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Frequently Asked Questions

Energy Conservation and Efficiency

Q: Can a setback thermostat save money?
A: A thermostat is an on/off switch that tells your furnace to heat your home when the temperature drops below a set point. The thermostat’s job is to maintain the temperature indoors within a narrow range. It works the same way for central
air-conditioning in the summer.

According to NorthWestern Energy, you can save energy In the winter by setting back the temperature when you’re asleep or not at home. For every 1 degree you lower the
thermostat for 8 hours, you can save 1% on your heating bill. (Setting the temperature up for air-conditioning saves a similar percentage on cooling.) An average NorthWestern Energy customer can save $40 to $100 per heating season by using setbacks. (source: NorthWestern Energy)

See NorthWestern Energy's Get back energy savings – Set back your thermostat for more information on this topic.

Q: How can I find out what energy efficiency measures make sense in my home?
A: A home energy audit is the first step to assess how much energy your home consumes and to evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy-efficient. An audit will show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time. During the audit, you can pinpoint where your house is losing energy. Audits also determine the efficiency of your home's heating and cooling systems. An audit may also show you ways to conserve hot water and electricity.

You can easily conduct a home energy audit yourself. With a simple but diligent walk-through, you can spot many problems in any type of house. When auditing your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found. This list will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades. For more information on areas to check and how to do it, see Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits at

A professional auditor can carry out a more thorough audit, using a variety of techniques and equipment to determine the energy efficiency of a structure. Thorough audits often use equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation.

There are several places where you can locate professional energy auditing services. Your state or local government energy or weatherization office may help you identify a local company or organization that performs audits. They may also have information on how to do your own audit. Your electric or gas utility may conduct residential energy audits or recommend local auditors. Also check your telephone directory under headings beginning with the word "Energy" for companies that perform residential energy audits.

RESNET, the Residential Energy Services Network, certifies energy raters who can conduct an energy rating and qualify a home for ENERGY STAR certification or federal energy credits. For a list of RESNET certified raters in your state, visit

For more information, visit these links:

NorthWestern Energy’s EFFICIENCY PLUS (E+) Energy Audit for the home is available to customers who heat their homes or water primarily with electricity or natural gas delivered by NorthWestern Energy. The E+ Home Energy Survey is available to customers who use electricity delivered by NorthWestern Energy for lighting and household appliances. Call (800) 823-5995 for eligibility details.

Q: Where are the biggest air leaks in my home?
A: Many air leaks are easy to find because they are easy to feel - like those around windows, doors, and through electrical outlets. But hidden air leaks in attics, basements, and around chimneys are often more significant sources of energy loss. Consider addressing these big leaks first because they will have a greater impact on improving your comfort and reducing your utility bills.  ENERGY STAR's Home Sealing Do-It-Yourself Guide  has great pictures and suggests places to look for these leaks. Visit  ENERGY STAR Home Sealing  for more information. (Source: EnergySTAR .com)

Q: Can ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs be used with dimmer switches?
A: Yes! Always read the packaging of the CFL to be sure of its proper application, but there are a wide variety of  ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs   that are designed for use in most fixtures in your home or business. Product types include: 

  •  Incandescent shape (or A-shaped) and Globes, both are good in fixtures where the bulb is exposed or in fixtures with clamp lamp shades
  • Reflectors are intended for non-dimmable track lighting and recessed cans, and some weather protected outdoor spot lights
  • Candle shapes can be used in some porch lights, in wall sconces and in some chandeliers
  • Spirals, and mini-spirals are getting smaller and smaller in size and can be used in almost any fixture, especially table and floor lamps with harped shades

There are a few qualified 3-way and dimming CFL models that can be used for 3-way fixtures or in dimmable recessed cans or track lighting. (Source: EnergySTAR .com)

Q: How Should I Maintain My Heating and Coooling Equipment?
A. Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your cooling and heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.

A typical maintenance check-up should include the following:

  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.

Cooling Specific

  • Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Check your central air conditioner's refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15 percent.

Heating Specific

  • Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

Actions To Do Yourself

  • Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. Your contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure. (Source: EnergySTAR .com)


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