Center in Ankeny, said homeowners can conserve energy by properly insulating their house, particularly the attic; covering up windows with plastic or drapes; and keeping doors closed.

“The heat inside your house will be leaking out through doors or windows,” Zhou said. “That is the number one factor in your energy use.”

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.