Welcome to Part 2 of our four-part Strategic Savings Guide.
Last time we told you about all the ways you can transform your tax return into a powerful money savings tool simply by keeping track of improvements you might be making to your home right now. This week we’re following up on one of those tips to show how you can dramatically improve your home’s overall energy performance. Whether or not you qualified for the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit or the Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credit, there are still plenty of reasons to sure up your home against leaks, erosion and power drainage. While this may seem obvious at first blush, few people realize just how many ways there are to not only save on their energy bills but also to maximize their homes’ cost/performance over time. In this installment, we’ll take a look at some of those less apparent strategies and update you on a few emerging technologies that are providing better solutions to long-term problems.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has recently issued its Annual Energy Outlook for 2017, The overview for the Residential Sector provides a percentage breakdown of projected energy expenses for the typical single-family American household. We’ve sorted through each category to come up with some tips to help ensure your energy bill for this year is as low as possible.
SPACE HEATING – 42% of Energy Bill
The EIA estimates that nearly half of the average household’s energy bill goes towards internal space heating. The good news is that there are a number of low-cost and do-it-yourself solutions that just about anyone can take advantage of to dramatically improve a home’s thermal retention.
Prioritize Your Insulation
Most people are aware that good insulation is key to an energy-efficient home. Draft-proofing windows and doorways with caulks and weatherstripping is commonplace but there are other solutions as well that can amount to greater savings. While outer wall insulation on the entire house may be ideal it is not often time or cost-efficient to pay for all necessary materials and insulation. Your best bet is to focus on the areas of your home where you lose the most heat, particularly roofs and floors of any rooms that may be situated over a garage, adjacent to a porch or otherwise have a large surface exposure to the outside. A good baseboard insulation can also help to sure up your foundation.
And here’s a Pro Tip. Many of your home’s heat-loss problems can be solved with modern, high-end spray foam insulation. There are products on the market versatile enough to cover nearly all external applications and create an almost perfect thermal envelope for your home. We will be showcasing some of these products in a future post so stay tuned for it!
Seal Your Attic
Old attics are one of the biggest culprits for hot air leakage. Considering that heat rises and most people don’t spend a lot of time in their attics except when rummaging through storage boxes, it’s not surprising to see this area of the home getting less attention on the insulation front. But “Out of sight, out of mind” is really no kind of policy to have when it comes to your heating bill. Plug large holes by installing insulating foam along the perimeter where the wall and floor joints meet, and along the joints of a drop ceiling. Then use expanding foam or caulk to seal up electrical outlets and plumbing vent pipes.
Get Your Ducts In A Row
Ok, maybe not literally, but you can be sure that old or faulty ducts are a major culprit in residential energy loss, contributing up to 30% of your home’s wasted air expenditure. This applies to cooling as well as heating, so make sure to have your ducts inspected regularly to ensure you’re getting the most out of them instead of through them!
Install A Programmable Thermostat
Are you using a programmable thermostat? You should be. Besides insulation, this is hands-down the best investment you can make to cut back on your heating bill. You can set it up to turn off the heat/AC while you’re not home and turn it back on in time to have the temperature where you want it when you return.
WATER HEATING – 18% of Energy Bill
After space heating, the EIA has determined water heating to be the second largest energy expense you’re likely to make this year. Our preferred solution here is to install a tankless water heater. While this upgrade is more substantial than those mentioned in the previous category, the long-term savings you’ll get from making the switch is a no-brainer for anyone serious about slashing this expense.
Why Tankless Water Heaters?
Well, did you ever notice how when you turn on your shower or open the hot water valve on the tap you have to stand around and wait for the water to heat up before you can use it? Yeah, we think that’s annoying too. Cold water gets wasted and the cost of heating the storage tank adds to your heating bill. With a tankless water heater, cold water is heated via a gas burner or electric element as it passes through the pipe and into the unit. The result: Instant hot water on demand and less money washed down the drain.
If you are still using a conventional storage-tank heater, don’t sweat it. Literally. Just cover the tank in a specially-made thermal blanket designed to seal the heat in, and if possible keep your tank temperature at 130 degrees F or lower, especially during the warmer months.
COOLING – 6% of Energy Bill
Next on the list is your cooling bill. There are plenty of fancy new technologies that can help on this front but we think the best advice is to stick with the time-honored approach and simply employ a bit of usage strategy with your cooling appliances.
Depending on how often you use air conditioning during the summer, your cooling bill will go up between 1-3% for every degree lower you set the unit. This is partially owing to the extra power it takes the unit to cycle on and off. Set the temperature only as low as you need to feel comfortable and knock off a good chunk of your power bill during the summer.
Combine Your AC With A Ceiling Fan
If you’re still feeling hot after setting your AC’s thermostat higher, try using a ceiling fan in tandem with it. The room will feel much cooler and you can turn down your AC by 3-4 degrees and still get the desired comfort level.
Move lamps, TV sets or anything else that generates heat away from your AC’s thermostat as these can contribute to false read and keep the unit running longer than necessary.
LIGHTING – 5% of Energy Bill
To save on lighting costs, we prefer to employ a combination of natural and artificial light solutions.
Light Shelves & Light Tubes
Let’s start with the natural light since it comes for free and because we can get a lot more mileage out of it than most people realize. The obvious move here is to install skylights but you can go a bit further than that. A light shelf is a device that catches natural light as it enters your home and bounces it off its surface. These devices can increase light penetration from floor to ceiling by between 2.5X and 4X as occurs naturally.
Light tubes on the other hand capture incoming light with a highly reflective surface that reduces the glare of the midday sun. The light is then passed through a diffuser layer to spread it evenly throughout the room. The great thing about light tubes is that they can both reduce the intensity of sunlight and amplify the radiance of moonlight passing through them. This makes them an excellent upgrade to conventional skylights.
CFLs & LEDs
Moving on to man-made light, we can’t stress enough how strongly we feel about switching from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Not only do they last longer but they require significantly less electricity to do their job. This one power move can potentially knock up to 8% off your monthly electric bill since almost 80% of the energy released by incandescent bulbs is outputted in the form of heat, not light!
LED lights are also an option. They last even longer than CFLs and are free of mercury.
REFRIGERATION – 5% of Energy Bill
Because this one appliance can generate such a strong hit to your electric bill, we strongly suggest to our clients that they not only consider investing in an energy efficient refrigerator when remodeling or installing a new kitchen, but also to consider its positioning. It’s important to keep refrigerators and freezers out of direct sunlight and away from heating vents. This way they’ll require less energy to keep themselves cool.
OTHER EXPENDITURES – 24% of Energy Bill
The remainder of your power bill is comprised of an assortment of ancillary and related expenses that can come in a myriad of forms. Since these expenses usually make up a quarter of your energy bill, we’ll take a look at two common subcategories: Household appliances and general water usage.
Your fridge isn’t the only power hitter in your home’s appliance chain. The other big timers are stove/oven units and electronics.
Stoves and Ovens
The cost of running your kitchen appliances can significantly add up over the course of a year. Stoves and ovens generate a lot of heat. In the summer months this can lead to running extra fans or cranking up the AC. You might consider investing in a Halogen oven rather than a conventional one. Halogen ovens can cook food up to 50% faster while using 75% less electricity to do so. Less cooking time means less wasted heat, so this one little move can save considerable money on heating/cooling and electric bills. Not bad!
Convection ovens are also an excellent choice. They circulate the heat around inside the oven to cook your food faster, thereby using up to 20$ less electricity than a conventional oven.
If you are using a conventional oven, just be sure to cook your food on the top rack since it’s closer to the heating element which allows your food to cook faster.
Each electrical device in your home can cost between 5-25 cents per day. This adds up over the course of the year. Use multi-plug power strips for groups of electronic devices so you can shut them all down with the flick of a switch when you’re not using them.
You might also consider installing a Voltage Optimization Device to ensure your appliances are not gobbling up more electricity than they need to be. You can save several hundred dollars per year through the performance efficiency afforded by these devices. They work best with washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, TV sets and household lighting.
If you own one or more personal computers, these can easily match or surpass the energy expense your other household electronics depending on frequency of use. It may seem obvious but shut the computer down when you aren’t using it. You can take this a step further by unplugging the chargers when they’re not in use since these will also drink up current as long as they’re plugged in. If you’re in the market for a new computer, you might want to consider getting a laptop rather than a desktop. Not only are they portable and typically more stylish, they also require less power to run than desktops do.
General Water Usage
Keep in mind that water heating and water usage are not the same expense although they’re related. Water usage has to do with the amount of water your appliances require to do their job regardless of temperature.
Toilets, Faucets & Shower-Heads: How Low Is Your Flow?
Did you know that 30-40% of your water bill comes from the simple act of flushing your toilet? The average toilet discards 3.5 gallons of water per flush, making it the primary water expenditure in any given household. A low-flow toilet, on the other hand, will only use up 1.6 gallons per flush, knocking an average of 12,000 gallons per year off your water bill. If you want to take things to the next level, there are also dual-flush toilets that allow you to choose between 1 gallon for liquid waste and 1.6 gallons for solids, which can save you another 25-30% annually.
There are also low-flow shower heads which allow you to adjust the amount of water you’re using while still maintaining great pressure.
Washers & Dryers
Although dryers aren’t water users, we figured we’d group these two together since they operate hand in hand. You can collectively reduce your water and energy bills by $100-$150/year with three simple steps.
- Use the cold wash setting as often as possible to cut back on water heating expenses.
- Wait till you have a full load of laundry to run your machine. The medium setting typically uses almost the same amount of water as the full-load setting, which means your efficiency is being lopped in half.
- Clean the lint tray in your dryer every time you run it. Lint piles up and will gradually ramp up the electricity needed to
power the dryer.
- And of course, good old fashioned air-drying never hurt anyone as far as we know…
We hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of our four-part Strategic Savings Guide. Be sure to check out the other complementary sections of the series if you did. You can also like this series on Facebook or just tell your family and friends about it every chance you get.