High energy bills may seem par for the course during days, weeks and months of extreme weather and temperatures such as we experienced in the Mid-Atlantic Region this past winter. But, in fact, an energy-efficient home can save energy dollars each and every day regardless of frigid sub-zero temperatures, ice storms or sweltering heat waves. Keep reading to learn how saving a little energy in each system of the home enhances overall home performance and comfort, and you can keep more energy dollars in your pocketbook in any season or weather.
Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency
There are three main ways to save energy in the home:
- Energy conservation is curbing energy usage of a system or product, which usually results in reduced living quality or comfort. For instance, if you lower the water temperature when showering, you are sacrificing your customary steamy comfort to save energy.
- Energy-efficiency upgrades save energy without a reduction in quality or comfort. For instance, if you wrap hot water pipes with fiberglass insulation wrap, and lower the water heater thermostat a notch, you will still enjoy your regular hot shower while you save energy dollars. (Wrapping hot water pipes increases hot water temperature two to four degrees.)
- When you combine energy conservation measures and energy-efficiency upgrades, you are maximizing savings. An example would be insulating hot water pipes, lowering the water heater thermostat and reducing the temperature of your showers or shortening the length of showering.
Jump-Start Savings Today
With the rough winter we just experienced, your Baltimore area home’s energy budget may have suffered deep bites. Following are immediate measures you can take to jump-start energy savings today:
- Home lighting affects the aesthetics of the home, quality of daily activities and the energy bills. Maximize lighting efficiency by replacing all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs) and/or light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. You will enjoy the same quality lighting, or better, for substantially lower energy usage. CFLs and LEDs also can last 25 times longer than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.
- If your appliances have energy-saving settings, save energy dollars by taking advantage of these settings, and you may not even notice any reduction in quality. Appliances with energy-saving settings may include the dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer (hang clothes to dry when possible), refrigerator, electronics and computer equipment.
- Water heating in the typical home accounts for up to 18 percent of the energy bill pie. Reduce the temperature on the water heater’s thermostat to 120 for substantial savings in the energy budget.
- As the cooling months settle in, set the thermostat to 78 degrees. During the heating months, 68 degrees is considered a good energy-saving setting for daytime use, with lower temperatures while you’re sleeping, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
- Heat gain/loss through windows can be costly, especially if your windows are not Energy Star-qualified. During the cooling months, close the drapes or blinds on hot and sunny days. Open the drapes and blinds at night. During the heating months, open the drapes and blinds to allow the sunshine in on sunny days. Close the window coverings at night to help keep heat inside the home.
- Have you checked your air filter lately? Regular air filter changes can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 15 percent. Regular filter changes also boost indoor air quality, and reduce system wear and tear.
Now that you are already saving energy by adjusting appliances to energy-saving settings, changing light bulbs where needed, and laying down the law for heating and cooling thermostat temperature settings in your home, take notes of key areas where you can save energy as you walk through your home.
- Are there any windows or doors that rattle or whistle when the wind is blowing? Are there any drafty spots in your home? Pick up some caulk and weatherstripping at the hardware store for sealing leaky windows and doors, and you’ll boost comfort as well as save energy dollars. Make sure you seal the attic door or hatch with weatherstripping, too. Heat gain/loss between the living spaces and attic affects energy consumption, home comfort, HVAC system performance and the roofing system.
- Did you have any extra air filters on hand? Take your time in the air filter lane at the home-improvement store. To help you sort through the stacks and boxes of filters, look for filters rated MERV 8 to 12. Filters in this range strike a happy medium for providing healthful indoor air quality by removing allergens, dust and debris while not restricting airflow too much across the heating and cooling system blower. (MERV — Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value – ratings span 1 to 16, with 1 as lowest quality and 16 as high-efficiency filters.) MERV 17-20 models are specialized High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that require special installation, and are only recommended in homes or businesses with unique air quality needs.
- When you adjusted the water heater’s thermostat setting, was the storage tank slightly warm to the touch? If it was, an insulating blanket or jacket should be installed to hinder standby heat loss through the sides of the tank. If you have an electric water heater, you can install an insulation board beneath it to stop heat loss to the floor.
- Take a look inside the attic. Is there enough quality insulation? Attic insulation should be installed to R-60 for homes in the Baltimore area. Fiberglass insulation rolls are popular for do-it-yourself projects. However, for best results, consult with your HVAC professional for a thorough home-efficiency evaluation (i.e. heat gain/loss associated with insulation deficiencies and air leakage). You can save energy dollars for years, and even for the life of the home, with practical insulation and air sealing upgrades.
- Put some power strips in your shopping cart for curbing energy consumption of home electronics and small appliances. The toaster, microwave, DVD player and TV, for instance, continuously use electricity even when they are turned “off.” When you flip the switch on a power strip, you are cutting power to electronics and small appliances so they cannot use electricity in standby mode.
- Pick up some low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators to curb water usage. These devices save energy dollars by curbing hot water usage and subsequent water heating bills.
Energy-Devouring Bears: Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling energy usage accounts for nearly half of the energy bill of the typical home. Just as there are factors affecting heating and cooling bills, there are multiple ways which to save energy dollars for heating and cooling your home.
- System efficiency – Today’s heating and cooling systems are more energy efficient than ever, providing exceptional energy savings and delivering greater performance and home comfort. If your heating or cooling system is 10 years or older, consider upgrading to a new higher-efficiency system. Ask a certified and licensed HVAC contractor to perform a cost analysis of competing systems so you may know the actual lifetime cost.
- System maintenance – Whether your heating and cooling systems are older or newly installed, regular preventive maintenance tops the list for long-term performance and efficient operation. Fall and spring seasons are the right times to schedule professional HVAC maintenance for the furnace and A/C or heat pump, respectively. You may also beat peak season rush for service and repairs, and take advantage of pre-season specials offered by your HVAC contractor.
- Add-on systems and equipment – A zoning system can save energy dollars, boost home comfort and drive system performance by regulating heated and cooled airflow based on home characteristics and occupant preferences. Why heat and cool the entire home when it is unnecessary? With a zoning system, you don’t have to.
- Efficient airflow – The air ducts are often overlooked systems with regard to their importance for home comfort and HVAC performance. Poor duct design and condition, such as air leaks, blockages and un-insulated ducts in unconditioned spaces, may account for up to 20 percent heating and cooling losses in the typical home. If you haven’t had the ductwork inspected lately, include it with your HVAC professional maintenance visit.
- Thermostat settings – Thermostats are another device where you may take full advantage of implementing energy conservation and energy efficiency measures. This is most conveniently accomplished by installing programmable thermostats, or high-tech WiFi thermostats. Programmable and WiFi thermostats offer you the advantage, convenience and comfort of programming temperature event changes. You may awaken in the morning and arrive home from work to your preferred comfort temperature settings, and automatically save energy while sleeping or away from home.
- Energy Star – Always look for Energy Star-qualified appliances and home systems. Energy Star-qualified products have been tested and proven more energy efficient than non-qualified products of similar types, and they offer more advanced features and settings, which may also augment energy efficiency. For instance, a variable-speed blower on an Energy Star-qualified high-efficiency furnace saves electricity by precisely matching heating output to continuously meet heating demand. The variable-speed blower can also save energy dollars for furnace gas/oil by making the home more comfortable and temperatures more consistent.
Save energy dollars today, next season and year after year in your Baltimore-area home by contacting Griffith Energy Services, Inc. We specialize in providing exceptional customer care, heating and cooling services, and home energy-efficiency evaluations.
Written by Kevin Spain