When the temperature drops, the heat and bills go up
January 23, 2007
Area residents can expect big numbers on this months heating bills.The recent cold snap is only partially to blame, said Scott Terrell, planning director for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District. The rest, he said, can be attributed to clear skies and, ironically, the lack of snow. Were getting a lot of calls about high bills, Terrell said. Weve had some extremely cold weather, but there are aspects to not having a lot of snow that impacts energy consumption.Snow acts as an insulator when it piles on a roof, explained Wendall Holmann, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno. Without it, he said, homes lose heat quicker. [Snow] keeps heat from radiating out. It traps heat, so the heat in the house gets reflected back in, Holmann said. The deeper the snow, the more insulation its going to provide.Its just like when youre out in the bitter cold and you build a snow cave. You can survive a tremendous amount longer, because it actually is a pretty good insulator, he said.And those beautiful starry skies that have been gracing Tahoe lately? Experts say that clear skies are nice on the eyes, but are tough on heating efforts.Clouds act as a blanket that holds in heat at night, Holmann said. Normally, heat radiates out through the atmosphere and into space, but clouds block that process and actually reflect it back.Clouds can make a drastic difference in temperature according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which reported that greenhouse warming is enhanced during nights when the sky is overcast. Data is not yet available by which to compare average heating costs for this month with heating costs from last January, but Terrell said that most residents can expect to receive a higher-than-usual bill this month even those who rely on gas heating systems.What people have to realize is that even with gas heating systems your bill is going to go up because of that electric motor that circulates the air, Terrell said. So people will not only notice that their gas bills will go up, but also their electric bills.The best way to conserve heat, according to Terrell, is to maximize insulation in attic space.Its probably one of the absolute best things that you can do not only is it heat-effective, but it is also very cost-effective and will generally pay for itself within one or two years, he said.
The energy of the Earths atmosphere is a balance between incoming energy from the Sun and outgoing energy from the Earth. Energy released from the Sun is emitted as short-wave light and ultraviolet energy. When it reaches the Earth, some is reflected back to space by clouds, some is absorbed by the atmosphere, and some is absorbed at the Earths surface.Greenhouse warming is enhanced during nights when the sky is overcast. Heat energy from the earth can be trapped by clouds, leading to higher temperatures as compared to nights with clear skies. Under partly cloudy skies, some heat is allowed to escape and some remains trapped. Clear skies allow for the most cooling to take place. Source: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association