With rising energy costs ballooning our bills month after month, figuring out ways to conserve energy is on everyone’s mind. Recent heat waves haven't helped and the Farmer's Almanac is predicting a colder than normal winter for the southwest this year. With a little upgrading and maintenance, your systems can hum and purr, saving you money on your utility bills. Here's how.
Conserving Home Energy
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 your home comfortable, and that can drive up energy consumption.
I compiled this list of 7 tips for saving energy to help your whole house have its most efficient year yet.
1. Fix Air Leaks
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 one of the top ways to conserve energy you can easily do.
If you seem to notice a drastic spike in your electricity bill in late fall and early summer, or if you have hot and cold areas 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, weatherstripping or caulking.
2. Seal Windows and Doors
Weather stripping isn’t just for wintry days. Cold air can seep in from leaky windows, doors, and other openings just as easily, and hike up the energy bills. Apply caulking and expandable foam to form a seal in static areas, and foam weather stripping across door jams and other moving parts.
There are a few ways to check for windows that are letting more than the sunshine in. The back of your hand works well to feel cold air leaks in the winter and warm drafts in the summer. If you can feel cold air more than about a half inch away from the edges and corners of the window in the winter, it's probably time to do something to seal up those edges.
Pay special attention to your attic access door, as this area often goes overlooked when it comes to air sealing. Other ways to conserve energy include sealing around recessed lights—these are sometimes vented directly to the attic, so they can leak air unless they’re properly insulated—and gaps around flues and chimneys.
3. Keep Your Furnace and Blower Working Efficiently With Regular Maintenance
You already know you need to change your AC filters regularly in the summer. Change your filters once every month, year-round.. even in the winter. It's all about efficiency and keeping dirt from getting into your ductwork. This may be one of the easiest ways to save energy.
Of course, there's more to saving energy than just changing filters. Have your freon checked in the spring and have your ducts professionally cleaned every 3 to 4 years.
Vacuum regularly around registers to keep them clear of dust and buildup. Inspect the outdoor AC unit for leaves and other crud that can build up on the fins. It isn't hard to clean your condenser unit. I wrote this article about DIY condenser unit cleaning to guide you through it.
Once a year you should enlist the help of an HVAC professional to give the whole system a good cleaning and tune up.
4. Invest in a Programmable Thermostat
Everything is "smart" now. While most smart product’s claims to usefulness may still be debatable, a programmable thermostat actually is smart. Proper use of a good programmable thermostat is definitely one of my top ways to conserve energy, and will almost certainly save you money month after month, year round. Installing programmable digital thermostats back when most homes still had mercury thermostats is how I got my handyman business off the ground.
At the very least, if your thermostat isn't 7 day programmable, you might want to replace it. Honeywell makes a very good basic programmable unit. Wifi and Alexa compatible thermostats are available for those who enjoy telling their thermostat what to do. Nest and Ecobee make Learning thermostats that will teach themselves your patterns and adjust their built in programming over time on their own. That's pretty convenient.
Automated heating and cooling controls don't forget to turn the heat down when you leave in the morning. They kick on and make your space comfortable right before you get home. Automatically letting the house cool down at night can not only save you some real money, but studies show a cool environment can help you sleep better, too.
5. Don't Pay to Heat (or cool) an Empty Room
In the summer, ceiling fans are great HVAC helpers. They create a wind chill effect that will keep you cooler, allowing you to turn up the thermostat a few degrees. That’s important, because setting your thermostat up just a few degrees can save you significantly, which is why it made this short list of ways to conserve energy.
However, it’s easy to forget about ceiling fans and leave them going in rooms that aren’t being used. They also 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.
Close the doors and shut all the vents. Make sure everything is turned off inside the room. If you truly never go in there, put a door sweep on the bottom of the door or seal it up completely.
6. Use Natural Lighting Whenever Possible
Throwing back the curtains in the day can help you turn off more lights. Summertime means sunshine, at least a lot of the time. Natural lighting can save energy and help brighten your mood.
It’s important to be careful about how you use daylight though. Unshaded windows that face south may actually cause considerable radiant heat in from the sun. In the summer, that's not so great. If it does, you may want to shutter it entirely. In Texas good shutters, even though they are expensive, can reduce cooling costs dramatically. Over time, they will pay for themselves.
If you’re in the market for new windows think about purchasing a window with a lower solar heat gain coefficient, meaning it won’t absorb as much heat from sunlight. Getting to know how the windows in your home affect your home's environment will help you better use them to maximum energy efficiency.
If you have a significant number of windows and a high energy bill, a consultation with a window installation expert may prove to be be one of the best ways to conserve energy that you have. You just might be surprised at how affordable energy efficient windows can be.
7. Lower Your Water Heater Temperature
Setting your water heater to a lower temperature just a few degrees can save a noticeable amount of money on your bills. It may not be a whole lot, but a lot of small steps can add up.
Besides, an adult can suffer third degree burns with water at 150 degrees in just 2 seconds. At 140 degrees, you can get the same burn in 6 seconds. At 130 degrees, an adult can suffer a third degree burn in 30 seconds.
All that aside, using some common sense can go a long way. If you're running out of hot water all the time, you may need a new or bigger water heater. At the same time, if you can't put your hand under the tap at full hot for more than a split second, you can definitely turn the heat down.
Manufacturers factory set water heater temperatures at 120 degrees. With several people in the house, that setting can cause you to run out of hot water quickly. Try setting it at 125 degrees and see how that works. Conversely, if there are only one or two people in your house, 115 degrees might save a few dollars, and it'll help add up ways to conserve energy in your home.
Using common sense and spending adequate time to learn what works best for you will get you where you want - and need - to be with your water heater temperature.
Ways to Conserve Energy Conclusion..
All in all, with a little awareness, maybe some elbow grease and a few smart purchases, you can easily be on your way to saving big on your energy bills this year!
Small things, like lowering the temperature on your water heater, or big things, like replacing a drafty exterior door can add up to hundreds of dollars a year in savings!
Addressing just one of these ways to conserve energy can save you at least some money, and applying all of them can save you big!