Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. Typically, 61% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. What’s more, heating and cooling systems in the United States together emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, adding to global warming. They also generate about 24% of the nation’s sulfur dioxide and 12% of the nitrogen oxides, the chief ingredients in acid rain.
No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase your comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. But remember, an energy-efficient furnace alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole-house approach.
By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy bills and your pollution output in half.
Heating and Cooling Tips • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer.
• Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
• Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
• Bleed trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.
• Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
• Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done the cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
• During the heating season, keep the draperies and shades on your south facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
• During the cooling season, keep the window coverings closed during the day to prevent solar gain.
Long-Term Savings Tips
• Select energy-efficient products when you buy new heating and cooling equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you.
One of the most important systems in your home, though it’s hidden beneath your feet and over your head, may be wasting a lot of your energy dollars.
Your home’s duct system, a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, carries the air from your home’s furnace and central air conditioner to each room. Ducts are made of sheet metal, fiberglass, or other materials.
Unfortunately, many duct systems are poorly insulated or not insulated properly. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts that are in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost effective. If you are buying a new duct system, consider one that comes with insulation already installed.
Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawl space. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out unsealed joints and lost.
In addition, unconditioned air can be drawn into return ducts through unsealed joints.
In the summer, hot attic air can be drawn in, increasing the load on the air conditioner. In the winter, your furnace will have to work longer to keep your house comfortable. Either way, your energy losses cost you money. Minor duct repairs are easy to do, Here are a few simple tips to help with minor duct repairs.
• Check your ducts for air leaks. First, look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.
• If you use tape to seal your ducts, avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive duct tape, which tends to fail quickly. Researchers
recommend other products to seal ducts: mastic, butyl tape, foil tape, or other heat-approved tapes. Look for tape with the Underwriters Laboratories logo.
• Remember that insulating ducts in the basement will make the basement colder. If both the ducts and the basement walls are uninsulated, consider insulating both.*
* Note: Water pipes and drains in unconditioned spaces could freeze and burst in the space if the heat ducts are fully insulated because there would be no heat source to prevent the space from freezing in cold weather. However, using an electric heating tape wrap on the pipes can prevent this.
• If your basement has been converted to a living area, install both supply and return registers in the basement rooms.
• Be sure a well-sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture buildup.
• For new construction, consider placing ducts in conditioned space—space that is heated and cooled—instead of running ducts through unconditioned areas like the crawl space or attic, which is less efficient.
When you cozy up next to a crackling fire on a cold winter day, you probably don’t realize that your fireplace is one of the most inefficient heat sources you can possibly use. It literally sends your energy dollars right up to the chimney along with volumes of warm air. A roaring fire can exhaust as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outside, which must be replaced by cold air coming into the house from the outside. Your heating system must warm up this air, which is then exhausted through your chimney. If you use your conventional fireplace while your central heating system is on, these tips can help reduce energy losses.
• If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
• Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is going. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter; it
allows warm air to go right up to the chimney.
• When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly— approximately 1 inch—and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50° and 55°F.
• Install tempered glass doors and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.
• Check the seal on the flue damper and make it as snug as possible.
• Add caulking around the fireplace hearth.
• Use grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.
Natural Gas and Oil Heating Systems
If you plan to buy a new heating system, ask your local utility or state energy office for information about the latest technologies available to consumers. They can advise you about more efficient systems on the market today. For example, many newer models incorporate designs for burners and heat exchangers that result in higher efficiencies during operation and reduce heat loss when the equipment is off. Consider a sealed combustion furnace; they are both safer and more efficient.
Long-Term Savings Tip
• Install a new energy-efficient furnace to save money over the long term. Look for the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels.
You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat.
Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air-conditioning according to a pre-set schedule. As a result, the equipment doesn’t operate as much when you are asleep or when the house or part of the house is not occupied.
Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program.
Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home cool in summer and reduce your energy bills. In addition to adding aesthetic value and environmental quality to your home, a well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce overall energy bills.
Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household’s energy used for heating and cooling. Computer models from DOE predict that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.
Studies conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found summer daytime air temperatures to be 3° to 6°F cooler in tree shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas.
The energy-conserving landscape strategies you should use for your home depend on the type of climate in which you live.