Are you planning to remodel your home? Perhaps you have plans to buy new appliances or upgrade your heating or cooling system? If you’re like most Americans, you don’t do these things very often. But when you do, keeping energy efficiency in mind can have big pay offs for you and the environment.
Air conditioning, lighting, hot water, insulation, windows, and appliances can all make a difference in your home’s energy efficiency, saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars on energy each year.
Energy efficient homes save an average of $500 a year on energy costs according to the U.S. DOE.
First, start by gauging the current efficiency of your home. The Home Energy Score from the U.S. Department of Energy considers a home’s structure, heating/cooling, and hot water systems to label its current score and what it could be with improvements and shows how much you can save over 10 years. This can be well into the thousands of dollars.
Next, consider 10 possible solutions to eliminating costly inefficiencies in your home.
Upgrade the Heating and Cooling System
Older heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems are generally less efficient to begin with. Any system will lose efficiency as it ages as well. Upgrading to a newer one can add much efficiency to your home. Have the ductwork inspected as well to be sure there is no damage or problems with dirt, mold, or leaks; the average home loses 20 percent of its air via the duct system.
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How you operate the air conditioner has much to do with things too. You’ll gain efficiency, and savings, by setting the AC up by a few degrees. For example, if you go from 72°F to 78°F, 6 to as much as 18 percent can be saved on the utility bills. Running a ceiling fan is a good idea as well. The circulating air provides the same effect, even if you raise the thermostat by 4°F.
Replace an Old Furnace
Older furnaces are not built to the efficiency standards of today. Those built prior to 1992 waste quite a bit of fuel, particularly those with a standing pilot. Although smaller, the savings in replacing a furnace installed after 1991 with an annual fuel utilization efficiency of 80 percent can be significant enough – at about 11 percent. A condensing furnace (with a 90 percent annual efficiency) can save up to 27 percent on heating bills, and wastes less than 10 percent of the natural gas used.
Replace or Upgrade Windows
Worn, old, and leaky windows are a major drain on efficiency. Sometimes, storm windows or adding weather stripping can help. Replacing single-glazed windows results in more savings than others, but new windows will prevent air leakage and additional strain on heating and cooling systems, not to mention make things more comfortable.
Make Hot Water Systems More Efficient
Effective improvements include insulating hot water lines so they stay warmer when not in use, installing low-flow shower and bath fixtures, and turning the temperature down to 120°F. Replacing your water heater with an on-demand hot water circulating loop can be beneficial. Ideal for low-flow fixtures, these use a pump to deliver hot water when the tap is turned on.
Install Better Insulation
The better the insulation, the less energy that’s needed to heat a home in winter and cool it during the summer. It helps slow the rate of heat flow out of or into the house, especially from walls and attics. Even blown-in insulation can save energy and improve comfort.
Replace Inefficient Lights
If you’re still using incandescent light bulbs, about 1,000 kilowatts of electricity are used over 10,000 hours, and the bulb only lasts for 1,000 hours. By comparison, a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses a mere 27 watts over its 10,000-hour life. The energy savings are complemented by a reduction in cost from $80 on average for electricity to $22. By switching to CFLs, you can cut out three-quarters of the electricity used to light your home.
Improve the Shading Over the House
Planting foliage around your house can save energy. Deciduous trees are full in the summer, so they block radiation that would cause the structure to warm up. The bare branches in winter allow sunlight to come through and add some warmth, reducing the amount of energy needed to ensure your comfort inside. The effect is greater in older, poorly insulated homes.
Use Energy Efficient Appliances and Electronics
Appliances use a lot of energy. Refrigerators, for example, can add as much as $150/year in electricity when they get old. ENERGY STAR rated fridges, on the other hand, can cost as little as $30 per year to run. Toasters, dishwashers, ovens, clothes washers, and dryers can be operated more efficiently, or you can switch to a toaster or convection oven, which uses up to one-half as much energy as a full-sized one.
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Computers, televisions, stereos, and DVD players use quite a bit of energy and still draw power even when they’re off. To add efficiency, either unplug them when not in use or link them to a power strip, which can be switched off to cut the flow of power. Battery chargers should also be unplugged when not in use.
Get Rid of Any Old Refrigerators
Buying a new fridge isn’t enough to be more energy efficient. There’s no benefit to keeping the old one plugged in, even if it gives you extra room. One refrigerator is generally sufficient. Other considerations include justifying the use of icemakers, for example, and purchasing a fridge with a top-mounted freezer, which can use up to 25 percent less energy than those mounted side-by-side.
Look for the ENERGY STAR® Label
The most efficient appliances feature the ENERGY STAR label, which means they most likely exceed minimum federal standards for energy savings. Any electronic device, appliance, window, water heater, or home consumer product can feature the label. Also look for the EnergyGuide label. Required on all appliances, it reveals how much energy is consumed by the model and compares this to similar models. Yearly operating costs and electricity consumption are provided as well.
By considering all these factors, you can make your home substantially more energy-efficient, and reduce costs too.