The modern home is a technological marvel that serves as a high-tech hub for active adults and growing families. Over several decades, manufacturers have added amazing features to common home appliances while introducing an array of new machines that entertain, save time and improve personal productivity.
Total per capita energy consumption in the U.S. has remained relatively stable because gains in efficiency have been offset by the proliferation of new products that require power. As a result, energy costs continue to escalate, and the burning of fossil fuel negatively impacts the environment.
For a variety of reasons, homeowners are increasingly conscious of the energy they use on a daily basis and continue to look for ways to reduce consumption. In fact, there are many inexpensive methods to improve household energy efficiency without making major lifestyle compromises.
A certified energy audit can be an invaluable tool in developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce energy usage in a home or office. After running a comparative analysis of the family's utility bills, the inspector will inventory the various devices, machines and appliances that consume energy on a regular basis. A visual inspection includes checking the HVAC system and assessing the quality of the windows, doors and insulation. A blower door test will determine total exterior leakage while locating external penetrations and other sources of unwanted infiltration.
After the data is gathered and analyzed, the homeowners receive a complete report that outlines specific recommendations and offers estimates of the potential savings. Some local utility companies provide free energy audits as an added service to their customers.
According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling an average home accounts for about 56 percent of a family’s total annual utility bill. This makes the HVAC system the single largest energy related expense.
Simple maintenance and several inexpensive upgrades can help reduce overall heating and AC operating costs by 30 percent or more.
- Change Filters: Clogged and dirty HVAC filters restrict air flow and add to the system's total friction loss. This means the equipment must work longer to meet the indoor load, which significantly increases fuel consumption. Cheap fiberglass filters should be changed once a month, and high efficiency filters should be changed at least quarterly.
- Seal the Ductwork: Duct leakage can degrade HVAC equipment performance by 50 percent, especially in systems installed before the mid 2000s. Loose connections and breeches in the material allow conditioned air to escape into the attic or crawl space. Negative pressure leaks can pull harmful contaminants into the living area. Ductwork issues can be corrected by a qualified HVAC contractor, who can be easily found on Comfort24-7.com.
- Change the Thermostat: A conventional thermostat is a simple mechanical device that turns the HVAC system on and off based on the temperature setting. In contrast, a programmable thermostat uses a microprocessor to adjust the temperature based on the living habits of the occupants. In most instances, the thermostat setting is raised when the home is vacant and gradually lowered prior to the arrival of the first occupant. When used properly, programmable thermostats can save up to 30 percent on monthly cooling costs
The lighting fixtures inside a home account for approximately 12 percent of total annual electricity consumption. Lighting technology enhancements include CFL and LED products that are far more efficient than traditional incandescent light bulbs. Replacing 15 conventional light bulbs with modern CFL lamps can save up to $50 per year and $600 over the life of the bulb.
Monthly lighting costs can also be reduced by installing solar tubes or skylights in rooms without windows. Motion detectors for outdoor security fixtures illuminate the targeted area only when triggered by a moving object. The lumen rating of every bulb in a home should always match the lighting requirement for the application. Oversized bulbs waste energy and often produce a harsh and unpleasant lighting effect.
Phantom power refers to the electricity that gadgets, electronics and certain appliances waste while not being used. Devices that feature a continuous display screen, standby power or include an AC adapter are the major culprits. Energy Star estimates that the average household spends $100 annually to power devices while they are turned off. Total U.S. consumption of electricity for phantom power is estimated to be more than 100 billion kilowatt hours at a yearly cost of more than $10 billion.
Devices that consume the most power when not in use include:
- Cable/satellite set top boxes
- Audio/visual systems
- DVD players
- Coffee makers
- Copier/fax machines
- Phone chargers
- Cordless Phones
Even when a device is shut down, an active power light or display is an indication that it is still drawing power. AC adapters that give off heat or vibration when touched are also consuming electricity. For accuracy, an amp meter or watt reader can be used to determine the exact amount of power the device or adapter is currently drawing.
Homeowners are encouraged to unplug any electronic equipment when it is not in use. However, this may not be a practical solution for many items. In the alternative, a power strip can be employed to cluster devices that can be disengaged without interfering with their intended purpose.
Power strips are available in a variety of configurations including "smart strips," which allow the user to set up a master/slave relationship with the primary machine and peripheral devices. For example, a computer can be plugged into the master outlet and a printer, card reader and backup hard drive plugged into the slave receptacles. Every time the computer is shut down, the peripheral units will completely stop drawing power as well.
According to the Department of Energy, home appliances use about 17 percent of the total power consumed by the average household. A refrigerator accounts for nine percent alone, so it is important to maintain an interior temperature around 36 degrees for optimal performance and energy savings. The seal around the refrigerator door may deteriorate over time, and manufacturers recommend gasket replacement if cold air is escaping when the door is closed. Replacing a refrigerator purchased in the 1990s with a new Energy Star rated model will save substantially on energy costs while keeping food items fresher.
Other strategies to reduce the energy consumption of home appliances include:
- Always having full loads when washing clothes.
- Air drying clothes outdoors when appropriate.
- Clearing dryer vents of accumulated lint and other obstructions.
- Keeping the oven door closed during cooking, especially in the summer.
- Running the dishwasher in economy mode.
- Turning the dishwasher off halfway through the drying cycle to let the dishes air dry.
- Turning off the oven and burners early so the residual heat can complete the cooking process.
- Turning off kitchen, bath and ceiling fans when not in use.
- Using the microwave to heat food instead of the oven or stovetop burners.
Window quality and performance can vary dramatically based on the construction of the unit. Upgrading from single pane windows to dual pane, low-E windows can substantially decrease the cooling and heating load inside a home or office. In many instances, a window upgrade can actually lower the tonnage requirement for a central AC system.
While a complete window replacment may be impractical, there are a number of inexpensive techniques that can be used to improve window energy efficiency.
- Consider low cost screens or window film.
- In the summer, close the window coverings during hours of direct sunlight.
- Plant trees to shade the windows where practical.
- Avoid placing large metal or stone items directly in front of windows. Solid objects will absorb radiant heat that will be released into the living area when the sun goes down.
- When shopping for new windows, always look for models that have a low-E coating and a performance certification from the National Fenestration Rating Council.
Other Energy Saving Strategies
A complete energy savings strategy includes eliminating wasteful habits as well as adopting techniques to reduce overall consumption.
- Raise the Thermostat: Raising the thermostat by a single degree in the summer can save 4 percent on monthly cooling costs. Conversely, homeowners will save about 3 percent for every degree they lower the thermostat in winter.
- Seal the Perimeter: Homes that were built prior to the mid 2000s often have an extremely porous building envelope. Excessive air infiltration can degrade indoor comfort and force the HVAC system to work longer to satisfy the indoor load. Using expanding foam to seal electrical and plumbing penetrations can substantially improve the efficiency of the entire home.
- Upgrade Insulation: Many older homes have substandard levels of insulation. Raising the total R-value of the insulation above the ceiling to current Department of Energy standards can provide substantial savings on heating and cooling costs and eliminate uncomfortable indoor temperature fluctuations.
Comprehensive Energy Efficiency
Developing an effective energy efficiency strategy requires patience, diligence and commitment. It's easy to overlook individual energy eaters that only consume a few watts every day. However, the cumulative effect of wasted energy over time can cost a family hundreds of dollars every year, and they receive absolutely no value for the expenditure.
This handy phantom energy calculator can serve as a starting point for identifying and correcting common energy consumption issues. For further information and professional services, you can locate a qualified HVAC contractor on the Comfort24-7.com website.