With gas prices hitting record levels this summer, there’s never been a better time to make some changes to the way your home consumes energy. Not only will it reduce energy demand by cutting the amount of resources it takes to create energy; enabling your home to be more efficient will also save you money on utility bills and increase energy security on a national level.
The best way to approach this is by developing a whole-house energy efficiency plan, which will allow all of the different “parts” of your home to work together in reducing energy usage. You can certainly make a difference by making small changes here and there, but the greatest impact will be recognized once you have improved all the areas of your home that affect how energy is consumed.
A whole-house energy efficiency plan will ensure that the dollars you invest to save energy are spent wisely. Start with a home energy audit from an independent energy auditor, or learn how to conduct one on your own by visiting www.energystar.gov. The home energy audit will help you understand which parts of your home use the most energy, and give you suggestions for cutting costs.
While the results of home energy audits are different for every home, in this four-part series we will focus on the main areas that are most likely to require improvements:
- Air leakage, insulation, and HVAC
- Water heating and conservation
- Windows, doors, and lighting
Improvements for Air Leakage, Insulation, and HVAC Systems
According to the 2007 Buildings Energy Data Book, heating accounts for the biggest portion (31%) of utility bills in the U.S. Annually, the typical American family spends $1,900 on home utility bills. That means that over the course of just a year, you could be spending nearly $600 to heat your home. And some of that is most likely compensating for heat that escapes through cracks, holes, and other leakages.
The most cost effective way to improve this statistic is to check insulation levels in your attic, ceilings, floors, crawl spaces, and exterior and basement walls. It’s also important to check for holes and cracks in walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets. These are all areas where air leakage can occur and contribute to higher energy bills.
Once you have an idea of which areas need improvement, seal and insulate them. Be sure to complete both of these tasks to maximize air leakage reduction. If you don’t have a lot of readily available resources, you may want to consider insulating the attic first, as it’s much less expensive than insulation for your walls.
After you have sealed and insulated all of the areas, it’s time to consider upgrading your HVAC system. Even a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient furnace and air conditioner will waste energy if your home is not sealed and insulated properly. Look for heating and cooling equipment that is ENERGY STAR rated, and that offers both high Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratings and a higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER).
For assistance in solving air leakage, insulation levels, or HVAC systems, be sure to consult a professional design or construction firm that has proven experience in implementing energy-efficient improvements.