Heating & Cooling
Heating and cooling is the largest energy expense for most homes, accounting for over 50% of energy use.
Smart decisions can help you save…
There are a variety of factors that when managed properly can help you save money on your utility bill. When it comes to heating and cooling your home consider the following:
The performance of your thermostat can be affected by location. Your thermostat may sense the heat or frigidness of nearby heating and cooling registers, direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, windows and skylights, as well as electronics and appliances that put off heat, such as TVs and lamps. These factors can cause your system to cycle unnecessarily and be less efficient.
By adjusting your thermostat 10°-15°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting you can save as much as 15% a year on heating and cooling. Practice keeping your thermostat at energy-saving temperatures by setting it to:
- 68°F in the winter while you’re awake; and lower while you’re asleep or away from home
- 78°F in the summer only when you are at home and need cooling; and higher when away from home
Programmable thermostats make this practice more convenient and help avoid discomfort by automatically returning temperatures to normal before you wake or return home. If you have a heat pump, you may need a specially designed programmable thermostat to maximize your energy savings.
A dirty filter slows down air flow due to the dust and dirt that builds up, and makes the system work harder – wasting energy. It can also lead to system failure and expensive maintenance. Be sure to check, clean or replace filters on furnaces and air conditioners at least once a month. Similarly, it’s important to keep air vents, warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators clean and unobstructed, as well as the area around outdoor air conditioners and heat pumps.
Ducts are used to distribute conditioned air from your furnace and central air unit throughout your house, and when properly installed can make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient. However, in a typical house, about 20% of air traveling through ducts is lost due to leaks, holes, and poor connections. This can add hundreds of dollars a year to your energy bills and make rooms stuffy and difficult to heat and cool.Ducts are often concealed in walls, ceilings, attics, and basements which can make repairing them a challenge. It is a good idea to work with a professional when making duct system improvements. If you choose to take the project on yourself, start by sealing air leaks using mastic sealant, metal tape or other heat-approved tapes (not duct tape). Insulate all the ducts that you can access and make sure that the connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet the floors, walls, and ceiling.
To ensure optimal performance and prolong the life of your heating and cooling equipment, it’s a good idea to schedule annual checkups with a professional technician. They are trained to do a thorough inspection for proper function and make necessary adjustments or tune-ups.
If your equipment is old, needs frequent repairs or just doesn’t keep your house comfortable despite your maintenance efforts, you may be ready for an upgrade. If you’re in the market for a new heating and/or cooling system consider equipment that is ENERGY STAR® qualified. When purchasing an air conditioner, look for a high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The current minimum is 13 SEER. The most efficient system for your home will also depend on other factors related to where you live such as the climate and your need for heating and cooling, the size of the space you’re conditioning and the effectiveness of the insulation in your house.
Insulation is what keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and is usually found in the attic, ceiling, exterior walls, basement, crawlspaces, floors above unheated garages and sometimes ducts if they are in unconditioned spaces. Insulation works by providing resistance to heat flow, and when effective, allows you to use less energy to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home. Insulation performance is rated in terms of thermal resistance, called R-value, the higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation. R-value depends on the type of material, thickness and density of the insulation however overall effectiveness of the insulation in your home also depends on where it is located and how well it is sealed. Common types of insulation include fiberglass, cellulose, rigid foam board and spray foam. The best choice for insulation will depend on where you plan to install it and what the recommended R-value is for that area. If you’re unsure of your insulation needs, a qualified home energy auditor can help you assess how much insulation you already have in your home, and identify areas that could use insulation, air sealing or other adjustments to help you save money on energy costs.
Cracks and openings around your home result in air leaks’, which is what happens when conditioned air escapes, and outside air enters uncontrollably. Air leaks are commonly found around windows and doors, holes hidden in attics, basements, and crawlspaces, and where foundations and walls meet. Air leaks cause uncomfortable drafts and room temperatures, strain on heating and cooling systems, and sometimes even moisture problems that cause mold and structural damage. Air sealing helps prevent these issues by blocking the movement of air and is done using varying types of caulk, spray foam or weather-stripping. Some air leaks are easy to find and fix because you can actually feel the draft and they are readily accessible. However, using a qualified home energy auditor can be helpful if you want assistance identifying and sealing the less obvious air leaks, and determining how well your house is ventilated.
You probably welcome the heat from the sun on those cold winter days however in the summer time that solar heat can cause air conditioners to work harder and contribute to higher costs on your energy bill. Planting trees, bushes or shrubs outside your home to shade windows, roofs and air conditioners can reduce surrounding air temperatures and help keep energy costs down. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shading an air conditioner can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%. The best type of tree to use will depend on your shading needs and the size, density and shape of the tree.
You can block the wind chill from your house and reduce heating costs in the winter by planting trees and shrubs around your home to create windbreaks. The most common type of windbreak is planted to the north and northwest of the home using dense trees with low crowns that block wind close to the ground. Windbreaks planted two to five times the mature height of the trees away from the home will provide maximum wind chill protection. You can also plant shrubs, bushes and vines closer (leaving at least 1 foot of space between the full-grown plant and your house) to create dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer.
The most energy-efficient landscaping plan for your home will vary based on your climate. Below are strategies for the most common regional climate categories in the U.S. But keep in mind it’s also important to have an understanding of your microclimate and whether your location receives more sun, shade, wind, rain, snow, moisture and/or dryness than average local conditions.
- Temperate Region: Take advantage of the warming effects of the sun in the winter. Maximize shade during the summer. Deflect winter winds away from buildings using windbreaks. Tunnel summer breezes toward the home.
- Hot-Arid Region: Plant shade to cool roofs, walls, and windows. Allow summer winds to access naturally cooled homes. Block or deflect winds away from air-conditioned homes.
- Hot-Humid Region: Tunnel summer breezes toward the home. Maximize summer shade with trees that still allow penetration of low-angle winter sun.
- Cool Region: Use dense windbreaks to protect the home from cold winter winds. Allow thewinter sun to reach south-facing windows. Shade south and west windows and walls from the direct summer sun.
- Keep curtains or blinds closed during the day to prevent solar gain in the summer.
- Use fans in the summer to create a wind chill effect and spread cooled air through your home.
- If you’re using air conditioning in the summer, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise your thermostat by 4 degrees with no reduction in comfort.
- Apply sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows in the summer to reduce solar gain.
- Keep curtains or blinds open during the day to let sunlight in during the winter.
- Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between your exterior walls and radiators.
- Run kitchen, bathroom and other ventilating fans for no longer than 20 minutes to retain heated air in the winter.
- Close fireplace dampers when not in use, so controlled air doesn’t escape.
U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR®