Energy Efficiency for Homes 101
Whether you’re attempting to build a new house or thinking to improve your current one, energy efficiency should definitely be on your agenda. Not only does an energy efficient house save much more than you think on your bills, but it will also help the environment, making you go green. An owner that is careful about the energy it consumes brings together elements such as daring designs, which harvest solar power, state-of-the-art appliances, meant to use as little energy as possible, natural lighting, and renewable energy systems.
Therefore, if you consider transforming your house into an energy-saving, environment-protective oasis, here are the basic steps, as well as some tips and tricks on how to do it.
Energy Efficiency by Design
The first step you need to have in mind concerning energy efficient homes is design. If you’re building your house from zero, a good idea is to bring in an expert who will actively help you by reshaping your house into an energy saving one and by designing personalized plans for you. If you already own a house and want to turn it around because it’s leaking both energy and money, an expert can help you there as well.
An expert will help you make decisions which you might think are basic but which, in fact, are crucial to the new energy plan. Take the shape of the house as an example. It can make a real difference when it comes to heating. A square house has less wall area per square footage than a rectangular one, of the same size. This means that a square house loses far less heat per square footage than a rectangular one. It’s also good to know that a large house will always lose less heat than a smaller structure.
The direction in which the house is orientated is important as well. A rectangular house which has been built on the east-west long axis will gain far less heat in the summer and a lot more during the winter, simply because of the way it’s orientated in relation to the sun. Building smartly means harnessing the forces of nature. When it comes to energy, there is no greater force than that of the sun, which should be your main source of inspiration.
The same goes for your roof. A very well designed roof, which hangs on the south wall, will protect the house from unwanted summer heat, but it won’t stop it from receiving heat in winter time.
Doors, Windows, and the Roof
Studies performed on classic houses have shown that 40 percent of all the heat losses happen via the doors, windows and the roof. Therefore, you must consider fixing, insulating, or replacing them.
If you have old, wooden windows, they should be replaced immediately, because most of the heating is probably escaping your house through there. When it comes to these windows, the frames expand and contract over time because of the weather conditions such as rain, snow or heat, they crack, stop being air tight, and the glass panes themselves shift their position until all sorts of gaps are left. This will invite an unwanted air flow between the interior and exterior of the house. If you are not in the possibility of replacing the windows altogether, you can at least change the frames.
Also, you can glaze your windows or add more layers, such as energy efficient curtains and shades, which will act as an insulator and stop most of the cold air coming from the inside. Another solution is energy efficient windows. Although they are quite expensive, given the fact that their price ranges from $8000 to $15000, this is a great investment which will pay for itself in the long run.
Doors can leak heat as well, so a good solution here is to divide your main hallway and turn it into a vestibule. Add an inner door, as this will reduce the air exchange that goes on between the inside and the outside. You may want to consider this especially if your household has kids or pets, which means heavy traffic for the doors and lots of heat leakage.
The porch works in the same way, only for the outside. It’s considered an exterior living space and will protect your house from the waves of cold or heat coming towards it.
As far as the roof goes, the first thing you must do is to check regularly and see if there aren’t any tiles that have fallen off. This might happen without you noticing and it’s a simple way through which the cold enters the house. Make sure you check the roof before the first snow. Apart from that, always paint the roof in light colors, because they reflect sunlight, unlike dark colors, which tend to attract and absorb it. This will lessen the heat intake in the summer.
One thing many people don’t know, but they should, about their house’s insulation is the fact that it wears off. The material which the insulation is made of loosens over time and holes as well as air pouches get in. This means it won’t be as efficient as it should be. A normal coating of insulation has an average life span of 4 or 5 years, after which you should check and replace it or add another coat.
Don’t overlook the attic, basement and garage, because they need insulation as well. If they are not protected, the cold inside will affect the rest of the house as well, by dropping the temperature of adjacent walls and making your heaters work harder than they should. You need to insulate the floor of the attic, which is your ceiling, and the ceiling of your basement which, if the basement is directly under the house, will be your floors. Cold ceiling and floors will lower the temperature considerably in the house.
Seal all the air leaks by caulking and weather-stripping the house. Be careful about ventilation because houses can become too tight if insulation is not done properly and you might find yourself opening doors and windows to let some air in, which defeats the original purpose. You can also plant trees in your yard to help shade the house in summer and protect it from wind and snowstorms in winter time. Evergreens are best for this purpose.
Energy Efficiency in Appliances
When it comes to energy efficiency, old appliances are not up to par. They usually consume a lot of unnecessary energy, which will be reflected in the cost; therefore, the best solution is to replace them with new models. These ones are designed using the latest technology, which allows them to use only half the energy an old appliance would normally use. They have an Energy Star label on, so that you can easily recognize them in stores and buy them. For example, since most U.S. homes are heated with furnaces or boilers, its best to replace them with newer models.
It’s good to know that the government and other agencies support the initiative of using these kinds of home appliances and give away grants, rebates and tax credits for them, which can save you up to $500 when buying them. Also, if your check the big suppliers regularly, you can find these products on sale.
Apart from replacing your old appliances with newer, more energy efficient ones, you can reduce their usages altogether and there are some simple ways of doing that:
- Don’t use your dryer in the summer. Instead, install a traditional clothes-line in the yard and let the clothes dry on their own with the wind and the sun.
- Replace the vacuum cleaner with a broom to save energy and wash the dishes by hand, not in the washing machine, when possible
- Unplug your refrigerator and place the groceries outside, in the cold, in winter time. Instead of a fridge or a freezer, you can also use your basement, if it’s cold enough. This is how ancestors did it for centuries before the concept of energy efficiency came up.
- Close the doors that lead to stairwells and the doors of the rooms upstairs when the air conditioner is on. This will help you better control the air flow and lead to better energy efficiency. During the hot season, make sure that your ACs compressor-condenser unit is always shaded by a tree or by a roof. However, allow some space around it for the air to flow freely.
- Install a thermostat, so that the heating system, air conditioner and other home appliances are turned off when you’re not using them and, most of all, at night or when you are not at home. Regulating power usage according to usage is one of the smartest ways of saving up.
Energy Efficiency Lighting
Although the best way of solving the energy problem and to increase the energy efficiency of your house is by installing solar panels, so that you produce as much energy as you use, that might not always be possible. Your budget might be too tight for such an investment, your house might not allow it or you could be living in an area that does not receive much sunlight all year round. Therefore, as far as lighting goes, there are a few simpler and budget friendlier solutions you can get inspired from.
One of these solutions regards skylights. They can be installed directly above your living room, kitchen or home office, depending on which room you spend the most time in when at home. Natural light is always the best way to go. Not only it lowers your electricity bill considerably, but it is also healthier than artificial light being used all day.
Apart from the light, skylights also allow heat to come in during winter time, especially if they are placed directly facing the sun. This means that, during the day, when the sun is high up in the sky, you can turn off the heating system in the house.
You also need to pay attention to where exactly your windows are located. Most specialists advice that windows should be placed on the south side of the house, in order to maximize heat and light intake. During summer you can use shades or blinds.
Specialists also advise against placing too many of your windows on the east, west and north walls, as they are difficult to control and are not as efficient energy-wise. However, illumination needs to be covered on those sides as well, so don’t eliminate windows altogether in those parts of the house.
Just like the thermostat for heating systems and home appliances, you can install a sensor, which will automatically turn off any unused lights. Also, replace all your light bulbs with energy efficient, LED energy efficient light bulbs. If the idea of replacing all of them doesn’t seem attractive to you, you can always replace the 5 most used light bulbs in your household, because studies show that even so, you will save $75 each year.
The lighting standards we have today have taken effect in 2012 and since then a lot of light bulb models have become available, such as halogen incandescent, CFL, fluorescent and LED. To make sure you purchase the right ones, find the Energy Star rated ones.
Energy Efficiency Tips and tricks
After all the major components of your house have been taken care of energy-wise, here are some tips and tricks to make sure you’ve covered all the ground.
- Place some compressible filler on the foundation prior to fastening the sill plate. This will help reducing air infiltration greatly;
- Place chimneys on inside walls as they loose less heat and secure better drafts than chimneys placed on the outside walls;
- Be careful to never set the thermostat in below-zero temperatures. This will cause the house to re-heat itself all over again, which will use a lot more energy, by definition. Simply set the thermostat some 10 degrees back, mostly at nighttime.
- Always close unoccupied rooms and never heat them;
- As far as fireplaces go, close the damper when you’re not using them and install glass doors so that the heat won’t escape through the flue;
- Always keep storm windows closed, except on those particular ones that are used for ventilation;
- Look for the insulation materials which have the highest “R-value” rating. Insulation is rated on so-called “R-values”, which are there to tell the material’s capacity of preventing heat from entering the house. There are three types of insulation on the market: batt insulation – it comes in rolls or blankets, it has different degrees of thickness and it’s made of fiberglass. While it is moisture resistant, it doesn’t hold well against vapor. Its R-value ranges from 3.1 to 4.3. Loose-fill insulation is made of fiberglass, rock wool or cellulose that has been coated with fire retardant solutions. Its R-value is between 2.2 and 3.7, which is why it’s often used in attics. The downside is that it’s not very resistant to water. The third type of insulation is represented by rigid foam boards. It can be made of different types of plastic, which makes its R-value range from 3.8 to 8. It can be used to insulate a basement or a house’s foundation. Reviews show that it’s the most efficient. However, you must keep in mind that some of the plastics the boards they are made of release highly toxic fumes if they catch fire. Therefore, regulations ask for a barrier, such as dry wall between the insulation and heat and flame sources. Energy efficiency should be just as important as safety, so it’s best to mind those regulations to the letter.
- As far as appliances go, if you want to know if it’s time to replace them or not or simply check and see how much energy they use and make an estimate for the following year, scan your utility bill. You can find out the kilowatt hour rate, if it’s the electricity bill or the therm rate, if it’s the gas bill. Multiply these rates by the kilowatts or therm rates per year and you will get an estimate of how much energy your appliances will really use.
- Regarding energy efficiency in space heaters, a good idea is to purchase those types that have embedded thermostats, which means you can program them as you wish or even portable energy efficient heaters, which you can take with you as you progress from room to room throughout the house.
- Air conditioners are rated according to their efficiency ratio, which is called SEER. Therefore, when purchasing an energy efficient air conditioners, it’s best to look for the ones with the best SEER programs;
- Install a special heater if you have a pool. You can make it energy efficient as well by installing a gas pool heater, a heat pump, or even a solar heater.
- Remember that energy efficient houses pair off well with energy efficient cars, so you might want to take interest in those as well;
- Install fans to lower the AC use, which will save up to 20 per cent of the energy used by ACs;
- Replace the baseboard heaters as they consume a lot of energy. One solution is infrared electric heaters, considered to be the best.
Energy efficiency is right now a goal towards which we all strive. The more measures we take in order to ensure energy efficiency, the more we can make it an actual lifestyle and not a goal. Global efficient energy use is achievable.