Energy Efficiency at Home: Heating & Cooling Tips to Save Money
Considering that the typical American household spends more than $1,500 on electricity alone (with other utilities such as gas and water bringing the total yearly utility cost to over $2,000 a year) any increase in your home’s energy efficiency will save you money. Not only that, but it also makes the world a better place in which to live. Less fuel consumption leads to less pollution, greater protection of resources, and even more comfortable living.
Best of all, many energy saving measures take but a few minutes and cost little or nothing to perform.
The Whole House Approach
When it comes to saving energy, every little change you make in your house has an impact. However, you’ll see the greatest difference if you take the “whole house approach.” Think of your home as a small ecosystem. No matter how efficient your heating or cooling system, or how low you set your thermostat in the winter, or how good your insulation, if your ducts leak or you have drafty windows and other air leaks, you’re fighting a losing battle to heat or cool your home efficiently.
That’s just one example. The point is, while every little bit of improvement in your energy efficiency helps, approaching your house as an ecosystem where each part is dependent on the others will bring you best results. According to the Department of Energy, it’s possible to reduce your utility bills by 25 percent with diligent changes to your practices along with other changes.
This article is the first in a three-part series aimed at guiding you through energy-saving, bill-lowering tips that, for the most part, you can DIY. You may be able to implement some of these tips immediately while others can be worked on as your budget or time permits.
Efficient Heating and Cooling
- Change or clean HVAC filters regularly. Fresh filters ensure your HVAC system breathes properly, boosting energy efficiency, and ensure better indoor air quality.
- Block or allow direct sunlight on your windows according to the season. In the winter the sun helps warm your home, but in the summer it makes your home hotter, causing your air conditioner to work harder. Consider trees for shading during the summer or even window film that blocks the solar rays on the hottest sides of your home.
- Use fans in the summer to keep your house comfortable. Moving air feels cooler, allowing you to set your thermostat higher.
- Consider your window curtains, shades or blinds carefully. Insulated drapes help block heat and cold, for instance, while sheers allow air to flow right through. Dark colors absorb heat while light colors don’t. Choose your window coverings with your needs in mind.
- Run humidifiers or dehumidifiers. Raising the humidity in the air during winter makes it seem warmer, and likewise, dehumidifiers help a space feel cooler in the summer. Plus, removing humidity relieves strain on your air conditioner. Note: Check your humidity level before running a humidifier to ensure you aren’t simply creating a steam bath environment that encourages mold, mildew and rot. Also avoid making the environment too dry.
- Open your windows and use the night air to cool your home in the fall or spring. A box fan set in the window will draw in air and help limit your use of the air conditioner.
- Watch your thermostat temperature settings. In the summer, aim for between 74 and 80 degrees for greater energy savings. Under 70 degrees is ideal in winter. Keep the thermostat far from drafts, heat sources or other conditions that alter the proper temperature reading.
- Install a programmable thermostat. The ability to set your air conditioner to a warmer temperature or your heater to a cooler setting when you plan to be away from the home for long periods saves energy and money. Keep in mind that extreme temperature fluctuations may be self-defeating; In other words, it can take more energy to heat the home back to a livable temperature if it gets too cold while you are away. Setting your thermostat just a few degrees lower during your workday will reflect in your energy bill.
- Seal your ductwork. If the ducts leak, you’re spilling air to the outside of your home. Take the time and a few dollars to seal your ducts.
- Use your appliances with weather conditions in mind for better energy savings. Running the washer, dryer, dishwasher and oven during cooler times of day will help keep your house from overheating. In the winter, on the other hand, the stove can help to heat your home.
- Get HVAC “tune-ups.” Just as your car motor needs regular maintenance, having a qualified HVAC professional service your system annually before each heating and cooling season will ensure optimal performance and help prevent costly repair or replacement bills.
- Close the fireplace damper when not in use. Consider replacing it with a more efficient heat source and blocking it off if desired.
- If your air conditioner or furnace has seen better days, replace it with an ENERGY STAR® model. The higher the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating for an air conditioner, the more energy efficient it is. With furnaces, an AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating of at least 90 percent is best. Not only will these tips help save on your bill each month, but in some situations, you may even be able to claim a tax credit for your new appliance. Do your homework before buying any new system. Consumers have many newer, efficient options to choose from, such as heat pumps and biofuel stoves.
- Ensure your HVAC system is properly sized. Undersized units run more in an effort to keep up, leading to higher bills, increased energy use, and strain that leads to more repair and quicker replacement. On the other hand, oversized units short cycle. Especially with air conditioners, short cycling can mean humidity isn’t removed, the house stays uncomfortable, and more energy is used. Again, it will also require more repairs and quicker replacement. Have a professional size your system using the Manual J, or at least calculate the proper size using a calculator that takes various factors into consideration.
- Close doors and avoid heating or cooling unused rooms. If you use central heating and air, never close off more than a couple of vents, however, to prevent a buildup of pressure that could damage the ducts or appliance. Ensure return air vents can draw air freely to prevent smothering the appliance and lowering the HVAC efficiency.
- Use space heaters to spot-heat areas when the outdoor temperatures don’t merit turning on the furnace. An efficient space heater can also boost the warmth in a given area, such as a child’s room, while keeping the temperature lower in the rest of the home. Choose space heaters carefully, looking for efficiency and a safe operating design.
- Keep air conditioners – both central and window units – in the shade. Trim down grass and remove debris that may smother it. Both tips will help the air conditioners operate more efficiently.
- Buy a snake, monkey, or similar animal. Not a real one – a draft-stopping one to set in front of your entry door. It will prevent warm or cool air from leaking to the outside.
Find more methods to save on your heating and cooling costs from your local utility company or government agencies at the local, state or federal level. Feel free to share your energy saving tips below!
Matt DuBois - January 14, 2015 at 12:46 am
I’m going one step further with my ducts. I’m insulating the ducts after sealing them with aluminum foil tape.
Paula Livingston - April 15, 2014 at 12:25 pm
These were all very helpful and informative tips that would be so easy to do in your home. All of these tips could be very beneficial in saving energy. Before I started doing research on how to become more energy efficient I did not know that it could be as easy as just being conscious of little things that you do each day. This article helped so much as well as http://www.delmarfans.com/educate/energy-efficient-heating-cooling/ which goes through what to do each season as well as many other interesting facts.
Jay Taylor - September 18, 2013 at 10:33 pm
Great article Karie. If proper maintenance is done then the HVAC system will consume less energy. Generally people do not take these seriously thinking that cleaning and maintenance work will be costly but they do not think that not doing regular maintenance of the HVAC system will effect their energy bill.