Energy-Efficiency Tips for the Home
Save Energy, Save Money
By Tom Matthews
The heating and cooling system accounts for approximately 45 percent of the average home’s utility bill, or about 45 cents of every dollar. To pay lower utility bills, it makes sense (and cents) to use less energy. Here are some tips to accomplish that while keeping your home comfortable.
Get with the Program
Programmable thermostats automatically adjust your home’s temperature settings several times a day to fit your lifestyle. When used properly they can save about $150 per year on energy costs and allow you to program when the system should scale back heating or cooling. In the winter, program the heat to kick on during your commute homeward so you step into a warm house. In the summer, the system can automatically keep air conditioning low in the morning to avoid cooling an empty house while you’re at work.
Stay in the Zone
Zone heating is an efficient method for optimizing the way you warm your home. Studies have shown that typical occupants spend 80 percent of the time in 20 percent of the house, so it makes sense to only heat or cool the areas being used.
A basic zoning technique for an existing forced-air heating system is to adjust the vents in the unoccupied rooms. Don’t close the vents completely, however. Sealing the vents closed could reduce airflow through the air handler, cause pressure imbalances and put stress on the duct connections. Closing the vents by 75 percent can be effective. (The vent nearest to the thermostat should always remain open).
Space heaters are a simple and cost-effective way to supplement your central heating system, warming one room or “zone” at a time. The most common are ceramic space heaters with fan-forced air. Available in a wide range of designs, they’re safe, compact and ideal for heating spaces up to 150 square feet.
Some homes have integrated system zoning, which involves multiple thermostats connected to a control panel that operates different dampers within the HVAC ductwork. Radiant floor heating is another option for controlling heat zones.
For forced-air systems, zone control works best in homes where the different zones can be isolated from each other with closable doors. Avoid shutting off the heat entirely in an unused part of your home, because condensation could form on cold interior wall surfaces and lead to mold. Also, keep all rooms at a minimum of 50°F in the winter to prevent water pipes from freezing.
Change your Filter
Be diligent about regularly replacing the filters that remove dust from the air as it circulates through the HVAC system. Most systems use disposable filters. Some furnaces have an electro-static filter, which is a sturdy metal filter that needs to be cleaned every few months. In either case, a clogged filter hinders airflow, and your system will have to work harder to achieve the temperature programmed in your thermostat. When the system works harder, it wears out the HVAC components faster and raises your power bill.