1. Seal And Insulate
One of the least expensive moves you can make with the biggest payoff for your investment dollar is to make sure you seal areas that allow air in and out of your home. Just by sealing air leaks around your home and adding insulation you can make your home more comfortable and save up to 10% on your yearly energy bill. Do your rooms feel drafty? Installing weather stripping on your doors and adding caulking around the windows can make a difference you feel right away. A licensed contractor can do a blow test to see where your air leaks are. Some typical problem areas for air leaks are:
- Behind and under knee walls
- Wiring holes
- Recessed lights
- Holes for plumbing and pipes
- Furnace Flue
- Ducts that move the air from your central air conditioner or forced air furnaces
2. Energy Efficient Windows and Doors
While not inexpensive, upgrading your windows and doors to energy efficient units will improve the comfort of your home and the energy it consumes. Many companies make replacement (retrofit) units. Your material choices are metal, vinyl, fiberglass or wood (usually clad in aluminum or vinyl). Vinyl is typically the least expensive of the group. Metal is typically aluminum and can be slim line or as wide line as wood windows. Fiberglass is relatively new on the market and a great product especially near the coast. It is easily paintable and available with wood interiors. With any of these windows you should be looking for high-efficiency dual glazing, with a Low ‘E’ coating. The windows are efficient in both the glass and in the frame itself. They will also weather seal and not allow drafts. If you stand next to a single-glazed window and then a double-glazed window on a cold day, the difference will be more than apparent. The new high efficiency glass works very well.
Heating and Cooling
3. Install A Programmable Thermostat
Spending less money on your energy bill doesn’t mean you have to be less comfortable. Installing a programmable or smart thermostat can make sure your home is a comfortable temperature when you are at home and saving energy while you are away without you having to think about it. Installing a programmable thermostat can help save $180 each year in energy costs. Many people are under the misconception that it takes more energy to bring your home up to temperature than to just maintain it. This has been shown to be incorrect in the vast majority of situations. The programmable thermostat allows you to vary your energy use based on comfortable temperatures when you are typically home and active. For winter, lets say you get up at 6:30 and the temperature adjusts to 70. If you are typically out and about until 4:30 the temperature can be set at 62 while you are out and back up to 70 for your return. If bedtime is at 10, lets drop the temperature back down to 62 until the morning when it will jump back up to 70. This provides for comfort, ease of use, and energy savings.
4. Replace Furnace With A High-Efficiency System
A high-efficiency heating system can cut your heating bill by as much as 27%. If your furnace was installed before 1992 you are wasting about 35% of the fuel. Some of the new energy saving equipment includes variable speed fans, very high efficiency heating units, and high SEER rating condensing (cooling) units. New models of electric heat pumps can be very energy efficient when coupled to a photovoltaic solar energy system. Zone control for heating and cooling is now readily available. This allows the units to bring heat and cooling to smaller areas of your home providing greater comfort and control while reducing energy waste.
5. Install A Geothermal Heat Pump
A geothermal heat pump is the most efficient way to heat and cool your home. It is 45% more energy efficient than standard options. Save money and energy and cut down on carbon pollution. You could also be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.
6. Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans are often overlooked additions to the comfort level of a home. On a low setting, they push air down in a room to help distribute the warm air. This adds to comfort and increases the efficiency of your heating source, saving energy. Ceiling fans are even better in a cooling situation. They often provide enough comfort to keep you from even turning on your air conditioning system.
7. Keeping Equipment Clean
In the simplest of terms, your heating and air system pushes air with fans connected to ductwork. The amount of energy used to push that air can be lessened by making the air flow easier. Clean ducts and clean filters are not only healthier, air moves through them with greater ease.
8. Energy Efficient Products
Energy Efficient Appliances Investing in energy efficient appliance comes with a bigger investment but it also comes with a bigger payoff. Not only do energy efficient appliance save energy and money, they can save you time. The newer energy efficient front load washers can save up to 20 minutes a load! They are also easier to use.
Old refrigerators can be the biggest drain on your energy use. A single refrigerator can consume 14% of your power use. Once you purchase a new energy efficient refrigerator (annual energy cost $30 to $60) don’t make the mistake of plugging in the old one in the garage for backup supplies. The estimated cost to use the old fridge for storage is a chilling $150 a year. The style of energy efficient refrigerator you buy can impact your energy use. A model with a top-mounted freezer will use up to 25% less energy than the more popular side-by-side refrigerator.
Currently most bulbs are incandescent. With these bulbs, 90% of the energy is used to produce heat while the remaining 10% actually produces the light. Making it a very poor use of electric energy. The incandescent bulbs provide the color rendition we are most comfortable with. It has a bit of yellow that increases when these bulbs are dimmed.
The quickest and easiest way to start saving on your electric bill is to switch to CFL bulb (Compact Fluorescent Light). They are readily available, fit your existing lamp bases and are dimmable. Fluorescent light bulbs last eight to twelve times longer than the incandescent bulbs. Always look for ENERGY STAR rated CFLs. They are built to handle a greater number of on/off cycles. Earlier versions of these bulbs caused frustration with early bulb burnout caused by frequent on/off cycles. Color rendition can be a problem. Look for a Kelvin (color temperature range) at 2400 to 2800. A higher range will provide too white a light.
The newest player in light bulbs is the LED (light-emitting diode) bulb. These can be purchased with bases matching your existing incandescent base. Always check the lumen output of the bulb in comparison to an incandescent bulb. Lower lumen (brightness) output is typical for the less expensive LEDs but is quickly improving. Color rendition can also be an issue. The lower Kelvin LED (2400 to 2800) uses more electricity than the high (4000 – 6000). Even with the lower Kelvin ranges LED still use less electricity (greater savings) than even CFLs. Expect to see these become the predominant light source over the next five to ten years.
Another easy way to save energy is to make sure lights are only on when you need them. Motion Detectors (also known as Occupancy Sensors) fill this role. It is easy to exchange a standard light switch for a motion detector. Make sure the switch can be adjusted to ignore daylight hours. Many models include dimming features. Occupancy sensors add safety to your home. Having a light go on when your hands are full can be very handy!
11. Lighting Systems
There are now a number of lighting control systems available. Lutron, Vantage and Z-wave are just a few of the more popular products. The goal of these systems is combine your lights into useful groups that turn on/off and dim together, via occupancy or daylight/timing sensors. This automates the way you use your lights and builds energy savings directly into the system.
Whether you start by changing a light bulb or decide to do an energy efficient remodel, taking anyone of these steps will cut your power costs. As always, it is important to hire a licensed and bonded contractor. If you have a contractor make the changes for you, it leaves you free to relax and enjoy the savings.
By: Jean Rudman, Repair & Maintenance Manager, Wardell Builders. Inc.