Save Money, Save the Earth: Improvements to Your Heating and Cooling Systems
With the rising costs of electricity across the country, many consumers are looking for ways to cut down. One way to do this is by making improvements to your heating and cooling systems. Heating and cooling a home can be expensive, and according to Energy.gov, "heating and cooling accounts for more than half of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes".
In fact, about 41% of the energy is used for space heating alone. So saving on the amount of energy used to heat and cool your home will lead to a significantly lower monthly bill. Plus, you'll have the added benefit of reducing your household's carbon footprint, so you can be an eco-warrior while saving money!
Tips for Improving Your Heating and Cooling System
Making sure your heating system is working at its peak efficiency will mean that the furnace doesn't need to run as long, and will use less energy. Keeping all equipment in top working order will not only help it to last longer, but will keep the bills lower.
- Keep filters clean.
This is especially important if your household has pets, as filters soon clog up with stray pet hair, which will trap even more dust in the filter. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the filter every three months, but a new filter every month will give the best performance. If using a permanent filter then remove and clean, let dry, and put back in place.
- Perform Annual Maintenance
Each year have the furnace and ducts thoroughly inspected by a professional licensed contractor, then cleaned to remove any excess dust and debris from the vents and ductwork. They'll also be able to notify you of any potential problems like leaky ducts or poor insulation.
- Invest in an Energy Efficient Heat Pump
A heat pump is different than a standard heating, ventilating and air conditioning unit. It is a lot greener than a standard furnace and air conditioner. A good heat pump can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as half, and are frequently used to heat pools and hot tubs. However they work best to regulate heat in buildings located in areas without too much fluctuation in heat, so areas with harsh winters and warm summers aren't well suited for heat pumps.
- Look for ENERGY STAR
If you're looking to update your home's appliances look for the EPA's ENERGY STAR label. Appliances with this label are more energy efficient and can help reduce both energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Install a Programmable Thermostat
Installing a programmable thermostat is simple and can help keep the house at a reasonable temperature. During the winter set the thermostat to between 68 and 70 degrees during the day, and turn it down to between 65 and 68 at night. Don't let the temperature drop too low at night, as a quick temperature rise in the morning will activate the heat strip and use a lot of energy. If you're going away on vacation set the thermostat to 60 degrees, don't turn it off or the pipes may freeze. Remember that for every degree that you lower the thermostat you can save 3% on your heating bill.
- Check for leaky ducts
When duct work leaks it means hot air is lost and doesn't get delivered, making the furnace work harder yet again. Turn the heat on and examine duct work for any air leaks. Replace old ducts or seal off any leaks. Repairs will prolong the life of your system and help it work at peak efficiency.
- Keep the Filters Clean
Same as during the winter months, the filters must be cleaned or replaced during the summer when the air conditioning is run too.
- Check the SEER
Check your AC's Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). It should be at least 15, though the higher the better as the higher the number, the more efficient the air conditioner. If looking to install a new air conditioner you may even be eligible for a rebate if the SEER is high enough.
- Put the Fan on "Auto"
Switch the fan on the thermostat to "auto" to save energy. Switched to "on" the air runs constantly, and with the fan switched to "off" no air will circulate.
- Set the Thermostat
Set the temperature to a comfortable 78 degrees when at home, and a warmer 85 degrees when away. Keep in mind that for every degree cooler that the AC is set it will have to work harder and longer. If 78 degrees is too warm take it down a degree at a time until you find a comfortable setting. At night turn the thermostat back up.
Around the House
While there are a few key things that must be done directly to the heating and air conditioning systems in a home to ensure peak efficiency, there are some extra steps that can easily be taken around the home.
- Cover bare floors
In the cool winter months covering the floors will help with heat retention, especially if there is no floor insulation. As an added benefit they add comfort and look stylish.
- Close the Fireplace
When not in use make sure the flue in the fireplace is closed to keep warm air from escaping up the chimney. If possible install some glass doors too.
- Clear the Furnace Area
Give your furnace's air compressor room to work. Never place anything near your HVAC, or drape any sheets or tarps over it. These will stop it working at peak levels and are a dangerous fire hazard.
- Clear the Vents
Make sure all your air vents are free from drapes or furniture.
- Use the Sun
Leaving the windows open during the daytime can help to heat your home when it's cool, just as closing the blinds when it is hot can help cool things down.
- Seal Windows and Doors
Windows, doors, and skylights can contain hidden cracks and gaps that can create a lot of airflow, almost as much as an open window. This can cause your warm or cool air to escape, and make your systems work overtime. Fortunately, it's easy to fix with the help of a licensed contractor or some DIY expertise. Caulk around windows and doors, making sure that all spaces are filled. Doing a thorough job can result in a savings of up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling costs.
- Add Insulation
According to the government website Energy.gov, optimal energy efficiency in a home can be achieved with the proper insulation. That means insulating your home from the roof down to the foundation. Newer homes are built fully insulated, but if your home is older consider adding some insulation to the attic under the roof to stop escaping heat, and around the ductwork.
- Be Picky Where You Heat/Cool
Try closing the vents to stop air flow to rooms that aren't used much like spare bedrooms. During the day close the vents to unused bedrooms - they don't need to be heated while the kids are in school. Focus the air to places where the family gathers like the kitchen and living room, and switch vent positions at night so bedrooms are warm while the deserted kitchen and living room are closed off. Also, spot cooling with a portable air conditioner saves money because you are only cooling the room that you are in.
- Use Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans are a great way to circulate air in a room. This will give a wind chill effect and can cool the temperature by as much as three or four degrees. Conversely, in the winter try changing the direction of the fan to clockwise and it will pull the cool air up while pushing the warmer air down.
- Plant Some Trees
Trees not only look nice and can add value to your homes curb appeal, but they also work to block out sun helping keep the house cool in summer, and they block harsh winds in the winter.
- Vent the Dryer to the Outside
If your dryer is not vented to the outside then your air conditioner will be working double duty whenever a load of clothes is run through the dryer. Don't vent the hot air from the dryer into the house, instead install the proper ventilation and get it outside.
- Install high-performance windows
Replacing old windows with newer more efficient ones is a way to save money in the long run. While they may cost a bit initially, the savings in the long run will be worth it. Many of the newer windows have UV filtering rays that will save furniture and art work from fading, as well as thicker glass and special double-glazing that stops the transfer of heat from inside to outside and vice versa. This will eliminate the "hot spots" found in some rooms due to poor or inefficient older style windows. When purchasing new windows look for the National Fenestration Rating Council label, it means that the performance of the window is certified.
- Add Temporary Storm Windows
Adding storm windows during the winter months can help with heat loss, but for those without there's a simple solution. Insulating kits available from hardware stores come with large sheets of thin plastic and adhesive strips. After cutting to the size of the window, just apply the adhesive strip and attach. Then shrink the plastic down tight with an ordinary hair dryer and trim the excess plastic. It should keep out any drafts for the winter months.
- Add a reflective coating to your roof
Ideal for climates that experience warmer temperatures year round, a reflective coating reduces the amount of heat coming into the home, meaning the AC won't have to run as often. Reflective coatings also have the added bonus of preventing expansion and contraction among the shingles and make your roof last longer. They are easy to apply with a roller, or done by a professional roofer.
- Make a Door Snake
For drafty doors in the cool months consider placing a door snake at the bottom. Not always in the form of a snake, but usually the full width of the door, they stop drafts from coming through. If no snake is available a rolled up towel does the trick just as well.
- Open the Windows at Night
In the summer try giving the AC a break at night and open the windows when the air is generally cooler.
- Add some Green Power to your Home
Renewable resources like the sun or wind generate environmentally friendly power. While installing solar panels can be expensive, they are a source of energy that will not only cut down on the electricity bills in the long run, but may end up making some extra money too. Many municipalities buy additional energy created by solar power from home owners, which means that not only is the bill lower, but there's extra cash in your wallet too and you can feel good about not harming the environment.
A Few Simple Steps with a Big Reward
Heating and cooling a house is a huge expense, averaging around $1000 per year. In times when money is tight and inflation is on the rise, homeowners are doing everything they can to save on their monthly bills. The easiest way to do this is to invest the proper care and maintenance into your heating and cooling system. Monthly filter changes, regular tune-ups and maintenance of all the ducts and vents will help to ensure that your HVAC system works at peak efficiency.
It is also possible to reduce dependency on these systems with a few of the tips contained above, so that even if you can't eliminate the need for air conditioning on a hot day, at least you can reduce it. As well as spending less you'll be reducing your household's carbon footprint. The less your furnace and air conditioner are run, the less non-renewable resources like oil need to be used to produce that energy.