When it comes to your home energy usage, one of the most important things to consider is heating and cooling.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy, 55 percent of home energy consumption goes to maintaining air temperature. This includes heating in the wintertime and air conditioning in the summertime. Because maintaining home temperature accounts for the majority of your home’s energy usage, it’s possible that you’re wasting a large amount of energy without even realizing it.
Do you want to reduce your energy usage?
Improved thermal efficiency can have a big impact on your energy costs. In this guide to efficient heating and cooling, we’ll break down common ways that homes are wasting energy and what you can do about it.
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What Are Common Ways that Homes Lose Energy?
Each home has a unique set of energy vulnerabilities.
For example, if you feel a draft from a windowsill, you’re losing energy. Similarly, if there’s a room that is always colder or warmer than the rest of your house, you’re losing energy.
Your heating performance starts with your home construction. Energy efficiency is affected by the materials that were used, the infrastructure inside your walls, how it’s settled over time, and the maintenance that’s been done as your home ages.
Your infrastructure itself could be the cause of your energy loss. Your walls could lack enough insulation or have insulation of a lower grade.
The home’s performance also is relative to your climate, such as an Arizona summer or a cold Missouri winter. There also are local environmental factors such as a soggy yard or shade tree, which could affect energy performance.
Inefficient homes have gaps, cracks and areas of thermal weaknesses. According to the EPA, the most common sites for air leaks are:
- Crawl spaces
- Dryer vents
- Outdoor faucets
- Sill plates
- Stove vents
- Duct registers
- Attic hatches
- Recessed light fixtures
- Plumbing vent stacks
- Dropped soffits
- Top plates
There could be other gaps and drafts such as an exterior door that doesn’t fit as tight as it should or a fireplace that isn’t set quite right.
It’s also important to consider the performance of your heating and cooling appliances. Your furnace, heat pump and air conditioning system should be serviced by a pro to make sure it’s working properly. When it’s time for a replacement, choosing an energy saver appliance means that it’s designed to be more energy efficient. The efficient technologies in today’s home heating systems can help you use energy more cost effectively.
Energy efficient materials is another consideration. Consider the materials used in your windows, doors, insulation, roof and crawl space or basement. For materials like insulation, you need to have enough insulation, insulation that’s the right grade, and the right type of insulation such as cellulose or fiberglass.
For older homes, today’s advancements in energy efficient materials may have not previously been available. Newer homes also may have situations where lower grade materials were used to cut costs during construction.
How Can You Improve Home Energy Efficiency?
There are several key ways you can improve your home’s energy efficiency. Let’s stay focused on heating and cooling, but it also can be helpful to dig into further resources on water heaters, clothes washers or compact fluorescent light bulbs.
When it comes to reducing the energy you use for heating and cooling, the actual savings will vary based on your circumstance. These benchmarks can help you understand the potential impacts of each type of repair.
With crawl space encapsulation and insulation, you could reduce your home energy costs by 20 percent. This can include sealing vents, insulating foundation walls and joists, and creating a ground vapor barrier. As a result, you could find that your home’s floors will feel warmer. Plus, your home’s improved air quality can help extend the life of your HVAC equipment.
Sealing air leaks can reduce your energy usage by five to 30 percent. Houses with larger structural gaps will see bigger gains, but small improvements can be a step toward energy efficiency. Try adding caulking, spray foam and weather stripping to noticeable air leaks.
Using storm windows can help you save 12 to 33 percent on energy costs. Homes that have larger windows or have old single-pane windows will see the largest impact. Keep in mind that there are two types of storm windows — those that are typical clear glass, and newer models that have a low-E coating for improved insulation.
Even a programmable thermostat can help you see as much as 10 percent energy savings. Set the thermostat so it automatically adjusts the temperature when you’re sleeping or during the daytime when you’re not home. Some smart thermostats can be controlled remotely from a phone so you can adjust the temperature on-demand if your plans change.
If your home is heated with gas, upgrading to an Energy Star gas furnace can save you 15 percent on energy usage. If you heat with oil, there are smaller savings, and a certified oil furnace can save you about four percent in energy costs. Keep in mind when upgrading that the average lifespan of a furnace is typically two times longer than the life of an air conditioning unit.
Saving Energy by Improving Your Home’s Thermal Performance
The lack of insulation in crawl spaces and attics can dramatically affect your home energy efficiency. In other words, home temperatures will be colder in the winter and hotter in the summer.
For example, let’s look at what happens to a poorly insulated home in the wintertime. Cold air drafts enter your house through the crawl space. As the warm air within your living space rises, it creates an upward draft that pulls the cold air from the crawl space upwards into your living space. Then, heat loss occurs because your heated air escapes via gaps at the top of your house or along the roofline.
The net effect of this upward draft is that it takes more energy to heat your living space because the cold air is coming in and the warm air is escaping.
In the summertime, a downward draft reverses the effect. Air that’s been cooled by your air conditioner sinks, creating a downward draft. This air-conditioned air escapes via the crawl space while the outside heat enters the house via the attic or roofline gaps.
Addressing the insulation at both the top and bottom of your house can reduce the airflow problems that cause thermal loss. This can help you keep the warmth inside your house during the winter, and in the summer, it’ll keep the cool air inside.
Better insulation improves thermal performance, and crawl space insulation and encapsulation can reduce home energy costs by up to 20%.
Understanding the Value of Efficient Heating and Cooling
Energy efficiency can help you save money. You may find that updates can quickly pay for themselves in lower utility bills. For example, what if a structural repair costs $200, but you were saving $50 per month? Understanding the upfront costs and long-term savings can give you a clear picture of which solutions are most cost effective.
There may even be a tax incentive for improving your home’s energy efficiency. In 2019, you could claim a 10 percent tax credit for the costs of home insulation, according to TurboTax/Intuit. This credit has been extended several times and may continue to be available.
Improving your home’s energy efficiency is good for the environment. You’ll reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, and you’ll help clean air quality. Even as renewable energy becomes increasingly available, improving energy efficiency is an easy first step.
Improved thermal performance can make living spaces more comfortable. Whether you’re facing a below-freezing Missouri winter or a summer heatwave, energy efficiency can help you be more comfortable.
Schedule your Free Inspection with Foundation Recovery Systems to get an assessment of your crawl space, basement and home foundation.