The energy bill is becoming more important to homebuyers and homeowners. Unexpected energy costs are one of the greatest dangers to successful home ownership especially for new homeowners. Some energy upgrades can pay off quickly.
Heating and Plumbing
The biggest energy expense, and second largest expense of homeownership, is heating and cooling. Some energy updates and improvement, which can be done with little expense and work, will pay for themselves quickly. Calculate your energy usage.
The easiest, most cost effective update for heating and cooling systems is an automatic setback thermostat. Basic units can be bought for as little as $30 at the local hardware store, home improvement or discount store.
Installation is easy. An average person with a screwdriver can change a thermostat in a few minutes. Turn off the emergency power switch to your furnace. Pop the cover off the old thermostat. Unscrew from wall. Disconnect the wires one at a time and reconnect to the proper terminal on the new thermostat. These are clearly labeled. If you disconnect and reconnect one at a time, it is unlikely that you will have a problem. If you must disconnect more than one wire at time, label each wire as you take it off. After all wires have been connected, screw the new thermostat to wall in the same place as the old. Put the cover in place and turn on the furnace switch. Some setback thermostats require a battery.
With your setback thermostat installed, you are ready to program it. Programming may be harder than installation, but the instructions are clearly marked on each setback thermostat. This involves selecting the times and days you want your heat to turn itself down, like when you sleep or when there is no one home. Then select the temperatures you want at these times. Next, choose the time you want the heat to increase, perhaps just before you normally get up, or come home. The process is the same for cooling.
This project that can be completed in less than an hour typically decreasing heating and cooling costs by up to 20%. The cost of the thermostat is often recovered in one month.
The second most cost effective, low budget, easy to do heating and cooling improvement is sealing air leaks. Weather stripping and caulking on doors and windows, and shrink to fit plastic storm windows can produce big savings. A poorly sealed, single window can leak as much heat as a 3” hole through your wall. A ten dollar investment in caulk, weather stripping and shrink to fit plastic may be recovered in less than a month. A drafty door can also be sealed easily with litte expense.
Sealing doors and windows can produce great savings, but the places where we loose the most heat are not so easy to find. Leaks in walls, ceilings and floors can be great than the loss from windows and doors. Finding and sealing these leaks is harder. You can wait for a windy day when the barometric pressure indoors and outdoors is significantly different and check all possible leak sites with a smoking device. The smoke is moved by the air currents revealing the leaks. Caulk, insulate and weather strip around pipes, ducts and vents, seal rim joist if accessible.
Another option is to hire an air sealing company that uses a blower door to depressurize your house. They follow the same procedure using special equipment and smoke to efficiently find leaks. They seal the leaks appropriately using caulk, weather-stripping, foam, insulation or other materials. The cost is usually a few hundred dollars. This cost will usually be made up in less than a year.
The cost of updating an old furnace, water heater, or air conditioner can be recovered over 6-10 years in many cases. The cost of added insulation may also be recovered over a few years. These are expensive upgrades that the average homeowner is not likely to be able to afford. There are reduced interest loans available for this purpose that can save money on a monthly basis making it less expensive to make the improvements than not.
Appliances and Lighting
The next largest use of energy is appliances and lighting. This includes chargers for things like cell phones, small appliances, hair dryers, audio/video equipment, etc. Chargers and transformers for devices like printers are an overlooked energy drain. These devices draw energy whether they are in use or not. If it is warm to the touch, it is using electricity. These devices can be unplugged when not in use for an easy energy saving.
The biggest immediate pay off is changing to compact florescent light bulbs. The cost has come down to the point where they can pay for themselves in one month. Each compact florescent bulb can save as much as $1/month and the quality of light is better than most incandescent bulbs. This step may produce an immediately noticeable reduction on your electric bill. For uses where a compact florescent bulb will not work, consider installing dimmers and motion sensors.
Clean your refrigerator and freezer coils. Air flow across the heat exchanger in your refrigerator and freezer inhibited by dirt, dust and hair can severely decrease its efficiency. This cleaning task is often completely overlooked. Many refrigerators and freezers also have condensation pans that need regular cleaning to prevent mold growth.
When replacing or upgrading your refrigerator or other kitchen appliances, choose the most efficient model you can afford. In some cases, energy efficient appliances may be financed if the savings is less than the payments.
Some free and low cost steps you can take to save on energy bills are:
Lower you thermostat setting during winter to 68 degrees.
Raise your thermostat setting during summer to 78 degrees.
Clean your furnace/AC and change filters.
Raise and lower window coverings to allow heat in during cold weather and keep heat out during hot weather.
Close your fireplace damper when the fireplace isn’t in use.
Use ventilation fans only as long as necessary.
Use a whole house fan or window fan for cooling on warm nights.
Repair leaky faucets, especially those supplying hot water.
Install low-flow shower heads.
Wash clothes in cold water.
Run the dishwasher only when it’s full.
Source: Segments of this article are Copyright Carl Brahe - Inspection Perfection Inc., www.inspection-perfection.com, 2006 all rights reserved.
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