Saving Energy Costs Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive! Part 1
When considering saving on home energy, either for the costs or because you believe it’s the right thing to do, people’s minds generally gravitate toward the expensive solutions – wind turbines, solar panels, thermal ground energy, etc. However, there are many very inexpensive and free things you can and should be doing in your homes all year-round to save energy.
Air Conditioning & Heating
This is the largest expense most homeowners have. Cutting back on these costs should be your first objective. Though gas still seems to out-cost electric, both have risen in the past few years; and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Here are some basics for decreasing these costs:
- Have maintenance done on your heating and air conditioning (AC) systems at least once a year, preferably twice. Well-maintained equipment costs you much less than those that are ignored.
- Change your central AC filters at least four times each year, and clean your room AC filters monthly during use. Air is sucked through the filters; and dirty filters mean the unit has to work harder to do its job, which translates to more electric use for the motor and fan. It is much cheaper to change/clean the filters. Pleated filters for the central AC cost a bit more than the others, but they work much better.
- Installing a programmable thermostat or constantly monitoring your household temperature can save a lot of energy waste. The suggested settings are 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the day and 55 degrees at night for most of the year. In summer months, keep it no lower than 78 degrees. If you use room ACs, keep them at their best performance of 77 degrees. For every two degrees of heat or cool air you save, you will save two percent on your energy bill. We lowered our energy costs by maintaining 78 degrees during the day and lowering the thermostat at night to 75 degrees – not the recommended settings but it certainly saved us a lot of money. A well-insulated, 2,200 square foot home can cost as little as $110 per month average year round.
- If any heat or AC unit is performing poorly or has a problem, repair it immediately. Ignored issues with a unit can cost more in repairs later, and they also may use more energy now.
- A home with high humidity makes your body feel hotter in the summer and colder in the winter, which translates into more heating and AC use to counteract its effects. A dehumidifier can lessen the humidity and pay for itself in no time.
- A lot of energy is lost through the heating and cooling ducts. Use aluminum tape to wrap around the joints to stop any leakage, allowing the heat or cool air to flow freely into the rooms for which it is intended.
- Installing AND using ceiling fans in rooms that see a lot of activity will help keep your energy costs down. Purchase only those with a range of speed options. In the summer, they can be used at higher speeds to help circulate the cooled air from your AC; but in the winter, at a lower speed, a ceiling fan can push the heat (remember, heat rises toward the ceiling) back into your area of activity, getting the most from your heating system. However, they can actually add costs, if you leave them running all the time; so use them only when you are in the room. Otherwise, a ceiling fan running constantly can add as much as $30 to your monthly energy bill.
- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, use it in the winter when the 68 degrees just doesn’t feel warm enough for you. Cords of wood are less expensive than turning the thermostat up. The wood-burning fireplace will lose some heat to the chimney; however, an electric or gas-burning fireplace uses as much energy as your heating system. The wood burner uses no electric or gas.
- Pull your shades or blinds on windows with the sun shining through to keep the heat out during the summer; open them to add heat during the winter.
- Finally, keep lightweight throws over the backs of chairs and sofa, especially in the winter – you always feel cooler when you are sitting still.
One of the best things you can do is to caulk around your windows, doors and any items, such as an exhaust fan, that goes through your walls to the outside. Use clear silicone caulking for metal, glass, glazed tile, and plastic surfaces, and clear acrylic latex caulking for porous materials, such as wood and concrete. Ask the clerk at your local hardware store which caulking works best for your particular projects and how best to use them.
Weatherstripping works best for closing the larger gaps around windows and doors, though it must close them completely to work. For the bottom of doors that leak air, your local hardware store has a metal and rubber weatherstripping that can be placed on the bottom of any door. And don’t forget to use weatherstripping around your attached garage door, too.
Though costly if you do not already have them, replace your window and door screens in the fall with storm windows and doors. If you do not have them and they are out of your budget range, or you do not wish to keep the home that much longer, use the window tape and plastic covering that can be found at any Wal-Mart. It does not look as nice as the glass alternative, but it is much less expensive and can be removed during continuous nice weather.
One last area of your home that is overlooked when plugging leaks is your outlet and light switch plates. Generally, there is insulation on both sides of the in-wall electrical units but not typically in back of them. You can purchase very inexpensive foam that is made just for this purpose. Remove a plate, put the appropriate foam (light or outlet) behind the plate, and screw the plate back on – that’s it. You will be surprised at the amount of cold or hot air these will keep out of your home.
Of course, we’ve all heard of the new compact fluorescent light bulbs – cost a bit more than a regular light bulb but lasts much longer. What you may not know is that these bulbs produce more light but use less energy than a conventional light bulb. The Energy Star governmental group states that these compacts use 75 percent less energy – think about the savings on your electric bill over a year.
Instead of this:
One thing that isn’t promoted much is that they give off less heat than a regular light bulb. A normal 60-watt bulb can hurt when touched in less than 15 minutes of use; whereas, the new compacts can be touched after being on for an hour. A conventional bulb, according to Energy Star, uses five-to-eight percent of energy to run the bulb, with 92-to-95 percent of energy used flowing out of the bulb as heat! This is especially important in the summer, when the air conditioning is combating the heat inside your home.
If you have not changed out all of your conventional bulbs for the new compacts, you can still save energy by using one 100-watt bulb instead of two 60-watt bulbs – you get the same amount of light but use less energy. Do ensure that the appliance can accept a 100-watt; most only accept 60-watts.
Another bulb to consider is a halogen, though the appliance must be made especially for these bulbs. They generally use a special reflector to improve the bulb’s light density and direction; and they use up to 40 percent less energy than the conventional bulb. They are great with outdoor lighting for gardens and walkways.
Speaking of outdoor lighting, using a porch light with a motion sensor will save a lot of money and pacify neighbors who cannot sleep with your light on all night. Since the lights come on only when movement is detected, your energy use is less; and as close as homes can be, your neighbor should appreciate the extra security it affords you and them.
Another idea is to use as many solar powered items for the outdoors as possible. Even holiday decorations are now being made to run on solar power.
The obvious thing in saving lighting energy is to turn off lights when they are not needed. If you wake early, they are easy to forget and leave on – even when you are in the same room. Also, turn them off when you leave an area for more than 10 minutes.
Light fixtures can determine the amount of light you actually have. A smoky glass fixture will subdue the light, while a clear glass fixture allows all of the light into the space. More inexpensive ceiling light fixtures can be found at stores, such as Wal-Mart – these are great for many rooms and hallways. Also, cleaning fixtures, especially ceiling fixtures, on a regular basis removes the dust. Too much dust and you have a smoky glass light fixture effect. Also, fixtures with a reflective backing give more directed and dense lighting.
Lastly, did you know your walls can affect your lighting? Medium to dark colored walls will not distribute the light. They instead soak it in. Light colored, especially white, walls will reflect the light. Also, placing a floor lamp near a corner with white walls and ceiling will give you the most reflection. So, sometimes, saving energy can be a matter of just rearranging your furniture.
Enjoy your home in comfort while energy efficient; and
call South Florida Home Inspection Associates
for all your home inspection needs!