With its humid summers and occasional winter nor’easters, Baltimore’s climate can quickly run up your utility bills. Saving energy on heating and cooling is a great place to start lowering those bills, but there’s a lot more you can do. Improving your lighting, trimming your hot water use and getting energy-smart with your appliances also helps control utility costs.
Cutting Your Heating and Cooling Costs
One the most effective ways to heat and cool for less is to upgrade your home’s thermal envelope. The thermal envelope is the barrier between the outdoors and the heated and cooled part of your home.
- Start by identifying air leaks around your home. These leaks let in heat and humidity in the summer and waste your furnace’s warmth in winter, forcing the HVAC system to work harder to maintain the indoor temperature. Leaks also let in air contaminants, such as pollen and mold. Air leaks typically occur around windows and doors, exhaust vents and appliance vents, penetrations for utility lines, fireplaces, and staircases that run along exterior walls.
- In the attic, leaks develop around the access hatch, knee walls and pipe penetrations. In the basement, you’ll find them around rim joists.
- Leaks around non-moving surfaces, such as door and window frames, can be sealed with caulk. For moving surfaces, such as door stops and the tracks of sliding and double-hung windows, use weatherstripping.
- Air ducts should also be sealed with mastic at points where two ducts meet, as well as where the ducts meet the air registers, vents and the air handler.
- If you have single-pane windows or old windows with warped frames, consider replacing them with Energy Star-qualified models. Alternatively, stay warmer in winter by installing storm windows or covering the interior side of the window with heavy plastic sheeting.
- Increasing your home insulation also helps maintain indoor temperatures longer. In the Baltimore area, an attic should be insulated to between R-38 and R-60 level. That’s at least 10 inches of fiberglass batts.
If you find your walls and floors are cold in winter, it’s likely they have too little insulation. To assess the insulation in these areas, contact a heating and cooling technician for a home energy audit. The technician will take infrared images of your home to find areas of excess heat loss or gain without opening up the walls and floors.
Loose-fill (blown-in) insulation makes it relatively easy to add insulation to these parts of your home. This material can be blown into place through a small hole without the need for major reconstruction of your walls and floors.
- Using your ceiling fan is another way of saving energy in summer. A ceiling fan can make you feel around four degrees cooler. You can then raise the A/C temperature by a similar amount, decreasing the amount of energy it uses to cool your home.
Spend Less on Your Hot Water
There are two methods for saving energy on hot water: using less of it and heating it more efficiently. Taking steps to use less hot water lowers both energy and water bills.
- Start by replacing the faucets in your kitchen and bathroom with faucets sporting the WaterSense label. WaterSense is a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify fixtures that use at least 20 percent less water than average but perform just as well or better.
- Also consider replacing your shower heads with WaterSense models. By upgrading to high-efficiency shower heads, the average family can cut water use by around 2,900 gallons a year and save enough electricity to power the house for almost two weeks. Replacing a shower head is more complicated than replacing a faucet and the fixture’s efficiency depends on correct insulation. If you’re planning to upgrade yours, consult a professional.
- If your water heater is 10 or more years old, it’s not only less energy efficient than today’s models, but it’s also nearing the end of its life span. New water heaters are as much as 20 percent more energy efficient than those manufactured around 10 years ago. By upgrading to a new, more efficient model, you’ll reduce your water heating bills and avoid surprise leaks and breakdowns.
- For some households, switching to a tankless, on-demand water heater is another way to save energy. Instead of using energy to keep a tank of water hot all the time, tankless water heaters heat water only when you turn on the hot water tap or a connected appliance, such as a washing machine. Potential savings are the greatest for households that use 41 gallons of water or less per day. These families can reduce the amount of energy they use to heat water by between 24 to 34 percent.
Light Your Home for Less
Saving energy on lighting doesn’t have to mean using lower-wattage bulbs or turning some of your lights off entirely. By switching to high-efficiency bulbs, you can keep your home just as bright with less electricity. You have several choices for this:
- Halogen incandescent bulbs – These are similar to conventional incandescent bulbs, but the filament is enclosed in a capsule that holds halogen gas around it. This improvement makes these bulbs between 10 to 25 percent more energy efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs and they last longer. They’re also among the most affordable energy-efficient bulbs. The bright light they produce makes them well suited to offices and for use in reading lamps.
- Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – These are smaller versions of the long overhead fluorescent lights often used in large offices and storage areas. They’re as much as 75 percent more energy efficient than traditional bulbs and last around 10 times longer. These bulbs don’t all produce the stark glare of older models. They’re available in “soft white,” which casts a gentle, yellowish light, as well as several other colors. On the downside, the mercury these bulbs contain means they require disposal at special collection sites offered by many retailers.
- Light emitting diodes (LEDs) – These bulbs contain semiconductors that turn electricity into light. They use as little as 20 percent of the energy of traditional bulbs and can last up to 25 times as long. Thanks to their design, they can produce light in a wide range of colors. They burn relatively cool, making them safer for households with curious children.
Although LEDs are currently the most expensive energy-efficient lighting option, replacing traditional bulbs with LEDs will pay you back within around nine months of use. Because some LEDs emit light in only one direction, look for omni-directional models if you want bulbs that emits light all around like a traditional bulb.
If you have a habit of forgetting to turn off the lights, put your lights on timers or occupancy sensors. These will shut off the lights for you after a certain period or when no one is in the room, saving energy.
Take Control of Your Appliances and Electronics
With all the electrical items we use today, it’s easy to run up a high electricity bill if you don’t keep an eye on how much energy each of your appliances and gadgets use. Electronics constantly left on standby waste energy.
- To start saving energy, plug groups of electronics, such as those in your entertainment center, into a power strip and use the switch to turn off all the electronics.
- Every few months, dust or vacuum the coils behind your refrigerator to keep this appliance running at top efficiency. If yours is more than 10 years old or the door seal no longer closes tightly, consider upgrading to a more efficient model.
- When you run your dishwasher, skip the pre-rinse and select the no-heat air dry setting. Use the energy-saving cycle if your dishwasher has one.
- Wash your clothes in warm, not hot, water and rinse them in cold water. When possible, let clothes air dry. When you replace your washing machine, choose a horizontal model. These use less water and less energy during the spin cycle than vertical models.
Learn more about saving energy year round, as well as Griffith Energy Services, Inc.’s HVAC system solutions, or call 888-474-3391.
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