With rising energy costs that appear on our monthly bills, conserving home energy is on everyone’s mind. Recent heat waves haven't helped at all. Maybe you too are feeling burned by high summer energy bills? You don’t have to sweat it out ‘til September with the AC turned down or even off. With a little home maintenance, your system can hum and purr, saving you significant money on your utility bills. Here's how.
A home’s heating and cooling systems are only as efficient as the sum of its parts, so if you have leaks in your home’s air sealing, or if your system isn’t being properly maintained, you’ll find your HVAC has to work harder than it needs to keep the interior comfortable—and that can drive up energy consumption.
Here we’ve compiled this list of energy-saving tips just for you, to help your HVAC have its most efficient summer yet.
A leaky duct system is the source of a lot of cooling and heating heartache. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that anywhere between 20 to 30 percent of home cooling may be lost, due to duct leaks, so proper air sealing is of the highest order for maximum energy conservation. If you always seem to notice a drastic spike in your electricity bills this time of year, or if you have hot and cold zones in your home—rooms that just never seem comfortable, no matter how you set the thermostat—then you may be looking at a leaking air duct system. To start, give your ducts a visual inspection, looking for tangled or kinked flexible duct work, damaged metal ducts, and loose seals at registers and grills. Close off any air leaks you find with metal tape or sealant.
Weather stripping isn’t just for wintry days—cooled air can seep from leaky windows, doors, and other openings just as easily, and hike up the energy bills on those hot summer months. Apply caulking and expandable foam to form a seal in static areas, and foam weather stripping across door jams and other moving areas. Pay special attention to your attic access door, as this area often goes overlooked when it comes to air sealing. Other areas to check for leaks include above recessed lights—these are sometimes vented directly to the attic, so they can leak air conditioning unless they’re properly insulated—and gaps around flues and chimneys.
You already know you need to change your AC filters regularly, but in the summertime, when the AC is working hard, they should be swapped out as often as once a month to keep your system working at its most efficient. Of course, many homeowners think they can just change the filter and call it a day, but your HVAC will cool you off faster and more effectively if you give it a little additional TLC. For instance, it’s a good idea to vacuum regularly around registers to keep them clear of dust and buildup. Also take a chance to inspect the outdoor unit, cutting back any wayward brush or debris that may be blocking it. And lastly, enlist the help of an HVAC professional to give the whole system a good cleaning.
Smart phones, smart fridges, smart sinks—everything is becoming smart. While other smart product’s claims to usefulness may be dubious, smart thermostats actually show great promise in terms of cutting home energy costs. Automated heating and cooling controls are a lot better at moderating home temperatures than a human with a manual dial, and you can program different use schedules for the days you’ll be away from the home, and manage your settings remotely from your phone, which should make your summer vacation a little less stressful.
Don’t Pay to Cool an Empty Room
Ceiling fans are great HVAC helpers—they create a wind chill effect that will keep you feeling cooler, allowing you to turn up the thermostat a few degrees. That’s important, because setting your thermostat up a few degrees can save you significantly. However, it’s easy to forget about ceiling fans and leave them going in rooms that aren’t being used. Ceiling fans, however, aren’t any use in an empty room—they don’t work like a thermostat does, and don’t actually lower the temperature in your home, so having them on regularly is a waste of energy. You can also install smart controls on your ceiling fans that are WiFi connected and will allow you to manage them remotely from a wall dial or your phone.
Employ Natural Day Lighting Selectively
Throwing back the curtains in the day can help you turn off more lights, which in turn, reduces electricity costs for lighting, and in the summertime, there’s plenty of sunlight to go around. However, it’s important to be careful about how you use daylight—unshaded windows that face south may actually let more solar heat inside, too. If you have such a window, you may want to shutter it entirely with blackout curtains or solar shades that can keep temperatures lower in the area. Or, if you’re in the market for a new window, think about purchasing a window with a lower solar heat gain coefficient, meaning it won’t absorb as much heat from the sunlight. Or, install a low-emissivity window, a model with a translucent film molded over the glass that will reflect cooling back into your home’s interior. Getting to know the windows in your home—which stay cool all day, and which heat up in the summertime, will help you better use them to maximum energy efficiency.
All in all, with a little awareness, some elbow grease and a few smart purchases, this could be your best (and coolest) summer yet!
– by Erin Vaughan