CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- In October, the Army observes Energy Action Month. This year's Army theme is "Energy Resilience Enables Army Readiness," which embodies the key message that energy is vital for the Army to perform its mission and support global operations.

As the weather is cooling down and more people will start turning up their thermostats to warm their homes and offices, Melanie Chaballe, energy manager at U.S. Army Benelux, wanted to inform people on how to monitor their energy usage at home, especially so they do not receive a surprise bill from the utility company.

READ YOUR METERS

In Belgium, utilities are billed differently than they are in the United States. As opposed to companies performing monthly readings and billing consumers accordingly, electricity and water meters are typically read once a year. Consumers are billed monthly for electricity or quarterly for water based on a monthly average from the previous year's usage.

"At the end of the year, you get a reconciliation bill, which is based on your annual meter reading," said Chaballe. "They [utility company] will give you money back or they will charge you more depending on the difference of what you have used and what you have paid already."

For new occupants, an issue may arise if the previous tenants used more or less water or electricity.

"If you just moved in, the company will charge you based on the previous occupants' consumption. If it was a family of two and you're moving in as a family of five, you are probably going to use much more electricity and water."

Chaballe recommended for those renting a home, with a SHAPE housing agreement, to contact the U.S. Housing Office. The staff can make an estimate of monthly usage based on the number of people in the household and contact the utility companies to adjust the monthly payment amounts.

While living in Belgium, people should track their meter readings monthly by taking photos and recording the amounts. Most homes have two electric meters, a day meter and a night meter. Electricity rates are cheaper on weekdays from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and weekends.

The U.S. Housing Office provides a chart for easy tracking. In addition, occupants, especially those receiving living quarters allowance from the military, should keep all bills, for reconciliation purposes.

PROGRAM THE THERMOSTAT

"I noticed that most people are not used to the heating system here," said Chaballe. "The way houses are built in Belgium is to use the interior doors. The staircases and hallways are not built to be heated. Close all the interior doors you can. Keep the heat inside the rooms."

She advised people to program the home thermostat to conserve energy while maintaining comfort.

"You can program the thermostat so that it can start warming the home 30 minutes before the first person wakes up. You can program it to be turned down during the day when everyone is at work or school. The same goes for night time," she said.

People can also adjust the thermostatic valves in the radiators in each room. "Each number corresponds to a temperature. You can turn it down to the one setting in rooms you are not using," she added.

The ideal temperature for the room should be 20 degrees Celsius or 68 degrees Fahrenheit according to Chaballe. A slight increase in degrees can be a noticeable difference on the gas/heating fuel bill.

REFRAIN FROM USING TRANSFORMERS

While it is tempting to just plug 110-volt appliances into transformers as opposed to purchasing new 220-volt products here, transformers can use a lot of energy, which will result in higher electric bills.

Chaballe advised people to consider purchasing 220-volt appliances and leaving 110-volt appliances in storage. As people transition out of Europe, gently-used appliances can be purchased at lower costs through places like Grandma's Attic on Caserne Daumerie and online sales groups on social media.

However, if people still insist on plugging their 110-volt appliances into transformers, then they should unplug the transformer when it is not in use. "Any time you are not using the transformer, you can unplug it, because there is no point of leaving it on and plugged in," she said.

CHECK FOR POSSIBLE WATER LEAKS

Water leaks may go unnoticed since they are not always easy to detect. Reading water meters regularly may help people with seeing unusually high numbers, but checking appliances at home is key to finding a possible leak. When in doubt, people should contact their landlord immediately to have appliances checked.

"One drip per second can add up to thousands of liters in a year," said Chaballe.

For more information on how to save energy, contact the energy manager at U.S. Army Benelux Directorate of Public Works at 361-5186. For housing issues, please contact the U.S. Housing Office at DSN 368-9734 or +32(0)27-170734 (Brussels), DSN 366-6438/6439 or +32(0)65-326438/6439 (SHAPE/Chièvres), and DSN 360-7455 or +31(0)46-4437455 (Schinnen).