Everybody was scrambling a couple of weeks ago when we had an unexpected snow storm and cold snap. What can you do to make your home more comfortable this winter (and next summer) and save energy, too? Thoughts often turn to solar systems, new windows or new heating equipment but there are many ways to reduce demand for little or no cash outlay.
We rely heavily on our heating systems from mid-October to mid-April here in the Northeast. In fact, heating and air conditioning our homes demands more fuel than any other energy use, so it makes sense to take steps to address those areas first. Measures that are “low cost” or “free” include:
- annual maintenance of the heating and cooling systems (probably at the beginning of either the heating or cooling season) because a clean system runs more efficiently,
- installation (and use) of programmable thermostats,
- closing and locking windows (did you know that an unlocked window is often slightly ajar?),
- professionally sealing ductwork so the air is not lost enroute to its destination,
- making sure fireplace dampers are closed after every use and considering lock-top dampers for improved comfort (remember, hot air rises so your heat goes up the chimney if the damper is open),
- having ducts cleaned every 10 years so air flow is more balanced, moves efficiently and air quality is maintained (clients are always amazed by how dirty their ducts are),
- installing energy efficient window shades, and
- adding staging and boiler reset controls to your heating system to increase operating efficiency.
Of course, the most important and our perennial favorite “low hanging fruit” for improving comfort is professional air sealing (blower door fan-assisted caulking, weather stripping and gaskets), adding high performance attic insulation and insulating (again, with high performance insulation) the rim joists and crawl spaces. Taking these steps can noticeably increase comfort by reducing drafts and keeping your home’s temperature more uniform, which will reduce energy use.
Hot Water. When it comes to reducing energy used for heating water, the simplest action step is to turn down the temperature on your hot water heater (110-120 degrees should be more than sufficient). This means that the water that comes out of the tap will be quite hot but not hotter than necessary. It also means that energy will not be wasted trying to maintain a high temperature for the stored water in the tank. Secondly, it is worth it to insulate the hot water pipes (with a commercial grade material not just foam) both to prevent the hot water from cooling on the way to its destination and to prevent the hot water in the pipes from cooling so rapidly after the tap has been turned off.
Lighting costs can be reduced through changes from incandescent to energy efficient light bulbs. Most often homeowners choose LEDs (we recommend those on the warmer end of the spectrum at 2700 kelvins). Although they are still initially more expensive than incandescents, they last 20-25 years and only use 12-15% of the energy. We also recommend savings that can be gained simply by reducing the wattages in light fixtures or installing dimmers. If you have a location where the light is often left on by mistake, an occupancy sensor may do the trick. Keep in mind that although lighting efficiencies are a positive step toward energy savings, lighting represents a small portion of our daily energy use. If your budget is limited, we recommend first tackling the steps mentioned above.
Green Home Consulting can show you how to take these and other measures during renovations and new construction to reduce future energy use by 50% or more. We look forward to hearing from you!