The key to achieving these savings is a whole house energy efficiency plan. To take a whole house approach, view your home as an energy system with interdependent parts. For example, your heating system is not just a furnace, it's a heat delivery system that starts at the furnace and delivers heat throughout your home using a network of ducts. You may have a top-of-the-line, energy efficient furnace, but if the ducts leak and are uninsulated, and your walls, attic, windows, and doors are uninsulated, your energy bills will remain high. Taking a whole house approach to saving energy ensures that dollars you invest in energy efficiency are wisely spent.
This information shows you how easy it is to reduce your home energy use. It is a guide to easy, practical solutions for saving energy throughout your home, from the insulating system that surrounds it to the appliances and lights inside. These valuable tips will save you energy and money and, in many cases, help the environment by reducing pollution and conserving our natural resources.
The first step to taking a whole house energy efficiency approach is to find out which parts of your house use the most energy. A home energy audit will show you where these are and suggest the most effective measures for reducing your energy costs. You can conduct a simple home energy audit yourself, you can contact your local utility, or you can call an independent energy auditor for a more comprehensive examination.
Energy Auditing Tips
- Check the level of insulation in your exterior and basement walls, ceilings, attic, floors, and crawl spaces.
- Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of your home.
- Check for open fireplace dampers.
- Make sure your appliances and heating and cooling systems are properly maintained.
- Study your family's lighting needs and use patterns, paying special attention to high use areas such as the living room, kitchen, and exterior lighting. Look for ways to use daylight, reduce the time the lights are on, and replace incandescent bulbs and fixtures with compact fluorescent lamps or standard fluorescent lamps.
How much money do you spend on energy?
Where are your greatest energy losses?
How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy savings?
Can you do the job yourself, or will you need to hire a contractor?
What is your budget and how much time do you have to spend on maintenance and repair?
Once you assign priorities to your energy needs, you can form a whole house efficiency plan. Your plan will provide you with a strategy for making smart purchases and home improvements that maximize energy efficiency and save the most money.
Another option is to get the advice of a professional. Many utilities conduct energy audits for free or for a nominal charge. For a fee, a professional contractor will analyze how your home's energy systems work together as a system and compare the analysis against your utility bills. He or she will use a variety of equipment such as blower doors, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers to find inefficiencies that cannot be detected by a visual inspection. Finally, they will give you a list of recommendations for cost effective energy improvements and enhanced comfort and safety.
Insulation Checking your home's insulating system is one of the fastest and most cost efficient ways to use a whole house approach to reduce energy waste and maximize your energy dollars. A good insulating system includes a combination of products and construction techniques that provide a home with thermal performance, protect it against air infiltration, and control moisture. You can increase the comfort of your home while reducing your heating and cooling needs by up to 30% by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and weatherization products.
- Consider factors such as your climate, building design, and budget when selecting insulation R-value for your home.
- Use higher density insulation, such as rigid foam boards, in cathedral ceilings and on exterior walls.
- Ventilation plays a large role in providing moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills. Install attic vents to help make sure that there is one inch of ventilation space between the insulation and roof shingles. Attic vents can be installed along the entire ceiling cavity to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic, helping to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient.
- Do not block vents with insulation, and keep insulation at least 3 inches away from recessed lighting fixtures or other heat producing equipment unless it is marked "I.C." - designed for direct insulation contact.
- The easiest and most cost effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in the attic. To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of insulation. If there is less than R-19 (6 inches of fiber glass or rock wool or 5 inches of cellulose) you could probably benefit by adding more. Most homes should have between R-19 and R-49 insulation in the attic.
- If your attic has ample insulation and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls as well. This is a more expensive measure that usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost if you live in a very hot or cold climate.
Sources of Air Leaks in Your Home 1. Dropped Ceiling 9. Chimney penetration 2. Recessed light 10. Warm air register 3. Attic entrance 11. Window sashes & frames 4. Electric wires & box 12. Baseboards, coves, interior trim 5. Plumbing utilities & penetration 13. Plumbing access panel 6. Water & furnace flues 14. Electrical outlets & switches 7. All ducts 15. Light fixtures 8. Door sashes & frames Heating and Cooling Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weatherization, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy bills and your pollution output in half.
- Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.
- Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
- Clean warm air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
- Bleed trapped air from hot water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.
- Place heat resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
- Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely; in just 1 hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.
- Keep draperies and shades open on south facing windows during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
- Close an unoccupied room that is isolated from the rest of the house, such as in a corner, and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. However, do not turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system. For example, if you heat your house with a heat pump, do not close the vents - closing the vents could harm the heat pump.
- Select energy efficient equipment when you buy new heating equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage.
Heat Pump Tips
- Do not set back the heat pump's thermostat manually if it causes the electric resistance heating to come on. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive.
- Clean or change filters once a month or as needed, and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions.
- Keep all south facing glass clean.
- Make sure that objects do not block the sunlight shining on concrete slab floors or heat-absorbing walls.
- Consider using insulating curtains to reduce excessive heat loss from large windows at night.
- If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
- Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is going. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a 48-inch window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.
- When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly, approximately 1 inch, and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50 and 55F.
- Install tempered glass doors and a heat air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.
- Check the seal on the flue damper and make it as snug as possible.
- Add caulking around the fireplace hearth.
- Use grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.
Sizing is equally important for central air conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don't use the system's central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.
- Whole house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic. They are effective when operated at night and when the outside air is cooler than the inside.
- Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.
- Don't set your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.
- Set the fan speed on high except in very humid weather. When it's humid, set the fan speed on low. You'll get better cooling, and slower air movement through the cooling equipment allows it to remove more moisture from the air, resulting in greater comfort.
- Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.
- Don't place lamps or TV sets near your air conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.
- Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units but not to block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.
Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning according to a preset schedule. As a result, you don't operate the equipment as much when you are asleep or when the house or part of the house is not occupied. (These thermostats are not meant to be used with heat pumps.) Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program
Ducts Your home's duct system is one of the most important systems in your home, and may be wasting a lot of your energy dollars. It is a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, carries the air from your home's furnace and central air conditioner to each room.
Unfortunately, many duct systems are poorly insulated or not insulated properly. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts that are in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost effective. If you are buying a new duct system, consider one that comes with insulation already installed.
Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawl space. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out unsealed joints and lost.
Although minor duct repairs are easy to accomplish, ducts in unconditioned spaces should be sealed and insulated by qualified professionals using the appropriate sealing materials. Here are a few simple tips to help with minor duct repairs.
- Check your ducts for air leaks. First look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.
- If you use duct tape to repair and seal your ducts, look for tape with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo to avoid tape that degrades, cracks, and loses its bond with age.
- Remember that insulating ducts in the basement will make the basement colder. If both the ducts and the basement walls are un-insulated, consider insulating the basement walls and the ducts.
- If your basement has been converted to a living area, install both supply and return registers in the basement rooms.
- Be sure a well sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture build up.
- Get a professional to help you insulate and repair all ducts.
There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater, and buy a new, more efficient water heater. A family of four, each showering for 5 minutes a day, uses 700 gallons of water a week; this is enough for a 3-year supply of drinking water for one person. You can cut that amount in half simply by using low-flow showerheads and faucets.
Water Heating Tips
- Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period.
- Insulate your electric hot water storage tank and pipes, but be careful not to cover the thermostat.
- Insulate your gas or oil hot water storage tank and pipes, but be careful not to cover the water heater's floor, top, thermostat, or burner compartment; when in doubt, get professional help.
- Install aerators in faucets and low flow showerheads.
- Buy a new water heater with a thick, insulating shell; while it may cost more initially than one without insulation, the energy savings will continue during the lifetime of the appliance.
- Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it's best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Doing some research before your heater fails will enable you to select one that most appropriately meets your needs.
- Lower the thermostat on your water heater; water heaters at a setting of 115°F provide comfortable hot water for most uses.
- Insulate your water heater to save energy and money.
- Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater.
- Take more showers than baths. Bathing uses the most hot water in the average household. You use 1525 gallons of hot water for a bath, but less than 10 gallons during a 5-minute shower.
- If you heat with electricity and live in a warm and sunny climate, consider installing a solar water heater. The solar units are environmentally friendly and can now be installed on your roof to blend with the architecture of your house.
Windows Windows can be one of your home's most attractive features. Windows provide views, daylight, ventilation, and solar heating in the winter. Unfortunately, they can also account for 10% to 25% of your heating bill. During the summer, sunny windows make your air conditioner work two to three times harder. If you live in the Sun Belt, look into new solar control spectrally selective windows, which can cut the cooling load by more than half.
If your home has single pane windows, as almost half of homes do, consider replacing them. New double pane windows with high performance glass (e.g., low-e or spectrally selective) are available on the market. In colder climates, select windows that are gas filled with low emissivity ( low-e) coatings on the glass to reduce heat loss. In warmer climates, select windows with spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain. If you are building a new home, you can offset some of the cost of installing more efficient windows because doing so allows you to buy smaller, less expensive heating and cooling equipment.
Cold-Climate Window Tips
- Install exterior or interior storm windows; storm windows can reduce your heat loss through the windows by 25% to 50%. Storm windows should have weather stripping at all moveable joints; be made of strong, durable materials; and have interlocking or overlapping joints. Low-e storm windows save even more energy.
- Install tight fitting, insulating window shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.
- Close your curtains and shades at night; open them during the day.
- Keep windows on the south side of your house clean to maximize solar gain.
- Install white window shades, drapes, or blinds to reflect heat away from the house.
- Close curtains on south and west facing windows.
- Install awnings on south and west facing windows.
- Apply sun control or other reflective films on south-facing windows to reduce solar gain.
Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling. Properly placed trees around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.
During the summer months, the most effective way to keep your home cool is to prevent the heat from building up in the first place. A primary source of heat buildup is sunlight absorbed by your home's roof, walls, and windows. Dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain inside the house. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home. Landscaping can also help block and absorb the sun's energy to help decrease heat build up in your home by providing shade and evaporative cooling.
Lighting Increasing your lighting efficiency is one of the fastest ways to decrease your energy bills. If you replace 25% of your lights in high use areas with fluorescents, you can save about 50% of your lighting energy bill.
Indoor Lighting Use linear fluorescent and energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in fixtures throughout your home to provide high quality and high efficiency lighting. Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 6 to 10 times longer.
Indoor Lighting Tips
- Turn off the lights in any room you're not using, or consider installing timers, photo cells, or occupancy sensors to reduce the amount of time your lights are on.
- Use task lighting; instead of brightly lighting an entire room, focus the light where you need it. For example, use fluorescent under cabinet lighting for kitchen sinks and countertops under cabinets.
- Consider three way lamps; they make it easier to keep lighting levels low when brighter light is not necessary.
- Use 4-foot fluorescent fixtures with reflective backing and electronic ballasts for your workroom, garage, and laundry areas.
- Consider using 4 watt mini fluorescent or electro luminescent night lights. Both lights are much more efficient than their incandescent counterparts. The luminescent lights are cool to the touch.
- Use CFLs in all the portable table and floor lamps in your home.
- For spot lighting, consider CFLs with reflectors. The lamps range in wattage from 13 watt to 32 watt and provide a very directed light using a reflector and lens system.
- Take advantage of daylight by using light colored, loose weave curtains on your windows to allow daylight to penetrate the room while preserving privacy. Also, decorate with lighter colors that reflect daylight.
Outdoor Lighting Tips
- Use outdoor lights with a photocell unit or a timer so they will turn off during the day.
- Turn off decorative outdoor gas lamps; just eight gas lamps burning year round use as much natural gas as it takes to heat an average size home during an entire winter.
- Exterior lighting is one of the best places to use CFLs because of their long life. If you live in a cold climate, be sure to buy a lamp with a cold-weather ballast.
When you're shopping for appliances, you can think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price - think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You'll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Refrigerators last an average of 20 years; room air conditioners and dishwashers, about 10 years each; clothes washers, about 14 years.
Dishwashers Most of the energy used by a dishwasher is for water heating. The Energy Guide label estimates how much power is needed per year to run the appliance and to heat the water based on the yearly cost of gas and electric water heating.
- Check the manual that came with your dishwasher for the manufacturer's recommendations on water temperature; many have internal heating elements that allow you to set the water heater to a lower temperature.
- Scrape, don't rinse, off large food pieces and bones. Soaking or prewashing is generally only recommended in cases of burned on or dried on food.
- Be sure your dishwasher is full, but not overloaded.
- Don't use the "rinse hold" on your machine for just a few soiled dishes. It uses 3 to 7 gallons of hot water each time you use it.
- Let your dishes air dry; if you don't have an automatic air dry switch, turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open a little so the dishes will dry faster.
- Remember that dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand, about 6 gallons less per load; dishwashers also use hotter water than you would use if you were washing the dishes by hand, so they can do a better job of killing germs.
The Energy Guide label on new refrigerators will tell you how much electricity in kilowatt hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate.
Refrigerator/Freezer Energy Tips
- Look for a refrigerator with automatic moisture control. Models with this feature have been engineered to prevent moisture accumulation on the cabinet exterior without the addition of a heater. This is not the same thing as an "anti sweat" heater. Models with an anti sweat heater will consume 5% to 10% more energy than models without this feature.
- Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37° to 40°F for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5°F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long term storage, it should be kept at 0°F.
- To check refrigerator temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
- Regularly defrost manual defrost refrigerators and freezers; frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running. Don't allow frost to build up more than one quarter of an inch.
- Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
- Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
- Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils.
- Be sure to place the faucet lever on the kitchen sink in the cold position when using small amounts of water; placing the lever in the hot position uses energy to heat the water even though it never reaches the faucet.
- If you need to purchase a gas oven or range, look for one with an automatic, electric ignition system. An electric ignition saves gas - typically 41% in the oven and 53% on the top burners - because a pilot light is not burning continuously.
- In gas appliances, look for blue flames; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed.
- Keep range top burners and reflectors clean; they will reflect the heat better, and you will save energy.
- Use a covered kettle or pan to boil water; it's faster and it uses less energy.
- Match the size of the pan to the heating element.
- If you cook with electricity, turn the stovetop burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The heating element will stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity. The same principle applies to oven cooking.
- Use small electric pans or toaster ovens for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster oven uses a third to half as much energy as a full-sized oven.
- Use pressure cookers and microwave ovens whenever it is convenient to do so. They can save energy by significantly reducing cooking time.
When shopping for a new washer, look for a front loading (horizontal axis) machine. This machine may cost more to buy but uses about a third of the energy and less water than a top loading machine. With a front loader, you'll also save more on clothes drying, because they remove more water from your clothes during the spin cycle.
When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes caused by over drying. Keep in mind that gas dryers are less expensive to operate than electric dryers. The cost of drying a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer is 30 to 40 cents compared to 15 to 25 cents in a gas dryer.
- Wash your clothes in cold water using cold water detergents whenever possible.
- Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
- Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter weight clothes.
- Don't over dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
- Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.
- Use the cool down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.