With the help of an energy conservation analysis, we can lower our demand for electricity which then lowers the amount of fossil fuels the power plant must burn. This in turn lowers the carbon dioxide emissions from the power plant but also means that less coal must be mined. Therefore, less fuel for mining equipment is used and CO2 emissions are lowered even more. As you can see, the small steps we take at home can have a much larger effect than we might at first believe.
Heating and Cooling Systems
For the average home, the heating and cooling systems use 30-60% of the total energy consumption. With energy prices on the rise, it is more important than ever to ensure the home is as efficient as possible. The easiest way to save money in this area, is to install a programmable thermostat if you have an older control. You can also explore other methods of cooling the home such as a whole house fan.
Most homeowners are talked into replacing their hvac systems to save money. While it is true that a new hvac system can be more efficient, it may not always be the best use of limited funds. Usually it is better to spend the money on lowering the home’s heat gain or loss. Then, your energy savings can help you to pay for those other home improvements such as replacing the hvac system. Improvements to lower the home’s heat gain/loss will also allow you to purchase a smaller system when the time comes. This will save you a lot of money!
Start at the top
The attic is a good place to start your energy conservation analysis. If you have little or no insulation, installing or adding more can significantly reduce your home’s energy use. You can even add insulation value to your walls and ceilings by painting. With modern coatings and paint additives, you can actually lower the heating and cooling needs of your home by painting. The next time you paint, insulate at the same time.
You should also ensure that the attic has sufficient ventilation. An attic that is not properly ventilated is hotter than one that is. The heat that builds up in the attice is then transferred to the inside of the home through the ceiling. This, in turn, causes the home’s air conditioner to run longer and your electricity bill to go up. This can not only save you energy dollars but can make your home last longer.
If the access to the attic is located in a conditioned space, you should ensure that the hatch is insulated. It should also be sealed with weatherstripping or an attic hatch cover.
The home’s exterior
Another factor that affects the heat gain or loss of the home is air leaks. You can usually find these by feeling the air come into the home on a windy day.
Old single pane windows are one of the largest sources of these drafts. They typically have wooden frames that have shrunk and leave gaps for the air to enter. If you cannot afford to replace them (or if you rent the home), you can purchase kits to seal them in the winter. These kits usually consist of a clear plastic film and doublesided tape. They are inexpensive and can save you 5-15% on your heating bills.
Another common source of these drafts are the outlets and switch boxes located on exterior walls. You can purchase foam gaskets to place behind the cover plates. They are inexpensive and will pay for themselves in less than one heating season.
Exterior doors are another common source of these drafts. This can usually be cured by weatherstripping around the doors and installing a sweep at the bottom of the door. Both of these things are inexpensive but effective.
Another factor that affects the heating and/or cooling load for the home is the amount of sunlight that enters the home. Have you ever gotten into a car that has sat in a parking lot on a sunny day? If you have, then you have witnessed passive solar heating. This may be good when the weather is cold but when you are trying to keep your home cool it is not. It can be a delicate balance between allowing enough light into the home and increasing the load on your air conditioner.
There are options to solve this problem such as replacement windows with a “low e” coating or dynamic window shades. These blinds or shades can be operated by motors and controlled automatically to keep the warm sunlight out. These units can also be integrated into a home automation system and open/closed based on the temperature in the home.
Next, you should continue your energy conservation analysis by examining your home’s appliances. They typically account for about 20% of the home’s energy use. The refrigerator, clothes washer, and the clothes dryer are the major users of this energy. If the appliances are more than 10 years old, you should plan on replacing them with energystar qualified units.
The refrigerator’s energy use can be minimized with routine maintenance. The coil on the unit which is either mounted on the bottom or the back of the unit should be cleaned at least once per year. This is a simple matter of removing the dust and dirt with a vacuum cleaner.
You should also test the door gaskets on the refrigerator and freezer. This can be done by placing a dollar bill in the door opening, closing the door, and trying to pull it out. If the dollar bill comes out easily, the gaskets should be replaced. It is an easy diy project.
On the clothes washer, you can save energy dollars by lowering the water temperature. It is even better if you wash your clothes in cold water. With advances in detergents, we can now get our clothes clean without using hot water and they will even last longer.
The lint trap on the clothes dryer should be cleaned before every load. You should also inspect the vent for buildup of lent at least once per year.
Saving on the cost of heating the home’s water
Your home energy conservation analysis should continue by examining your water heater. The home’s water heater can account for about 13% of the home’s total energy use. If you have an electric storage heater, then, the thermostats should be set to 120 F. You can also install a blanket to minimize the standby losses. You can also install a timer so that the heater only maintains the water temperature at programmed times during the day.
You may also want to consider replacing the old unit with a tankless hot water heater or a heat pump water heater and save even more. Another option is to install a drain water heat recovery system.
Saving on lighting the home
The next thing to consider in your energy conservation analysis is your home’s lighting systems. Nobody wants to sit in the dark or go back to using candles but their are some upgrades that you can do to reduce the amount of electricity required. The home’s interior lights typically use 11% of the home’s energy. This can be reduced with advanced technology such as compact flourescent bulbs, LED lighting or through passive lighting such as roof windows.
Finally, your energy conservation analysis should consider electric loads that are spending your hard earned money even when you think they are off. These are commonly called “phantom loads” and they are prevalent in every home. All of those little lights on appliances, tv, computers, power strips, etc. use electricity and the cost can add up to be significant.
Even in standby modes, many appliances can use 50% of the electricity that is required when they are on. These loads can be conveniently turned off and on with the installation of green switches, smart power strips, or occupancy sensors. The savings can be from 25-45% on the utility bill!
Implementing these ideas
After completion of your home’s energy conservation analysis, you can implement these energy saving ideas easily. Instead of just randomly picking things to do, you should come up with a list of priorities based on the characteristics of your home and the climate in which you live. For example, it makes no sense to upgrade your hvac system if you live in an area where you don’t use it very often.