Many people are uncertain where to start when making their homes more energy-efficient. Energy efficiency means losing less energy to perform the same action, particularly when heating or cooling your home. When you use less energy to heat and cool your home, your own electricity and/or gas bills will decrease. You’re also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, another goal that energy-conscious home owners are looking to do.
According to CNBC, this winter nearly half of US households who heat primarily with natural gas are projected to spend 30% more than they did last winter on average. The 41% who heat with electricity are slated to spend 6% more. The smaller portions who heat mostly with propane or heating oil — 5% and 4% of households, respectively — could see even bigger leaps in cost. Propane users will spend 54% more this winter, while heating oil users could see bills go up 43%, according to the report.
Whether your home is new or old, energy efficiency is the best investment you can make to your home to recoup some of the money you’re spending. When homeowners perform energy-efficient projects in their own homes, there is no need to build extensive new infrastructure, and results are seen almost immediately. You see significant financial savings, and those economic benefits, in turn, provide more incentive to use your power in the most efficient manner. Energy-efficient homes also have a resale value that is at least 9 percent higher than those without energy-saving features.
Heating and cooling costs are most impactful to low-income households. In fact, these folks typically spend 20 percent of their total income on electricity and heating (as compared to the U.S. household average of 2.7 percent) because their homes may be older, and much less energy-efficient. While home energy efficiency upgrades do pay for themselves, they do require an initial investment. Grants, non-profit work, and other forms of assistance can help those with lower incomes make their homes more efficient—and live more comfortably. There are a number of tax incentives available for energy-efficient upgrades through local, state, and federal government agencies. These tax incentives can help offset the initial cost of the updates, so research any improvements you might be considering to see whether they qualify for tax help. See Indiana Weatherization Assistance Program.
Home Projects to Increase the Energy Efficiency of Your Heating and Cooling Systems
There are many different projects you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home. Some of these are relatively simple and inexpensive, while others require a larger financial commitment and a larger commitment of time. Consider making some of these changes for a more energy-efficient home:
- HVAC Maintenance – One of the simplest things you can do to increase your home’s energy efficiency is to have an annual tune-up on your heating and cooling system. This will ensure your furnace and A/C are running at peak efficiency. When your HVAC system gets a tune-up, this can include tightening all connections, lubricating parts, and cleaning coils. All filters will be checked and changed as needed. Clogged or dirty filters make your HVAC system work harder and run longer than they need to. You can see a decrease in your monthly gas and electricity bills while also reducing the amount of wear and tear on your furnace and A/C by swapping out dirty filters for new ones.
- Ductwork Sealing – Leaks and lack of insulation in ductwork is a huge source of energy efficiency losses within your home. It doesn’t matter how efficient your home’s HVAC unit is if there are cracks and holes in your ductwork that are venting air in an out of your home. When we insulate home ductwork, we see a huge savings in heating and air conditioning… not counting the extension in your system’s life you gain because it doesn’t need to work as hard. Uninsulated ducts can also become rusted and stained due to condensation or even a source of mold in your home.
- Window Seals – Another simple thing you can do to help your furnace and A/C is to make sure all your windows are properly sealed. When windows and doors are sealed correctly, hot and cold air from outside stays where it belongs—outside. If your windows are drafty, consider adding weatherstripping around the frames. You can seal any gaps or cracks with silicone caulk, or by applying shrink film to the windows.
- New Windows – If your home is older, you may have single-pane windows. Changing out your windows can make a huge difference in your heating and cooling costs—as well as your comfort level while inside your home. Swapping your single-pane windows for energy-efficient windows can save you as much as 24 percent of heating costs in the winter, and 18 percent of cooling costs in the summer. Not only will you have lower energy costs, but energy-efficient windows will also decrease the noise from outside.
- Storm Doors – Installing storm doors can also increase the energy efficiency of your home. Storm doors help regulate your home’s temperature year-round, just like energy-efficient windows. The extra layer of insulation reduces heat loss in the winter and keeps cool air inside during the summer. If you can’t afford to have storm doors installed, consider fitting your doors with high-grade weather stripping.
- LED lighting—While you might not think your light bulbs would make a difference, in fact, incandescent and halogen bulbs act like mini space heaters, dumping over 90 percent of the energy they consume into heat—and heating up your already warm home in the summer months. This causes your air conditioning system to work harder to cool your home. LED lighting uses a fraction of the energy consumed by traditional bulbs, generating little heat and remaining cool during operation. Although LED bulbs cost more initially, they last considerably longer, giving back a significant savings in energy.
- Insulation – Adding insulation to your home—including duct insulation—can make a big difference in your heating and cooling expenses, as well as your comfort level. Insulation remains one of the most important home improvement projects a homeowner can make. Air leaks between your home and the attic and in crawlspaces and garages are the root cause of many uncomfortably hot or cold homes, while also leading to higher heating and cooling bills. Insulation blocks heat from entering your home in the summer and holds heat in during the winter. The cost of added insulation usually pays for itself through lower heating and cooling bills in a year. The most common types of insulation are:
- Cellulose insulation has a lower cost yet is relatively high-performance. Cellulose maintains an R-value of about 3.8 per inch, is a recycled product, and makes a superior sound barrier as well.
- Fiberglass insulation is the most common type of insulation in the building industry. It is purchased in rolls or batts or in loose-fill. Cellulose is not as dusty during installation as cellulose and is easily installed in many locations of your home.
- Spray-foam insulation is sprayed into open building cavities, expanding to fill all the nooks and crannies. In open wall applications, the excess foam is scraped off the studs to form a uniformly insulated surface. Spray foam is a good option for attic conversions, basement remodels, crawl space upgrades, or other remodeling projects which require opening the walls.
- HVAC Upgrade – Upgrading your HVAC pump to a higher SEER Rating. A SEER Rating measures air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency, calculated by the cooling output for a season, divided by the electric energy input during the same timeframe. A SEER rating is a maximum efficiency rating, like the mpg rating for your vehicle. The higher the SEER rating, the greater the energy efficiency of the heat pump or A/C. The minimum SEER rating is 13 for air conditioners. Most modern home air conditioners have a SEER from 13-21, and ENERGY STAR-qualified central A/C units must have a SEER rating of at least 14.5. Most older A/C units are rated around 8 or 0. Most older A/C systems are rated at around 8 or 9, so even the lowest available SEER-rated system you buy today will be much more energy-efficient.
- Crawl-Space Sealing – If you notice your floorboards are cold in the winter and warm in the summer, your crawlspace could be the culprit. Sealing, draining, and properly dehumidifying your crawlspace could help your overall heating and cooling costs… not to mention reduce the risk of foundation repairs or mold damage under your home.
- Solar Energy – Consider installing solar panels. While adding solar to your home is not cheap, there are federal and, in some cases, state tax incentives for adding solar. You can add solar electric panels or solar hot water heating panels. Solar panels can help you save money on your energy bills, promoting lower use of fossil fuel. Solar panels are typically installed on your roof. Some electric companies will actually pay you for any energy you produce over what your household uses. When you add battery storage to your solar system, you can have solar electricity not only during the day, but at night as well. Many of the newer solar panels produce energy even on cloudy days so can be used in areas that don’t get as much daily sunlight.
- Geothermal energy—Like solar, adding a geothermal heat pump can be a significant investment, however, is considered the greenest, most cost-effective heating and cooling system available. This is because a geothermal heat pump uses free renewable solar energy stored in your backyard, rather than burning fossil fuels. Geothermal energy also provides a superior level of interior comfort. Geothermal systems operate for longer periods at lower speeds, ensuring your home remains consistently comfortable year-round. It is estimated that a geothermal heat pump can save you a whopping 70-75 percent on your heating, cooling, and hot water costs. Your state or local utility sources may also offer additional incentives for switching to a geothermal heat pump. There are more than 1,000,000 geothermal heat pumps currently installed in residential, commercial, and government buildings in the United States, with about 50,000 more installed each year by homeowners.
- Humidifier—Something that is often overlooked in making a home energy-efficient is a whole-home humidifier. A furnace strips the air of moisture during the heating process, so adding a whole-home humidifier can make your home more energy-efficient, and comfortable. The energy-efficiency component is due to the fact that when you increase the moisture in the air, your home will feel warmer at a lower temperature, and your heating expenses will be lowered. Air that captures more moisture can maintain more heat, thus it will feel warmer.
It could definitely be worthwhile to talk to Cook Home Services to help you locate inefficiencies and wasted energy in your home. We can perform a ductwork diagnostic, an energy efficiency evaluation & consultation, an HVAC system evaluation, and can perform humidity and home performance testing. Contact Cook Home Services today!