Monday, October 23

Improving Your Home's Energy Efficiency Can Save Money

Even though the economy has improved, many consumers are still looking for ways to save money. Making improvements to save energy around your home may cost some money now but produce savings now and in the long-term.

This report looks at various ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home, ranging from simple, low-cost strategies to more extensive improvements. Some improvements may qualify for tax credits and help you save even more.

Where Is Your Home Losing or Using Energy?

Where is air likely leaking out of (or into) your home? Is there adequate insulation in your attic or crawl space? Can you feel drafts around your doors or windows or see cracks of daylight? How old or efficient is your furnace or air-conditioning system? Making a home energy audit to answer these questions and more is the first step in planning the most effective improvements for your home. You can do a simple energy audit yourself using the energy audit instructions from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Some utility companies also offer home energy audits for free or at low cost.

What About Energy Tax Credits or Rebates?

Most federal energy efficiency tax credits have expired but some may be renewed or others may be created. A home improvement may qualify for other incentives such as rebates or tax credits that may be available from your state or local tax authorities or utility companies. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for other incentives you may be eligible for. We suggest that you check out these incentives after your home energy audit to help in planning what's doable for you and your family budget.

Strategies to Reduce Energy Use in Your Home

From the simpler to the more involved, here are some ways to reduce energy use or loss in your home and thus save dollars.

  • Plug Air Leaks and Gaps
    Whether you live in a hot or cold climate, leaks around windows, doors, and other openings can make your heating & cooling systems work harder. Look for any cracks, gaps, holes, or other openings that could allow air to enter or escape from your home. Fill any gaps or holes around pipes and vents with spray foam caulking. Check the caulking and weatherstripping around windows and doors and repair or replace it where needed.

  • Increase Insulation as Needed
    Adding insulation where needed can increase the energy efficiency of your home. Insulation functions to keep the outside hot/cold air out and the inside cold/hot air in. Check the amount of insulation in the attic. Also check the floors over any unheated space such as a basement or garage. Adding insulation where needed in these locations is usually something you can do yourself. The Energy Savers website provide steps for inspecting and evaluating the insulation. If you suspect that the insulation in the walls of an older home is inadequate or it's difficult for you to access the attic or crawl space, you may wish to consult a licensed insulation professional.

  • Evaluate the Need for More Energy Efficient Windows & Doors
    It's the time of year to prepare for cold weather. Before you install elderly storm windows and doors, consider replacing your windows, doors and skylights with Energy Star rated products. If that's beyond the budget, consider replacing the storm windows and doors with new Energy Star rated products.

    When evaluating new windows, doors, and skylights, look for two performance characteristics—the U-factor and SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient). The lower the U-factor, the more energy efficient the window, door, or skylight. A low SHGC rating indicates that the product is more effective at blocking solar heat gain. A high SHGC rating indicates that the product is more effective at collecting solar heat gain. Thus, determining what SHGC is appropriate for a window, door, or skylight, depends on the climate, orientation (north, south, east, west), and the amount of shade it receives.

    If window and door replacements or improvements are not feasible, don't forget simple ways to save energy in winter. Interior clear film window covers cut down energy loss for older windows without thermal glass and don't interfere with clear views out the window. Closing draperies or window covers during cooler nights and opening those on sunny windows during the day can save heat loss. (For warm weather, close the draperies during the day on sunny windows.)

  • Evaluate the Efficiency of Heating & Cooling Systems
    Because heating and cooling your home can account for as much as 50% of your energy use, improving the efficiency of these systems can make a difference in your energy bills. The home improvements discussed above can help improve the efficiency of your existing systems.

    If you have older heating and/or cooling systems (typically 12 to 15 years), you may want to consider replacing them with Energy Star rated units.

    If replacing your unit is beyond your current budget, you can still save on your energy bills.

    • Have your unit serviced prior to the season and change filters regularly to help the unit run more efficiently.
    • In winter, each degree you lower your thermostat may save about 3% of your heating bill.
    • Replace your thermostat with a programmable one. Use it to lower the temperature while you are asleep or out of the house and to raise it just before you awake or get home. According to the Energy Savers site, turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours can save anywhere from 5 – 15% a year on your heating bill.
    • Use your ceiling fan in both summer and winter. Remember that warm air rises, so running the ceiling fan on low in winter, will send warm air back toward the floor. For summer, running the ceiling fans in reverse can help circulate cool air (that stays low) to upper areas.
  • Choose Energy Star Appliances to Replace Old Appliances
    Older appliances tend to be less energy efficient than new ones. Replacing your older appliances – refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, water heater – with Energy Star rated can save money and energy.

    If you aren't ready to replace one or more appliances, make sure they are operating efficiently by keeping them and the area around them clean. For example, pull out your refrigerator and clean the back and underneath it; don't miss cleaning the coils. When you put it back in place, ensure that it has the proper clearance from walls and cabinets.

Enjoy Savings Starting This Winter

Making just a few of these improvements to your home's energy efficiency can help you begin to save right away. The Department of Energy has estimated that most homeowners could save up to 40% on their annual energy bills by making the kinds of improvements discussed in this report. Here's to a more comfortable winter and a fatter wallet.

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