How many Puget Sound Energy customers does it take to change a light bulb?

Zero, if you sign up for a free Home Energy Assessment.

I had a PSE specialist Eric at my house for an one-hour assessment last week. Not only was Eric on time, he was friendly, knowledgeable and understanding of my overexcited dog. The best part? I’m going to save nearly $100 per year by using free LEDs light bulbs (installed by Eric) and showerheads, which I can use to purchase local carbon credits for my home.

What’s the catch?

This one seems like a win-win to me. The obvious question is, “Why would an energy company want its customers to use less energy?” Eric gave me a brief summary during his assessment, which I then confirmed with some research.

Basically, under the Energy Independence Act, PSE is required to “pursue all conservation that is cost-effective, reliable and feasible” and set energy-saving goals. The incentives and penalties under this legislation are much greater than the money customers save with energy conserving techniques.

So is PSE genuinely concerned about climate change or are they just following the law? I couldn’t say, my guess is the answer is somewhere in the middle. A look through PSE’s ethics and goals may help form your opinion.

Assessing my home assessment

As mentioned above, Eric was on time, friendly and knowledgeable. He was even working on a masters in energy policy and seemed genuinely passionate about energy solutions.

The assessment began in the garage with a look at our furnace and water heater. Although our furnace is relatively new, Eric recommended annual service appointments and regular filter changes to keep it running efficiently.

Insulating water pipes and sealing holes in exterior walls are inexpensive ways to conserve energy.

On the other hand, at the ripe age of 19, our water heater was old enough to vote in last year’s midterms, and therefore well past the average lifespan of 13 years. Eric recommended upgrading to a tankless natural gas water heater, for which PSE offers rebates of up to $500 on select models. Until I am ready (or forced) to replace it, he suggested installing a moisture sensor at the bottom to detect leaks and insulating the first six feet of water lines at the top of the tank to mitigate heat loss.

Some of his other suggestions included:

  • Apply rubber weather stripping to seal exterior doors.
  • Use caulk to seal windows where existing caulking is cracking. This occurs most on windows that get a lot of sun.
  • Install a chimney balloon to prevent air flow through the chimney. Metal dampers, for the most part, are not very good at their job.
  • Seal any cracks or holes in exterior walls. Seems obvious, but I had sizable hole in the sheet rock under our kitchen sink left by a contractor.

Eric also crawled into our attic and crawlspace to check the insulation and general state. He saw no signs of animals or ghosts, and both spaces were well insulated and ventilated. In the two years I’ve been in this house nobody has poked their head into either space, so I’m glad Eric finally did.

Alright, tell us about the free stuff!

Toward the end, Eric did a light bulb count. He went around flicking bulbs and feeling for heat. Halogen and incandescent bulbs are made of glass and make a “ting” when flicked. They also give off a lot of heat, which is why they are so inefficient. LED bulbs are made of plastic, make a dull thud when flicked and give off very little heat.

I was completely unaware of these distinctions before he informed me.

Eric went his van for 20 minutes where I assume he counted and unpacked 26 light bulbs, and put together our energy assessment report. Then, he went around our house with a ladder and changed light bulbs while we chatted. He also left us two “high performance” showerheads to install on our own.

I should mention at this time that this service is for up to 30 bulbs and only for PSE electricity customers. Seattle homes, for the most part, receive electricity from Seattle City Light, and should look for LED rebates here.

If there’s a downside to the process, it’s that PSE doesn’t take the old light bulbs or install the shower heads. The good news, is I now have a chance to learn about (or completely fail at) basic plumbing and research places to properly recycle my old light bulbs. My plan is to start at https://www.lightrecycle.org/ and go from there.

Before he left, Eric created a report using photos and data he collected during the assessment. The new light bulbs and showerheads alone will save me around $91 per year. That’s on top of what I could save by sealing cracks and holes, upgrading my water heater, weather-stripping my doors and following these energy-saving tips.

Decision time…

Now, I could blow that $91 in five trips to Starbuck’s OR I could sign my home up for PSE’s Carbon Balance program to offset a portion of my carbon footprint and invest in the Winston Creek Forest Carbon Project.

It’s choices like these that give individuals the power to impact climate change.