Michael Sullivan on summer home energy savings, tips | Home Front

Jul 10, 2014

Michael Sullivan is senior vice president of operations and engineering for Pepco.

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Thanks to Mike Sullivan of Pepco for substituting for Dave Velazquez who had to go welcome a grandchild into this world. Mike is a senior vice president of Pepco and has lots of experience to share with us about saving energy, outages and air conditioning issues. So, let's get chatting.

Hi everyone. Sorry for the last minute substitution.  It's an exciting morning for Dave Velazquez, the Executive Vice President of Pepco Holdings, Inc.  Dave wanted to be here but he's welcoming his first grandchild who arrived late last night.  Jura, thanks for letting me pinch-hit.  It's good to connect with all of you and I hope everyone is enjoying the summer. I'm looking forward to reading your questions and sharing some of the many ways Pepco can help you save money and energy.

I hope you can answer this basic question: can a central AC unit be replaced without having to replace the furnace, or should they always be replaced together?) Our AC is about to give up the ghost, but as far as we know, the furnace is fine. Thanks

Good question.  Unfortunately, it doesn't have a basic answer.   It depends on whether your furnace is oil, gas or electric heat pump.  Your best option is to contact a HVAC contractor to learn your best options. 

However, if you live in Maryland, be mindful that we offer rebates such as HVAC tune-ups where a certified contractor will come out and observe your unit and review all options with you.


I have a house in Arlington that was built in 1950. There is absolutely no insulation in the walls (we do have insulation in the attic). Based on how expensive it would be to pump insulation into the house (drilling holes into the walls, then repairing and repainting them), it would seem there's no way I'd ever recoup the cost of the insulation from cooling and heating savings. Is this correct? Also, what are some other cost-effective ways to save energy in an older house?

You're right.  It is expensive to pump insulation into walls.  I know that from pricing it for my own home.

Generally speaking, the majority of heat loss in a home is through the attic.  You should have R-49 in your attic.

I recommend getting a home performance with Energy Star audit.  If you visit the Department of Energy website you can find a list of contractors in your area. 

My husband and I recently canceled our plan to build a guestroom/office on our third floor, so we are finding that we may need to combine a place for guests to stay and the nursery of our son, coming later this year. While not ideal, I am open to designing his room to include our pull out sofa, but my husband seems utterly opposed to it. What are your thoughts on the guest room/nursery combo? Thanks!

Inviting a guest to stay in a nursery isn't such a great concept at first. But I'm not sure if you mean you would take your baby into another room the night your guest is visiting. Do you have any other spaces in the house where you might carve out guest sleeping arrangements? A den or an office?  I might go for a day bed in the baby's room where you could lounge and which could be pulled into service as a guest bed occasionally.

We've been offered the chance to have solar panels installed at a reduced rate through a local group purchase. What is Pepco's experience with your customers' solar installations? In particular, I would like to know whether there have been issues with performance/maintenance of the systems themselves, and also whether the installer's figures for energy savings are realistic. Thank you for answering a question that may reduce your business!

Actually, Pepco supports our customers exploring the use of solar and renewable energy sources.  I want to make clear, it's very important that customers interested in installing solar contact Pepco first.  That means contacting us before signing a contract with a vendor.  Customers should contact us to help ensure that they are purchasing the appropriate size solar unit.

Here's that link which is helpful for a lot of questions:


What's a good temperature to leave your house at in the summer with your air conditioning on. (I know, I know I'm supposed to use a programmable thermostat but we don't.)

Health permitting, it is most efficient to keep your temperature set at 78 degrees. That's also the temperature recommended by Energy Star.  It is inefficient to move your thermostat more than a 5 degree differential at a time on your AC.  

For more home energy saving tips during the summer months visit:


All of the menopausal women in America just passed out.


I'm curious: what is the mean and/or median monthly bill for your customers, either per year, or during the summer months?

The average Pepco monthly bill, based on 1000 kwh per month is approximately $125.

You can see your hourly usage and monthly usage by signing up for MyAccount.

There are many energy management tools that provide detailed information for your personal energy use on MyAccount.

Mr. Sullivan, I keep hearing warnings about smart meters and radiation and other gremlins. I'm sure they're nonsense, and besides, in my neighborhood, the meters are outside in sheds. Can you explain in basic language any dangers from these things? Thanks.

Thanks! This is a very important question and one I'm pleased to answer.

The outage reporting feature of the Smart Meter has been a great benefit to us in restoring customers over the last few days.

·         The RF signals from Pepco’s AMI meters are very low power and well below the RF levels the FCC has found are safe.

The RF signals are less than that of a typical baby monitor.

·         No national or international health agency has concluded that such low power RF signals cause adverse health effects.


What should I do if my power goes off in one of these bad afternoon storms? And who do I get to remove the trees on wires?

The first thing you do is call Pepco to report the outage. 877-Pepco-62.   Now's a good time to remind everyone to stay away from downed wires.

As for the trees, your call to Pepco will get the process to remove the tree started if it is in contact with a Pepco wire.  Pepco will remove trees from downed wires but we do not remove the tree from the property.

For trees on customer's property, regular pruning is essential to keeping trees healthy and helping to prevent outages.    When you think about it, the canopy on a tree that has not been pruned can act like a sail on a ship providing great stress on trees of all sizes.  Proper pruning will help allow wind to easily pass through them.

For questions concerning tree maintenance call Pepco at 202-833-7500

I saw that guy's comment about thermostats. I heard Pepco will give me a free thermostat. Is that true? How can I get one?

We have a program for our customers called Energy Wise Rewards.  We offer a free thermostat as well as up to $160 a year depending on whether you live in DC or Maryland. 

Here's the link to sign-up.


My dining room is a greige color and I am thinking of picking of a pair of small chests on Craigslist for storage (to be placed on either side of a front window). Can you recommend a great ivory, off white, cream (etc.) paint color?

How about Benjamin Moore Winter White? Sounds like a nice decorating plan. Send us a photo.

We do keep our AC temp up & close blinds facing West. We have used a circulating fan to aid in circulating air in the room when the AC is on. Is this better than lowering the temp in the entire house?

Good question. 

First let me compliment you for taking the actions you're already taking.

If you need to have a fan supplementing the air circulation of your home I would recommend you having an Energy Star audit to detect underlying conditions of the airflow in your home.   This might involve the placement of your vents, the placement of your air returns, a lot of different factors.

I recently heard that powered attic ventilation is usually a bad idea because it tends to pull too much air from the condictioned living spaces below. Does that sound correct to you?

That's correct. :)

Are furnace based humidifiers effective?

Yes.  In the winter a humidifier that would add moisture in your home will make you feel comfortable without increasing the temperature of your thermostat.

I live in a small two-story duplex with a finished basement. The basement is cold in the summer and hot in the winter and the second floor is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I will likely need to replace the HVAC and furnace in the next two years. Do you have any advice for how to resolve this issue? We did add insulation in the attic last year, and it helped a little.

The problem you have is a natural heat chimney effect.  (hot air rises/cold drops).  This is common in homes.  We recommend an Energy Star assessment where we would make sure your first floor and basement are properly sealed including crawl spaces that could result in cooler air leaking out of your home.

What do you think of attic fans?

They can be very useful in improving comfort if the humidity is low.  Make sure you're not using your attic fan against your HVAC system.   Attic fans work on the premise that you pull cool air through the windows and release hot air through the roof.

Thanks so much Mike. Lots of useful information here as we head into the hottest time of the year. Thanks for being with us today on short notice. Next week, please join me and designer Erin Paige Pitts, who designed a beautiful beach house on Gibson Island we will be featuring in next week's Local Living. She will chat about beach house decor and other topics. Stay well everyone.

This was a lot of fun. Thanks again for letting me join you for this chat. I always enjoy speaking to our customers and neighbors about ways Pepco can help them save money and energy. We're happy to provide as many tools as we can for our customers and if you have more questions please visit our website anytime. Here's the link: http://www.pepco.com/my-home/save-money-and-conserve-energy/ Have a great rest of your day and stay safe this summer.


In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan is senior vice president of operations and engineering for Pepco.
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